El Chapo drug trafficking trial: Mexican cartel boss found guilty

Drug photoEl Chapo twice escaped prison before his final capture in 2016. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

The notorious cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been found guilty of 10 counts of drug trafficking, at the end of a three-month New York trial that featured dramatic testimony of prison escapes, gruesome killings and million-dollar political payoffs.

Guzmán, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to build a drug empire worth billions of dollars, is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.

The 61-year-old showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Jurors had spent six days weighing the evidence against Guzmán, including testimony from more than 50 witnesses. Once the jury left the room, he and his wife Emma Coronel, put their hands to their hearts and gave each other the thumbs up sign. His wife shed tears.

US district judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American”.

Guzmán is set to be sentenced on 25 June. He is expected to receive life without parole.

The trial afforded a glimpse into the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel, named for the Mexican state where Guzmán was born.

US prosecutors said he trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

Guzmán smuggled drugs into the US through secret tunnels, or hidden in tanker trucks, prosecutors said. The cartel would also conceal their cargo in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry.

Witnesses testifying against Guzmán included former cartel lieutenants and a cocaine supplier who underwent plastic surgery to disguise his appearances. The court heard stories of Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeño cans shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500m each year.

One cartel member turned government witness told of how Guzmán sometimes acted as his own hitman. The witness said Guzmán had kidnapped, beat and shot a man who had dared to work for another cartel. Guzmán then ordered his men to bury the victim while he was still alive.

In contrast to the weight of evidence presented by the prosecution, the defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzmán’s lawyers did not deny his crimes, instead arguing their client was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury in closing arguments not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”

Jurors spent six days weighing the charges against Guzmán, their deliberations complicated by the trial’s vast scope. The jury members, whose identities were kept secret, were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors had proven different elements of the case.

The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100m bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.

The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzmán and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity.

One day a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series Narcos: Mexico came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal”.

While the trial was dominated by Guzmán’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun, the jury never heard from Guzmán himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But recordings of intercepted calls gave the court plenty of opportunity to hear Guzman speak.

“Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”

One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from Guzmán’s then girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez. Sanchez testified that she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzmán in 2014, when Mexican marines started breaking down the door.

She said Guzmán led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.

Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”

Guzmán had staged escapes from jail in 2014 and 2001. In the earlier breakout Guzmán hid in a laundry bin before being escorted to a mountainside hideaway by corrupt police officers.

In 2014 Guzmán escaped from a high-security jail via a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.

Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker said the trial demonstrated the US government’s “tenacity and commitment to pursuing kingpins like Guzman”.

“This conviction serves as an irrefutable message to the kingpins that remain in Mexico, and those that aspire to be the next Chapo Guzmán, that eventually you will be apprehended and prosecuted,” Whitaker said.

Guzmán’s lawyers, meanwhile, said they would appeal the verdict.

“We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquin, including his detention in solitary confinement,” the lawyers said in a statement.

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/12/el-chapo-mexican-drug-kingpin-guilty-drug-trafficking

 

 

Russian parliament approves bill to isolate country’s internet

Russian photoThe bill passed its first reading by 334 votes to 47 in the Russian parliament [File: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters]

Russian legislators have given tentative approval to a draft legislation that could cut off Russia from the global internet.

The bill, co-authored by Andrei Lugovoi – one of the main suspects in the 2006 murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in the UK – passed its first reading in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday by 334 votes to 47.

A heated debate preceded the vote with many legislators from minority parties criticising it as too costly and argued that it was not written by experts.

Authors of the initiative say Russia must ensure the security of its networks after US President Donald Trump unveiled Washington’s new cybersecurity strategy last year, which threatened to respond to any cyber attack both offensively and defensively.

Russia’s new bill proposes creating a centre to “ensure and control the routing of internet traffic” and requires that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) install “technical measures to withstand threats”.

It also mandates regular “drills” to test whether Russia’s internet can function in an isolated mode.

Taking questions on the floor, the authors were unable to estimate the long-term costs, what threats it would repel or even how it would work. They, however, said expert opinions could be incorporated into the bill for its second hearing.

One of the authors dismissed all criticism, citing the scale of the potential threat from Washington.

“This isn’t kindergarten!” shouted Lugovoi. “All of the websites in Syria” have been turned off by the US before, he claimed.

Internet freedoms
Critics say the bill shows the authorities’ continued efforts to limit internet freedoms despite the huge public and private cost.

“This is very serious,” said Andrei Soldatov, who co-authored a book on the history of internet surveillance in Russia. “This is a path towards isolating Russia as a whole… from the internet.”

Russian internet providers have reportedly been tasked by April 1 to come up with a way that the country could reliably shield itself from cyberattacks.

