Alejandro Sicairos Rio Doce (3-17-2013)
Translated by un vato for Borderland BeatThe unusual arrest of El Fantasma: not a single bullet fired against the chief of El Chapo's gunmen.
Nobody warned Jonathan Salas Aviles that the Army was going for him. Not his bodyguards, not the police agents who worked for him, not the"punteros" (drug vendors) scattered around the Valle de San Lorenzo. Not his boss, Joaquin El Chapo Guzman.
Nobody. That's why, on Saturday, February 9, when El Fantasma was awakened by the sound of helicopters flying over his house in Colonia San Angel, Costa Rica township, the first thing he saw from his window was the military encirclement laid out around him.
There was no way out. The soldiers, around 200 of them, extended in a 300 yard radius around his home, with three layers of security, everything designed to allow no person to go in or out.
The decline of El Fantasma was predictable. His presence had become uncomfortable for Chapo Guzman as well as for Ismael El Mayo Zambada, because he always had a military operation on his tail looking for him.
In March of 2012, after Salas Aviles escaped a pursuit laid out against him by Navy forces around Oso Viejo, Mayo Zambada ordered him to get out of the Costa Rica and Quila area and go into hiding in the area around El Dorado and the coast of Culiacan.
However, El Mayo continued to receive complaints from the inhabitants in those three townships, who were terrified of El Fantasma's violent acts, who was just as likely to break into a private party carrying high powered rifles, to beat up peaceful residents or, with his bodyguards, to go into City Police installations to beat up police officers or release detainees.
With Military Intelligence always on his heels, Salas Aviles had become even more shy, which leads his relatives and gunmen to speculate what people suspect: it was an agreed upon, negotiated delivery, which resulted in soldiers not firing a single bullet when they arrested one of the Sinaloa cartel's most hardened men.
The presumption that it was a negotiated surrender is laid out in the recommendation that, in July 2012, the Army made to then-president Felipe Calderon to go after the smaller cartels, called "satellites" to decrease the indices of violence associated with drug trafficking. In the same report (Rio Doce 524), the Intelligence Cabinet said there was an agreement to reduce violent acts and to act only in response to attacks by rival criminal organizations.
The only thing for certain is that El Fantsma was arrested in the most unbelievable manner possible. "That's it; let's go" ("Ni modo, vamonos."), was the only thing he said to the soldiers who identified him and placed him under arrest and quickly transported him to the Attorney General's Specialized Unit for Organized Crime Investigation (SEIDO: Subprocuraduria Especializada en Investigacion de Delincuencia Organizada). Minutes later, they placed him aboard a helicopter and took him away from Ismael Zambada's cherished turf.
Well aimed operation
Up until the afternoon of the day before their arrest, Jonathan Salas Aviles paid tribute to his alias. He had gotten together with his bodyguards in the shade of a guamuchil tree in the middle of an empty lot which is located between Infonavit San Angel and the Center of Barrio Los pintos.
He would often meet there with his crew, always with well shaped women, beer and the pickup's sound system at full blast. He went around without a care. He seemed not to know that the Army and Federal Police were issuing bulletins saying he was one of Chapo Guzman's chiefs of sicarios, considered by police to be a bloody gunman who was feared even by the rest of the gunmen in the Sinaloa cartel.
From the time he arrived to the Culiacan valley in the middle of the nineties decade, accompanied by his parents who had come to Veracruz to work as farm laborers, he was seen as a ghostly being who would disappear for weeks at a time and wrap himself in a sepulchral silence when he returned, not saying where or with whom he had been.
In the area of Eldorado and Costa Rica, he connected with drug vendors who introduced him to people close to Chapo Guzman, who began to trust him because of his skill with weapons, a product of his military training.
He earned a reputation for being slippery. On February 18. 2012, he vanished before getting to a roadblock that was waiting for him at El Salado, and on March 2, 2012, after a ground and airborne operation carried out by the Navy, they mistakenly thought they had killed him in Oso Viejo.
He liked the nickname of El Fantasma (the Ghost). It bothered him to be addressed by his given name and would ask people to refer to him by his alias. He was always careful not to leave a trail, to protect his identity, and he followed that precaution even before the soldiers arrested him, because he suddenly vanished in his pickup with his bodyguards, without anybody else in the party knowing where he went.
But the soldiers knew that when he left the guamuchil tree, he feinted a departure from Costa Rica when he was really going to a nearby house, no more than 100 yards away, to sleep. The bodyguards were the ones who left the town in a convoy.
Around midnight, a column of military vehicles traveled by highway and arrived at the west entrance to Costa Rica. From there, the contingent advanced on the periphery of the town until 200 soldiers manned the security zone surrounding Salas Aviles.
Once the pincer movement closed, three armored Marine helicopters landed in a soccer field in Centro del Barrio. The sound of their rotors awakened El Fantasma and the rest of the neighbors who never noticed the troop movements.
The soldiers went straight to the house where Jonathan Salas had been sleeping. They knocked on the door and asked him to surrender. Somebody opened the door and told them the person they were looking for was not there. Once again, it seemed that El Fantasma had vanished.
Jonathan Salas had taken off, jumping over the fence in back of the house into the adjacent house, apparently inhabited by his mother. He changed his clothes and lay down pretending to sleep. The soldiers got to him and, on the verge of calling the operation a failure, recognized him, compared facts and took him away.
