Spain Drug Bust Links Chapo Guzman, Mexico’s new President

When a lieutenant for the Sinaloa Cartel was arrested this week in Spain for drug trafficking, it became a major scandal in Mexico for a curious reason.

Until several days ago no one had ever heard of someone from a drug cartel posting pictures of a drug trafficking operation-in-progress on Facebook.

Yet that’s just what one “narco-junior" with better connections than brains was caught doing last week. He even had time for sightseeing while he waited for the load to arrive.

The result is turning into a perfect storm for new Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his party, the PRI.


It was bad enough that low-level PRI functionary Rafael Celaya Valenzuela (known as “Rafa”) got himself busted along with three other men this week in Madrid when their shipment of 337 kilos of cocaine arrived in the Spanish port of Algeciras.

Things got even worse when the leader of Rafa Celaya’s drug ring,  Jesus Gutierrez Guzman, turned out to be a cousin of the most infamous Drug Lord since Pablo Escobar, El Chapo Guzman.

Clorine in the gene pool

But when Mexican journalists discovered photos of Celaya—on his Facebook page!—acting all chummy with top PRI party officials, including Mexico’s new President Enrique Peña Nieto…well, that's when we collectively crossed the threshold into a Brave New World where social networks like Facebook combine equal parts criminality, hubris and stupidity to reveal the hidden inner workings of a Mexican drug cartel.

For the PRI—courtesy of a hapless PRI-affiliated lawyer with a taste for the ladies, and the limelight—it was the perfect storm.

The party that dominated Mexico for more than seven decades has long been seen as an oligarchic dynasty rife with nepotism. In a cruel twist for Mexico's new rulers, that image now has a new poster boy:

Rafa Celaya, who is the nephew, according to newspapers in Mexico City, of Victor Hugo Celaya, the PRI’s jefe in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, as well as chairman of Enrique Peña Nieto's Presidential campaign in the state.

In the blink of an eye, Rafa’s “Uncle Victor” went from pontificating in press conferences about “strengthening democracy in Mexico” to hiding from reporters in Mexico City. He could not have been too pleased.

And while anyone with the name “Victor Hugo” can’t be all bad, Rafa should hope for a stretch in a Spanish prison to give Uncle Vic time to cool down.

Working for the…Water Commission?

Two more items about this incipient scandal cry out for immediate attention.

First: The PRI’s response to the scandal was inadvertently revealing. The pictures meant nothing, said party bosses. As a candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto had his photo taken with thousands of party members and sympathizers. So what?

Helpfully, party officials revealed that the party  "does not approve" of any illegal actions by its members.

Then, while speaking to a journalist, one unnamed party official confided that Rafa was a low-level mediocrity so unworthy of mention that the most important public office he has ever held was as director of Aguas de Hermosillo, the municipal water commission in the capital of Sonora.

That rang a bell.

In the scandal a few years ago surrounding the DC9 (N900SA) airliner busted in the Yucatan carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine, drug pilots had been hidden, or sheep-dipped, inside the Mexican Federal Water Commissions.

On the day the plane was busted, two pilots who had flown in from Mexico City on a Falcon business jet were milling around in the small airport terminal in Ciudad del Carmen, waiting for the DC9 to land. 

Both pilots—Marco Aurelio Perez de Gracia and Fernando Poot Perez—turned out to be employees of Conagua, the Mexican Federal Water Commission, which also owned the plane.

Both were ex-military officers. Both had spent recent time in prison for drug trafficking. And, of course, they were not there by accident. Both men were (again) convicted for drug trafficking.

One committed suicide in the maximum security Altiplano prison facility outside Mexico City. He hung himself… with his socks.

Murder in a small town

Mexico’s drug trafficking dynasties have gone from unshaven roughnecks in ramshackle mountain villages to a generation who grew up in mansions in wealthy Mexico City suburbs with luxury cars color-coordinated to match their designer sweat-suits.

But the cruelty and brutality displayed toward their fellow citizens has not changed. Instead, its gotten worse.

“Rafa “Celaya —who has been reported to have boasted to anyone who would listen of his connections with top officials in the government of Mexico, and then followed up his boasts by posting pictures of himself with said officials on Facebook—may be finding out its not all fun and games.

According to his Facebook page, Rafa Celaya Valenzuela worked at the PRI in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, not far from where he grew up. We looked it up, and several things about that beleaguered town stood out:

A story from the local paper dated May 28, 2012, for example, bore this headline: “San Luis Rio Colorado police chief shot and killed.”

“Luis Rodriguez Soqui was killed in an attack on Saturday night by corrupt local police.”

“He was gunned down by multiple shooters firing AK-47’s and other high-powered weapons. At least 30 bullets found their mark.”

“The motive of the shooting remained under investigation by federal police.”

Another headline, this time from Mexican investigative magazine Zeta read   “San Luis, a town infiltrated by drug traffickers: “They let murderers escape:”

Give back what you took from the TUNNEL

The story went like this:

The Chief had been warned by organized crime in 2011 with the assassination of a close friend.  As a result he chose to work in preventing ordinary crime, and turned a blind eye to  drug trafficking. It wasn’t enough, because he refused to look the other way when organized gangs of local police sexually assaulted two young girls.

On the night of the attack, at least two or three patrols of the municipal police loitered just three blocks from the crime scene. They did not respond to calls for help. The murder was caught on a security camera in the area.

No one knows what happened to the tape.

When a reporter from Zeta magazine showed up to poke around, he met with Rafa Valenzuela Celaya.

"From the time he first appeared at a press conference, until the end of the campaign, he wore the official team shirt of Peña Nieto, white with long sleeves, despite the heat, with the candidate's name embroidered on it," he reported.

"Rafael Celaya did not conceal, and even boasted, about his relationship with national political figures."

"The last time this reporter spoke with Rafael Celaya, at a Chinese restaurant, he was still wearing that white shirt with the PRI candidate's name."

Sitting on a nearby table, a lady visiting San Luis Rio Colorado, from Yuma, Arizona, said she was a fan of Peña Nieto and pleaded for a souvenir.

Celaya got one for her.

There is one more item about the town where PRI operative Rafa Celeya lived that is unusual.

The town boasted a narco-tunnel stretching across the border to Yuma Arizona.

Apparently the tunnel was, or maybe still is, something of an open secret, because the house Celaya moved into had a narco-message displayed in front of it that read:

"Return the $ 200 thousand belonging to the TUNNEL."

It doesn't get any clearer than that.