The concept appears similar to China’s Great Firewall, which regulates internet operations in view of reinforcing national sovereignty.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/russian-parliament-approves-bill-isolate-country-internet-190212134228143.html

With Nigerian elections postponed, Catholic leaders stress peace

Catholic leaders photoCredit: Labrador Photo Video/Shutterstock

Lagos, Nigeria,(CNA/EWTN News) Catholic leaders have voiced disappointment at a last-minute delay in Nigerian elections, but called for Christians to remain peaceful and participate in the postponed vote next weekend.

Just before polls were set to open Feb. 16, election officials announced that the presidential and national assembly elections were being postponed until Feb. 23.

Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), said the decision was due to a delay in the delivery of ballots, and not a political move.

“Our decision was entirely taken by the commission. It has nothing to do with security, nothing to do with political influence, nothing to do with availability of resources,” said Yakubu, according to Africa News.

Catholic Action Nigeria said the delay places a burden on citizens, especially those who underwent difficult travels to vote. The group asked Yakubu to consider resignation if the delay continues.

“INEC had four whole years to plan for this election. No matter the excuses being bandied now, the postponement makes us doubt the readiness, sincerity and capacity of INEC to give Nigerians a free and fair and credible election they truly deserve, even in the coming week,” the statement read, according to NAIJ.

At the same time, Catholic Action encouraged Nigerians to vote in the rescheduled election. The group said residents cannot quit working for a better nation.

Electors should “vote in a government that will put Nigeria and Nigerians first and uphold the values and dignity of human life as espoused through the social teachings of the Catholic Church,” the group said in its statement.

Catholics in the country also offered prayers for the future of their nation.

Father Ben Alozie challenged parishioners at Saint Peter and Saint Paul Catholic Church in Lagos to entrust the upcoming election to God’s providence.
“As a church, we are first Nigerians before being members of our congregation; therefore, we need to take that which is of concern to our country to God in the same way we take our individual needs to God for a solution,” he said Feb. 17, according to NAIJ.

“Saturday’s elections will determine to a large extent the fate of our dear country in the next four years; so, no amount of supplication is enough to God in order for us to have a peaceful country after the polls.”

Africa Independent Television reported that Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor of Awka asked Nigerians to take the rescheduling in good faith and not give up on INEC.

He disagreed with the call for Yakubu’s resignation, saying this would only lead to confusion at a time when the nation needs unity and a focus on a successful election.

The election in Nigeria comes as crashing oil prices leave the country facing economic uncertainty. The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria for years has faced attacks and kidnappings by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Over the weekend, 11 people were killed in an attack by the group south of Maiduguri, the BBC reported.

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/with-nigerian-elections-postponed-catholic-leaders-stress-peace-54372

Venezuela moves to replace US executives on Citgo board

Citgo photoCitgo is facing unprecedented challenges to its finances and management after the US imposed sanctions on PDVSA [File: Reuters]

Venezuela’s state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) is taking steps to remove at least two American executives from the board of directors of its United States’ refining subsidiary, Citgo Petroleum Corp, according to people close to the matter.

Citgo is facing unprecedented challenges to its finances and management after the US government last week imposed tough sanctions on PDVSA designed to prevent oil revenue from going to leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

The US and dozens of other nations have refused to recognise Maduro, viewing his re-election last year to another six-year term as fraudulent.

Venezuelan’s self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido is setting up bank accounts with US help that would take income accrued by Citgo, Venezuela’s top foreign asset, to finance an interim government.

Maduro has denounced Guaido as a US puppet who is seeking to foment a coup.

The board of Houston-based Citgo includes at least two US citizens, Art Klein and Rick Esser, as well as Venezuelans Asdrubal Chavez, Frank Gygax, Nepmar Escalona, Simon Suarez and Alejandro Escarra, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

Citgo also has an executive board that includes the refiner’s general managers, its corporate treasurer and the controller, and other vice presidents.

PDVSA and Citgo did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Esser and Klein did not immediately reply to emails and phone calls seeking comment on their status, the news agency said.

It was unclear if PDVSA’s board has already approved the changes at Citgo’s board and who would replace the American executives.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/venezuela-moves-replace-executives-citgo-board-190209175503677.html

Democrats push for a Green New Deal to combat climate change

Democrat photoAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during a march organised by the Women’s March Alliance [File: Caitlin Ochs/Reuters]

Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Senator Ed Markey on Thursday laid out the goals of a Green New Deal to transform the US economy to combat climate change while creating thousands of jobs in renewable energy.

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey say the plan will achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, setting a high bar for Democrats who plan to make climate change a central issue in the 2020 presidential race.

The resolution is the first formal attempt by politicians to define the scale of legislation to create large government-led investments in clean energy and infrastructure to transform the US economy.