Look who's talking
The arrest of El Fantasma infused with courage not only the Army, which had failed once and again to capture him, but also Governor Mario Lopez Valdez, Attorney General Marco Antonio Higuera Gomez, and even in the mayor of Culiacan, Aaron Rivas Loaiza, who, previously reluctant to discuss drug trafficking, now recognized the success of the operation and speculated that it would contribute to greater public tranquility and security.
After verifying the arrest made by the commander of the Third Military Region, General Moises Melo Garcia, Malova (Governor Mario Lopez Valdez) quickly declared that they were not expecting any reaction from organized crime as a result of El Fantasma's arrest.
He denied that he would request federal reinforcements to guarantee the safety of residents of Sinaloa because, he said -- and these were his exact words -- "General Melo has not given me an indication that he feels overwhelmed, I would have to wait for a signal from them, by virtue of the fact that I'm grateful for the work he has done, I don't want to be disrespectful of the high command by knocking on doors in Mexico City without them telling me to."
The governor talked the same way he did on March 2, 2012, when the Navy believed they had killed El Fantasma. On that occasion, before the death of Jonathan Salas had even been confirmed, he stated that it "would bring Sinaloa a little bit of peace and tranquility."
"One less person to go around committing crimes," he ventured.
But the courage felt by the authorities also reached the Attorney General Higuera Gomez, who assumed that the arrest of Jonathan Salas demonstrates the interest there is in stopping violence in Sinaloa:
"Said person was causing serious criminal indicators (sic)in the northern and central zones of the state, and with his capture, there will be a great accomplishment in the security index, which has been going down in the past two years," said the state prosecutor.
Well into the subject that had been taboo for state and municipal governments, Mayor Aaron Rivas Loaiza declared that he expects tranquility will increase in Culiacan with the arrest of the alleged chief of security of Joaquin El Chapo Guzman.
"I expect that peace in Culiacan will be even better, that there will not be any problems because they caught this character, I expect things will not change," he said.
The governor, the attorney general and the mayor had lost their fear of their own "ghosts."
Hunting without bullets
In Sinaloa, it has become customary for the Army to arrest members of organized crime groups in peaceful operations, without a confrontation between the hunters and the hunted. When it involves objectives who are difficult to locate and capture, common sense would indicate that these would be arrests that take place in the middle of gun fire from soldiers and capos.
On January 27, 2004, the the National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA: Secretaria de Defensa Nacional) disclosed the arrest of Javier Torres Felix in an operation that didn't report any major incidents in the Colinas de San Miguel sector in Culiacan.
Although the head of SEDENA at the time, Ricardo Clemente Vega, compared him with Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, el JP did not offer any resistance, and many of the neighbors in the neighborhood in which the military carried out the deployment never even knew about the "big fish" with the Sinaloa cartel, who was extradited to the United States in April, 2006, where he is about to be released.
Something similar occurred on January 21, 2008, when Alfredo Beltran Leyva, El Mochomo, was arrested in Colonia Burocrata in Culiacan. The police mobilization took this individual, considered a key man in the organization led by Chapo Guzman, by surprise.
Because of the unusual characteristics of the arrest, the brothers Arturo, Hector, Carlos and Mario Beltran Leyva accused the Sinaloa cartel of having betrayed him and started a merciless war against Guzman Loera and Ismael Zambada.
More recently, on October 13, 2012, the Army announced it had killed Manuel Felix Torres, El Ondeado, without any reports of a confrontation between the soldiers and the man who was considered the chief of gunmen and personal bodyguard for Mayo Zambada.
In all of these cases, because they were events characterized by the peaceful capture of renowned celebrities in organized crime, it has been speculated that they had been "placed" within reach of the Army and that the arrests were negotiated between high ranking military commanders and the leaders of the Sinaloa cartel.
Day to day fear
In Costa Rica (Sinaloa), fear is now a way of life. To lock yourself indoors when the sun sets and come out only when the sun is shining has become a kind of curfew that the residents have imposed on themselves due to the presence of drug trafficking gunmen who have taken control of the area.
Most of the police, they all say, quietly, are colluding (with criminals) and the few good elements don't dare "pull the lion's tail." In the San Lorenzo valley, everybody knows who who's going bad and who's OK.
"There's no peace any more, everything that let people live peacefully, to go out into the streets without fear of not coming back, is gone," says Guadalupe Rivera Valenzuela, the president of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights of the town of Costa Rica.
A social activist in no-man's land, she hopes what decent families also hope for. That with the arrest of El Fantasma, or any other criminal, peace will return and end the state of vulnerability and terror that deprives some of their sleep and others of their lives.
In Costa Rica, there has been no Ministerial Police force for two years and the City Police are frequently humiliated by the gunmen. That's why the early morning military incursion on February 9 has reanimated the hope that peace will be reestablished.
It's only a matter of going into the Colonias and neighborhoods to sense the fear that dominates the place. The breakdown of public services and the abandonment of public security disguises the fear that any stranger who arrives there may be a gunman. The instinct for survival has taught them to keep quiet, to not give information, names or details of those who keep them afraid.
Guadalupe Rivera says that so long as the military do not commit abuses against the civilian population, their operations will be well received by the people. "What we want is peace, no matter who imposes it. Peace, so that the abuses, the robberies, the murders will end."
They have faith that the arrest of Jonathan Salas will bring peace to the Costa Ricans. But then she recalls a phrase that Ismael El Mayo Zambada spoke in his interview with Julio Scherer: "In jail, dead or extradited, their replacements are already around here."