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Sonoran Ramblings: 'El Chapo' escaped in a laundry cart?

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Sonoran Ramblings: 'El Chapo' escaped in a laundry cart?

  • Border Patrol agents tape off a new perimeter for the Arivaca observers last week, pushing them back 140 feet from the inspection point.
    Paul M. Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comBorder Patrol agents tape off a new perimeter for the Arivaca observers last week, pushing them back 140 feet from the inspection point.

If you've glanced at the front page of a newspaper anywhere in the world in the last two weeks, it's probably not news to you that Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, the leader of Mexico's (still) hegemonic Sinaloa Cartel, was arrested by Mexican security forces in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, on the morning of Feb. 22.

What may be news to you is the fact that, contrary to what was reported by many (if not most) U.S. outlets (New York Times, NPR, CNN, to cite just a few), "El Chapo" probably did not escape from the Puente Grande prison in a laundry basket in early 2001. It must be said that the aforementioned New York Times piece now reads that El Chapo escaped "by many accounts in a laundry cart." While I don't have a screenshot to prove it, the story did not have this qualification for some time after it was first published, which provoked me to send Randy Archibold, one of the story's reporters, an email that read, in part, "I was troubled to see El Chapo's likely fictitious 2001 laundry cart prison escape printed as fact in your second and third-to-last paragraphs."

My variably inflated ego would love to believe that my email precipitated the change.

An alternative, and well-documented, account is that El Chapo walked out of Puente Grande in police uniform escorted by federal police (this Guardian piece was one of the English-language exceptions to my criticism and contains a brief discussion of this alternative theory). For obvious reasons, the Mexican government would rather you believe the sensational apocrypha advanced by the Mexican government and dutifully regurgitated by elite U.S. media.

It is an open secret that Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel was favored by the PAN governments of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. As documented by NPR, Mexican arrest records strongly support this contention. But don't take my and NPR's word for it: let Anabel Hernández, Mexico's leading drug war journalist and the person who sunk the laundry cart theory in her masterful book Los Señores del Narco (recently translated as Narcoland), tell you all about it.

For more critical, historically informed and/or nuanced English-language analysis of El Chapo's arrest from non-mainstream outlets, check out Narco News, the Americas Program, or InSight Crime.

Though they were published a few weeks back, I also wanted to bring up two stories about Operation Streamline that ran in the New York Times and Washington Post. As someone who reads a tremendous amount about Streamline, I was unable to discern any news in either story, but my problems with both go deeper than their lack of news value.

Both stories present uncontested versions of the laughable claim that Streamline is "a bargain for the defendants," an oft-heard but enormously flawed defense of the program based on the assumption that, if not for for the program of expedited deportations, all of the migrants would be charged with and convicted of felony reentry.

Both reporters fail to mention, or quote someone mentioning, the obvious fact that this is disingenuous nonsense: the idea that the federal court system and federal prison system have anywhere near the capacity to try and jail every previously apprehended migrant for felony reentry (which, depending on the criminal background of the migrant, can carry a maximum sentence of 20 years) is absolutely ludicrous. Because of programs like Streamline, Latinos already represent approximately half of the federal prison population. They would become basically all of it in short order if the program were to end and be replaced by massive reentry prosecutions.

Only the Post reporter mentions the protests that shut down Streamline for a day in Tucson last October, arguably the newsiest thing that has happened around Streamline for some time. The Times reporter does have some Tucson-specific prosecution numbers from last December, but the Star's own Perla Trevizo already reported a similar number a year ago.

And this gets to my personal beef: basically everything in these stories has already been reported by many of my border journalism colleagues (NPR's Ted Robbins, the Phoenix New Times' Stephen Lemons, Truthout's ST McNeil, the Star's Perla Trevizo, Fusion's Steve Fisher, the's Paul Ingram, etc.). The Post and Times stories certainly enjoyed a bigger audience, but they didn't add to the conversation in any substantial way. Streamline is indisputably deserving of sustained regional and national coverage, but when big, deep-pocketed national papers cover the stories we've been covering for years, it would be nice to see something a little less derivative.

And now for something completely predictable: Border Patrol. Boy have they had an eventful couple weeks. Where to begin…?

They shot and killed someone again, this time near San Diego the evening of Feb. 18. In the agency's account of the evening, two agents were pursuing two migrants near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. During his pursuit, one of the agents encountered another man, 41-year-old Mexican national Jesús Flores Cruz. Cruz allegedly began throwing rocks at the agent, one of which struck him. In response, the agent shot and killed Cruz. The agent was reportedly injured by one of the rocks but declined medical attention at the scene.

Breaking from tradition, the agent involved has been named, though by the San Diego Sheriff's Department and not by Border Patrol. According to Lt. Glenn Giannntonio, BP Agent Daniel Basinger has returned to duty since the fatal shooting.

A little over a week after this latest fatal BP shooting, the L.A. Times dropped a bombshell story about the agency's use of force policy. In it, the Times' Brian Bennett dissects a copy of a Customs and Border Protection-commissioned report completed last February by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The agency has tried and, thanks to Bennett's aggressive reporting, failed to keep it out of the public record since it was released. Bennett's opening paragraphs explain some of that zeal for nondisclosure:

Border Patrol agents have deliberately stepped in the path of cars apparently to justify shooting at the drivers and have fired in frustration at people throwing rocks from the Mexican side of the border, according to an independent review of 67 cases that resulted in 19 deaths.

The report by law enforcement experts criticized the Border Patrol for "lack of diligence" in investigating U.S. agents who had fired their weapons. It also said it was unclear whether the agency 'consistently and thoroughly reviews' use-of-deadly-force incidents."

Closer to home, residents of Arivaca and other area border activists have begun monitoring the Border Patrol checkpoint just west of I-19 on Arivaca road. The supposedly "temporary" checkpoint has been in place for seven years. The volunteer monitors cite ongoing concerns with civil rights violations, harassment, racial profiling and excessive delays.

Finally, I'd like to tip my hat to the Star's Perla Trevizo, Carli Brosseau and Britain Eakin for their ongoing SB 1070 series in the Daily Star. I haven't gotten through a lot of it, but what I've read so far has been impressive indeed. Great public interest journalism.

Sonoran Ramblings

... is a roundup of immigration news and a column of border media criticism by Murphy Woodhouse, who has reported for, the Nogales International, the Missoulian, Truthout, the Palestine Monitor and The Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, and been shortlisted for the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.

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