“The Green New Deal fully tackles the existential threat posed by climate change by presenting a comprehensive, 10-year plan that is as big as the problem it hopes to solve while creating a new era of shared prosperity,” according to a summary of the resolution released by the politicians on Thursday.

Ocasio-Cortez said she will immediately begin to work on legislation that would “fully flesh out the projects involved in the Green New Deal”.

Republicans have already criticised the initiative, waving off any kind of proposal as heavy-handed. The Trump administration does not believe action on climate change is necessary and is focused on increasing production of oil, gas and coal on federal and private land.

Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, said at a climate change hearing in the House natural resources committee on Wednesday that the policy was akin to a “Soviet five-year plan”.

The non-binding resolution outlines several goals for the United States to meet in 10 years, including meeting 100 percent of power demand from zero-emissions energy sources.

It also calls for new projects to modernise US transportation infrastructure, de-carbonise the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, make buildings and homes more energy efficient and increase land preservation.

Ditching fossil fuel
The Green New Deal also aims to create an economic safety net for “front-line” communities that will be affected by a radical shift away from fossil fuel use.

“We … need to be sure that workers currently employed in fossil fuel industries have higher-wage and better jobs available to them to be able to make this transition, and a federal jobs guarantee ensures that no worker is left behind,” according to a summary of the plan.

The Green New Deal was put into the media spotlight by a youth coalition called the Sunrise Movement and Ocasio-Cortez, 29, the youngest woman to serve in Congress.

Markey, a veteran Congressman from Massachusetts, introduced sweeping climate change legislation a decade ago, which passed in the House but was blocked in the Senate.

At least a half dozen Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls have said they would adopt Green New Deal policies, without offering specifics.

The Green New Deal would be paid for “the same way we paid for the original New Deal, World War II, the bank bailouts, tax cuts for the rich and decades of war – with public money appropriated by Congress”, Ocasio-Cortez said.

The government can take an equity stake in Green New Deal projects “so the public gets a return on its investment”, she added.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/democrats-push-green-deal-combat-climate-change-190207152008741.html

 

Kurds in Iraq say US withdrawal from Syria a mistake

Iraq photoPeshmerga fighters say they captured these ISIL armoured vehicles that were filled with explosives [Jennifer Glasse/Al Jazeera]

by Jennifer Glasse

Mala Qara Village, Iraq – A pair of armoured vehicles parked in a corner of the Peshmerga headquarters in northern Iraq form a stark reminder of the threat the region is facing by ISIL.

“They were full of explosives when we captured them,” Kurdish Peshmerga commander General Sirwan Barzani said, as he discussed the battle his forces fought two years ago against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

ISIL fighters came within 25km of Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, before the Peshmerga got the upper hand in continuous battles, retaking control of towns in the region from 2014 to 2016.

While ISIL has since been driven from Mosul and other towns and villages in northern Iraq, they are still active in the area, Barzani said.

The current Kurdish-run Peshmerga front line is situated along the high ridge running north from the town of Makhmur, about 65km southwest of Erbil to Gwer, behind which ISIL fighters are hiding in the caves and on cliff faces on steep hills, Barzani said; it is terrain that makes it difficult to dislodge them.

A military operation last year to rid the area of ISIL was only partially successful, Barzani said, blaming constraints placed on his battle plan by Iraqi officials and US and coalition forces.

Barzani says there are other pockets of ISIL fighters to the south and west of the Peshmerga front lines, but the areas are controlled by Iraqi forces, so there is nothing he can do about them.

There is an uneasy cooperation between the Iraqi military and the Kurdish-run Peshmerga. They worked together against their common enemy, ISIL, but relations soured in October 2017 when Iraqi forces backed by Iranian militias retook control of oil-rich Kirkuk and other contested areas that Kurdish forces had held since 2014.

The Iraqi offensive came in the wake of a Kurdish referendum on independence that the Iraqi leadership in Baghdad and much of the rest of world dismissed as illegal.

The US, a long-time ally of the Iraqi Kurds, did nothing to stop the Iraqi military advance.

With the announcement by the Trump administration about the US withdrawal from Syria, Barzani said he is concerned the US will abandon the Syrian Kurds, who have been essential in the fight against ISIL.

US withdrawal
Major General Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the Peshmerga ministry, said, “It is very important that the US stays in both Iraq and Syria and keep playing the leadership role in the global coalition against ISIS.”

Yawar denied Iraq’s Peshmerga work with their Syrian counterparts, often called the Rojava Peshmerga named after the Kurdish region in eastern Syria.

“As Peshmerga forces, we have no connection with Rojava or any interference whatsoever. For us, it is the matter of another country, Syria, and we have no hand in any of it,” Yawar said.

