To help fight COVID-19, Mexico is going to give away the mansions of 2 once-powerful drug kingpins

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Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, center, arrives at an airport in Long Island during his extradition to the US, January 19, 2017.

  • Mexico’s president recently a “mega raffle” with 22 prizes valued at $12.5 million, the proceeds of which will be used for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Among the goods being given away are mansions that belonged to two of Mexico’s most well known cartel bosses: Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and Amado Carrillo Fuentes.
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Ciudad Juarez, MEXICO – The million-dollar houses of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, formerly boss of the Sinaloa Cartel, and Amado Carrillo Fuentes, deceased boss of the Juárez Cartel, will pay for COVID-19 vaccines for Mexicans.

Mexican government recently announced it will hold a “mega raffle” on September 15 with 22 prizes and a total value of $12.5 million, including the two former drug lords’ seized mansions.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the money raised from the lottery will go “back to the people.”

“All of the money raised is going to be delivered to the people and help to buy [COVID-19] vaccines and medicines and to give away some scholarships” he said at his daily morning press conference on May 27.

The houses failed to sell when previously raffled by the Institute to Return Stolen Goods to the People, or Indep, which Lopez Obrador created to redistribute seized assets.

Amado Carrillo Fuentes
Amado Carrillo Fuentes, far left, in a photo found in one of his houses after a raid.

Carrillo Fuentes’ former residence is located in the exclusive Mexico City residential neighborhood of Jardines del Pedregal and is valued at about $4 million, according to Indep.

The property, seized more than 20 years ago, is over 32,000 square feet and has an indoor pool, nine bedrooms, several Jacuzzis and saunas, a wine cellar, and a party salon. According to the listing, Fuentes’ house is fully furnished.

El Chapo’s property is located in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa state on Mexico’s west coast and his cartel’s home turf. It was where Guzmán escaped arrest in February 2014 by using a secret tunnel under a bathtub. Public records don’t say if the tunnel is still there.

El Chapo’s house has two bedrooms, a living room, dining room, garage and a front garden, according to the public listing. Although more modest, it is valued at $200,000, a high price for Sinaloa’s real-estate market.

The lottery also includes a historic box at the Estadio Azteca, the iconic Mexico City stadium that holds over 87,500 people. The box has its own story: It is where then-President Miguel de la Madrid handed the World Cup trophy to Diego Maradona in 1986, crowning Argentina champion.

Estadio Azteca
Mexico’s Estadio Azteca.

According to the listing, the stadium box is “in an excellent location” and has a 20-person capacity, a bathroom, and four parking spaces. The box is valued at $1 million and would be held until 2065.

In 2019, Mexico offered six other homes seized from Guzmán. Only three sold, bringing in a total of $227,844. One of them, the steel-enforced safe house where Guzmán sheltered after his first prison escape in 2001, went for $107,530.

The government held a similar raffle in September 2020 in which the top prize was the presidential jet, but the $130 million Boeing 787 Dreamliner failed to sell.

Lopez Obrador decided to hold another lottery where 100 winners would get $1 million in cash, but that also failed when only 30% of the tickets were sold. There have been no more attempts to sell the plane.

Drug lords’ mansions

mexico marine drug cartel
A Mexican marine lifts a bathtub covering a tunnel in one of Guzmán’s homes in Culiacan. The tunnel leads to the city’s drainage system.

Guzmán was one of the most notorious and elusive of Mexico’s drug kingpins until his final arrest in Mexico in 2016. He was extradited in 2017 and convicted in a US federal court in 2019 on 10 charges, receiving a life sentence in a US federal “supermax” prison.

In 2009, Forbes magazine ranked Guzmán at number 701 on its annual list of billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. (A woman believed to be Guzmán’s eldest daughter has a fashion line called “El Chapo 701,” referring to his ranking.)

Guzmán owned six houses in Culiacan alone. Most are middle-class properties, but they all have one thing in common: a hydraulic system installed under the bathtub to lift the tub and provide access to the municipal sewage tunnels he used to escape.

He also owned an apartment in Mazatlán, Sinaloa’s most famous tourist beach. The property is part of the Miramar apartment complex and is where he was last captured. The complex became a tourist attraction and remains Mexican government property.

El Chapo also built a picturesque luxury hacienda for his mother, Consuelo Loera, in the town of Badiraguato in the mountains of Sinaloa, where Guzmán was born. The hacienda has four rooms, a large kitchen, and a small chapel in the back.

Mexico Sinaloa Badiraguato Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sign billboard
A billboard welcoming Lopez Obrador ahead of his visit to Badiraguato, February 15, 2019.

After a violent attack by a group believed to be Guzmán’s enemies in 2016, Consuelo Loera left the property, which remains abandoned.

Carrillo Fuentes – known as ‘El señor de los cielos,’ or “the lord of the skies,” for using planes to smuggle tons of drugs into the US – died 1997 during plastic surgery to change his appearance.

