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Mexican capo’s arrest a gesture to US, not signal of change

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Mexican capo’s arrest a gesture to US, not signal of change

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s capture of a son of former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán this week was an isolated nod to a drug war strategy that Mexico’s current administration has abandoned rather than a sign that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s thinking has changed, experts say.

Ovidio Guzmán’s arrest in the Sinaloa cartel stronghold of Culiacan on Thursday came at the cost of at least 30 lives — 11 from the military and law enforcement and 19 suspected cartel gunmen. But analysts predict it won’t have any impact on the flow of drugs to the United States.

It was a display of muscle — helicopter gunships, hundreds of troops and armored vehicles — at the initiation of a possible extradition process rather than a significant step in a homegrown Mexican effort to dismantle one of the country’s most powerful criminal organizations. Perhaps coincidentally, it came just days before U.S President Joe Biden makes the first visit by a U.S. leader in almost a decade.

López Obrador has made clear throughout the first four years of his six-year term that pursuing drug capos is not his priority. When military forces cornered the younger Guzmán in Culiacan in 2019, the president ordered him freed to avoid loss of life after gunmen started shooting up the city.

The only other big capture under his administration was the grabbing of a geriatric Rafael Caro Quintero last July — just days after López Obrador met with Biden in the White House. At that point, Caro Quintero carried more symbolic significance for ordering a DEA agent’s murder decades ago than real weight in today’s drug world.

“Mexico wants to do at least the bare minimum in terms of counter-drug efforts,” said Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations who spent 13 years of his career in Mexico. “I don’t think that this is a sign that there’s going to be closer cooperation, bilateral collaboration, if you will, between the United States and Mexico.”

While capturing a criminal is a win for justice and rule of law, Vigil said, the impact on what he sees as a “permanent campaign against drugs” is nil. “Really what we need to do here in the United States is we need to do a better job in terms of reducing demand.”

That was a key talking point when the U.S. and Mexican governments announced late in 2021 a new Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health and Safe Communities, replacing the outdated Merida Initiative.

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The pact was supposed to take a more holistic approach to the scourge of drugs and the deaths they cause on both sides of the border. But underlining the frequent disconnect between diplomatic speech and reality, just two months later the U.S. government announced a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of any of four of El Chapo’s sons, including Ovidio, signaling the U.S. kingpin strategy was alive and well.

“The Bicentennial understanding was a change on paper with respect to attacking drug trafficking and violence with a more important focus on what were supposedly public health programs — (but) without any budget,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at George Mason University. In reality, “Mexico is bending to the United States’ interests.”

For decades, the U.S. has nabbed drug kingpins from Mexico, Colombia and points between, but drugs are as available and more deadly in the United States as ever, she said. “The kingpin strategy is a failed strategy.”

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on Ovidio Guzmán’s arrest.

López Obrador took office in December 2018 after campaigning with a motto of “hugs, not bullets.” He shifted resources to social programs to address what he sees as violence’s root causes, a medium- to long-term approach that did little for a country suffering more than 35,000 homicides per year.

“Something that has characterized, in my opinion, Mexico’s security policy in recent years is that it isn’t very clear. It has been a bit contradictory,” said Ángelica Durán-Martínez, associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. That ambiguity makes it difficult to determine if there has really been a change, she said.

López Obrador’s government benefits from the detention of Guzmán in several ways. The arrest eases the armed forces’ humiliation after being forced by cartel gunmen to release him in 2019. It may sooth ill-feelings after his administration strictly limited U.S. anti-drug cooperation two years ago. And it may help diminish perceptions that López Obrador — who has frequently visited Sinaloa and praised its people — has gone easier on the Sinaloa cartel than on other gangs.

For four years López Obrador has continued to shred his predecessors’ prosecution of the drug war at every opportunity. Experts say the respite allowed the cartels to get stronger, both in terms of organization and armament.

Guzmán during that time took a growing role after his father was sentenced to life in prison in the U.S. The younger Guzmán was indicted in Washington on drug trafficking charges along with another brother in 2018. He allegedly controlled a number of methamphetamine labs and was involved as the Sinaloa cartel expanded strongly into fentanyl production.

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Synthetic drugs have been impervious to government eradication efforts, are easier to produce and smuggle, and are much more profitable.

The Sinaloa cartel hardly missed a beat when Guzmán’s father was sent to the U.S., so the capture of one of the so-called “Chapitos,” as the brothers are known, is never going to shake the operation.

Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said the detention of Ovidio Guzman probably came as the result of pressure or information from the U.S. government, and marks the tacit abandonment of López Obrador’s rhetoric about ditching the kingpin strategy.

For Hope, the detention is depressing, not only because it won’t fundamentally change the Sinaloa cartel’s booming export trade in meth and fentanyl, but because it reveals how little investigation Mexican authorities had done on Guzmán and the cartel since 2019.

“How great that they got Ovidio, applause, perfect,” Hope said. “What depresses me is that we’ve been at this (drug war) for 16 years, or 40 counting from the (murder of DEA agent Enrique) Camarena, and we still don’t have the ability to investigate.”

After Guzmán’s capture, Mexican officials said he was arrested on an existing U.S. extradition request, as well as for illegal weapons possession and attempted murder at the time they found him. On Friday, Interior Secretary Adán López Hernández said there were other Mexican investigations underway that they couldn’t talk about.

“We keep betting on the muscle, the military capabilities and not on the ability to investigate,” Hope said.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

___

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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