He said Iraqi Peshmerga have fought inside Syria only once.

“During the ISIS attack on Kobane we were formally asked to send reinforcements, which we did with the coordination from the coalition forces and the Peshmerga stayed there for a year,” Yawar told Al Jazeera.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed a so-called “safe zone” inside Syria running east of the Euphrates river to the border.

Barzani said that will force Syria’s Kurdish fighters, who so far have been allied with the United States, to make a deal with Damascus.

“The fighters they will go to [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], they will have an agreement with him, of course, it’s very clear,” Barzani said.

The US announcement, which came as a surprise to its allies, could undermine any leverage US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) might have had with Assad.

There are no details yet of who will be in charge of the safe zone, but Erdogan has said he will establish it himself if he does not get international support.

‘Fighting for land’
Barzani said Erdogan will use the buffer zone drive Kurds out, as they did in the Syrian Kurdish town of Afrin last March.

“If the fighters belonging to Turkey and the terrorists belonging to Erdogan will be there, they will be fighting for the land. It’s not a safe zone, it’s a warzone,” Barzani said.

Privately, Kurdish politicians said they are concerned any Turkish advance in Syria could cause another influx of refugees into Iraq’s Kurdish region, which currently hosts about 250,000. They note Erdogan’s “security zone” includes all Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates and a US pullout would be considered a defeat in the eyes of Syrian allies Russia and Iran.

The Peshmerga say the most convincing argument for the US to stay is the continued presence of ISIL in the region.

“For us, the Peshmerga, ISIS is not finished. They still carry out terrorist acts especially in areas called disputed territories in Kirkuk, Diyala, Salahaddin, Makhmour and around Mosul. They carry out daily attacks and they have even grown in strength,” Yawar said.

“Even Syrian Democratic Forces SDF say that the US forces should stay. ISIS is still a global terrorist organisation. It may have lost the land and the caliphate, but it still exists and it is dangerous.”

 

 
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/kurds-iraq-withdrawal-syria-mistake-190201120707894.html

Catholic Nuns Express Worry Over Violation Of Children’s Rights In Enugu, Nigeria

nun photo

Catholic Church reverend sisters under the aegis of Africa Faith and Justice Network, Nigeria say they are worried by the continuous violation of the rights of children in Enugu State. The nuns said that their concern was heightened by the fact that the Child’s Right Act had been passed in the state. Rising from a four-day delegates workshop on Thursday in Enugu, the group undertook to raise awareness in rural communities of the state and across the country. The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the Catholic nuns paid advocacy visits to the state Commissioner for Gender Affairs, Peace Nnaji.

The spokesperson for the group, Rev. Sr. Fidelia Alao, said it was sad that some children in the state were still exposed to all forms of dangers both at home and on the streets. Alao said that the passage of the law in the state was seen as a relief from some of the ills perpetrated against children.

Alao said: “We are, however, aware that in spite of this legislation, children are still exposed to all forms of danger, violence, abuse and exploitation in our homes and on the streets. “We continue to see children who should be in school hawking on the streets. “Children as young as 12 years and below are given into domestic servitude, an act that is against the law. “We see very young children carrying heavy loads to earn money, especially in Ogbete Market, Abakpa, Garki and many other locations in the state. “Our babies are treated as goods and sold to the highest bidder.”

Alao described such acts an aberration and inimical to the future of communities. She said: “As women and conscientious individuals, we know the important role holistic development of a person plays in the life of our communities and our country.” Alao appealed to the state government to institute measures to enlighten residents of the state on the Child’s Right Law.

She also called for a study of the conditions of rehabilitation centres within the state to ensure that inmates were not warehoused and abused. She said: “We want government to commission the inspection of government primary schools to evaluate the health environment and ensure that the necessary basic requirements are met.”

Alao urged the state government to initiate a statewide mechanism that would enable abused victims to seek help without fear of reprisals. Responding, Nnaji said that the state government had instituted measures to check the violation of children’s rights.

She said that state government had zero tolerance for child trafficking, adding that a committee responsible for child adoption was in place. Nnaji said that the government was doing its best to put in good shape the Rehabilitation Centre in Emene abandoned by the Federal Government.

The commissioner said that there were three Magistrates’ Courts and three state High Courts dedicated to handling cases related to child abuse. The commissioner thanked the group for its concern on the issue and collaboration in stamping out child abuse in the state. NAN further reports that reverend sisters and delegates of Catholic Women Organisation across the country participated in the workshop, facilitated by Africa Faith and Justice Network, Washington D.C.

 

 

https://theeagleonline.com.ng/catholic-nuns-express-worry-over-violation-of-childrens-rights-in-enugu/