Many of Carrillo Fuentes’ properties have met the same fate that Guzmán’s now face. His more luxurious residences – among them a 2,000-square-foot apartment and a 6,000-acre ranch – were in Argentina, where he lived for a year in 1996.

In 2018, Argentina auctioned his three properties there, selling them for a total of $14 million.

He had several other properties in Mexico, including an arabesque-like mansion in Hermosillo, in the northern state of Sonora, and a luxurious mansion in southwestern Jalisco state; the latter was known as “Casa Versace” after the Italian brand established its first Mexican boutique in 1994.

Carrillo’s property in Sonora was recently demolished by the state government, while Casa Versace was bought by a private owner and turned into a reception hall.

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Biden to talk migration with Mexico’s López Obrador, who spent weeks refusing to recognize the president’s 2020 victory

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The US and Mexican flags are carried side by side during a march for peace near the US/Mexico border on March 11, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico.

  • President Biden will join a “virtual event” with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
  • The two will discuss migration, COVID-19, and economic cooperation, the White House said.
  • López Obrador didn’t recognize Biden’s 2020 victory until mid-December.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

US President Joe Biden will take part in a “virtual event” Monday with his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a center-left populist who worked closely with the Trump administration to stem migration from Central America.

The March 1 meeting, announced by the White House, comes after López Obrador spent weeks refusing to recognize Biden’s 2020 victory. After his victory was formalized by the Electoral College in mid-December, however, the Mexican head of state sent Biden a letter “to express my recognition of your stance in favor of migrants from Mexico and the rest of the world.”

The two leaders then agreed on a December 19 call to collaborate on a “new approach” to migration from Central America. They also spoke soon after Biden was inaugurated.

According to the White House, Monday’s agenda includes “cooperation on migration,” as well as COVID-19 and “joint development efforts” in the Americas.

Soon after taking office, Biden announced he was ending the “Remain in Mexico” program that forced asylum-seekers to wait out their cases south of the border. He also announced that those subjected to that program would now be eligible to come to the US.

During the previous administration, Mexico closely collaborated with its top trading partner to prevent migrants from reaching the US, deploying thousands of soldiers and setting up police checkpoints across the country to arrest people coming from Honduras and Guatemala.

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After social-media sites booted Trump, Mexican leaders want to put ‘clear limits’ on what those companies can do

Donald Trump phone
  • President Donald Trump no longer has a social-media platform after several sites banned him in the wake of the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill.
  • Those bans are cause for dismay in Mexico, where the president and other leaders want to exert more control over social-media sites’ ability to restrict users.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

MEXICO – The removal of President Donald Trump’s accounts by top social-media sites has sparked fear among Mexican political leaders, who now want control over bans and suspensions and to be able to impose financial penalties on those companies.

Trump’s last tweet before being permanently banned came on January 8, two days after the US Capitol riots.

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” Trump tweeted at 9:46 a.m.

Almost immediately, Twitter suspended Trump’s account, which had 88.7 million followers, for what it said was “encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts.”

Days later, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat also suspended Trump’s accounts indefinitely.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has criticized the companies’ decisions, saying he “doesn’t like censorship.”

Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador AMLO
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at his daily news conference in Mexico City, February 14, 2020.

“I don’t like anyone to be censored and for them to have their right taken away to send a message on Twitter or on Facebook,” he said at his morning news conference on January 7.

“I can tell you that at the first G20 meeting we have, I am going to make a proposal on this issue,” Obrador said. “Yes, social media should not be used to incite violence and all that, but this cannot be used as a pretext to suspend freedom of expression.”

Others in the Mexican government want to go further. Senate majority leader Ricardo Monreal has proposed a law to “regulate and establish clear limits” on social media.

“What I’m looking [for] with this proposal is to establish clear limits to social media companies owners regarding bans and suspensions of personal accounts,” Monreal told Insider.

“We are not going after more censorship, but the opposite: We want to protect the right of social media users to keep their accounts,” he said.

Monreal’s proposal would allow Mexico’s Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) to overrule social media companies’ decisions on bans. It would allow suspended users to submit an appeal to the IFT.

“This autonomous organism will decide if someone is violating constitutional rights on social media, and if that’s the case, the responsible companies will receive a financial sanction,” Monreal said.

Mexico Senator Ricardo Monreal
Mexican Sen. Ricardo Monreal at the Senate building in Mexico City, May 30, 2019.

The law would allow fines of up to $4.4 million for companies found to be violating users’ right to free speech. It would only apply to platforms with over a million users in Mexico, directly affecting Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

But protecting freedom by taking more control might not be the right approach, according to Sissi De La Peña, director for the Latin-American Internet Association, a nonprofit organization advocating internet freedom and innovation.

“Monreal’s proposal is an attempt against the open and free nature of the internet. Giving the government a dominant voice over social media” could limit everyone else’s freedom, De La Peña told Insider.

“These censorship models are in place in other regimes like Russia, China, or Iran. Mexico is not one of those regimes. We are an open and democratic country,” De La Peña said.

Some suspect the battle over social media in Mexico is in reality over political control.

On January 22, the Twitter accounts for three political influencers and known advocates for Mexico’s ruling party, the National Regeneration Movement, or MORENA, were closed indefinitely.

Miriam Junne, Vero Islas, and “El Rey Tuitero” (“the Twitter King”) were banned from Twitter for “violating spam policies and attempting to manipulate the platform,” Twitter said.

Political columnist Julio Astillero, who has more than 700,000 Twitter followers, suggested the National Action Party, a right-wing opposition party, could be behind the bans.

“Today is a crucial day for @TwitterMexico. They should reactivate @Miriam_June, @LOVREGA and @ElReyTuitero to confirm there is no factious intentions vs @lopezobrador…#TwitterMustRectify,” Astillero tweeted.

“There is several other examples of Twitter violence against politicians, public servants and advocates of the so called 4t [MORENA] and their accounts have not been canceled,” Astillero added.

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A woman on a cellphone outside a nursing home in Guadalupe, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, May 6, 2020.

Political analyst Lila Abed said what happened to Trump’s social media accounts can not be considered censorship or a violation to his freedom of speech, thus the debate in Mexico “is nothing else but a political battle.”

“I think this battle has a major political background with the pretext of fighting for freedom of speech. It is no coincidence Mexico is going through elections on several states and they presented this proposal just now,” Abed said in a recent interview.

But Monreal said his motive is “a true intention to protect freedom of speech.”

“There is no real freedom of speech today. The social-media owners are the ones who can cancel your accounts and ban your content, and this is a direct hit to freedom. I want an autonomous organism to control this and not some private owners,” he said.

But by imposing fines on foreign companies, the new law could violate the US-Mexico-Canada free-trade agreement, signed by Trump and his counterparts, which states that “no Party shall impose liability on a supplier or user of an interactive computer service.”

“Under this context, Mexico would be violating an international treaty, specifically chapter 28, by giving a discriminatory treatment to these companies,” Abed said.

Mexico could be the first country in Latin America to pass a law to control social media, though De La Peña said there is no need to regulate “something that is already regulated under terms and conditions.”

“Technology in itself is not good nor bad. It depends on how we use it. In the end, we could have avoided … this debate if we as a society learn how to behave on social media,” De La Peña told Insider.

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Over 1,300 asylum-seekers assaulted in Mexico while remaining there under Trump administration policy, new report says

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A migrant in the “Remain in Mexico” program talks to an immigration agent outside the premises of the National Migration Institute (INM) while waiting to renew her permission to stay legally in Mexico to wait for their immigration hearing in the U.S., in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico July 8, 2020.

  • Human Rights First, a US nonprofit, documented more than 1,300 attacks against asylum-seekers in Mexico since February 2019.
  • Thousands of asylum-seekers have been forced by the Trump administration to remain in Mexico while awaiting a hearing on their claims.
  • President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to immediately rescind the program.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

More than 1,300 people have been raped, kidnapped, or otherwise assaulted since February 2019, when the Trump administration began requiring asylum-seekers to wait out their claims in Mexico, according to a new report.

“Continuing to turn away and expel people seeking US refugee protection at the southern border is both a humanitarian disgrace and a legal travesty,” Kennji Kizuka, a researcher at Human Rights First, which put out the study, said Wednesday. “The Trump administration is flouting US laws and treaty obligations to protect refugees, and weaponizing the pandemic to block and expel people seeking safety in the United States.”

But Kizuka told Business Insider that the report from Human Rights First understates the problem, noting that assaults against those deported under a more recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention order have not actually been included in the count, which is limited to those expelled under the “Remain in Mexico” program. Due to that program, 23,000 people are currently waiting, in Mexico, to hear if their fears of violence will be sufficient to gain asylum in the US.

In March, the CDC issued an order effectively denying the right to seek asylum – an order that CBS News reported came only after intense lobbying from the White House – the US has expelled over 260,000 migrants, including at least 8,800 unaccompanied children, per Human Rights First (the ACLU estimates the number was more like 14,000 by November). 

And the Trump administration has continued deporting kids even after a court order explicitly demanding that it stop, a US judge having ruled in November that the expulsions violate migrants’ right to due process; dozens have been sent back to Mexico anyway.

“This is what the Trump administration is doing to migrants in the name of stopping the spread of COVID while they hold lavish holiday parties inside The White House with no social distancing or masks, “Al Otro Lado, a nonprofit that assists immigrants at the border, said in response to the report. “This was never about stopping COVID-19.”

The incoming Biden administration has pledged to revisit the CDC’s order and immediately end the “Remain in Mexico” program. For many, however, the damage will have already been done. According to Human Rights First, at least 318 children returned to Mexico – whether they were from there originally or not – “were kidnapped or subjected to kidnapping attempts.” That figure includes only those victims who were willing to come forward and speak to journalists or researchers.

The stories that have been told are horrific. In May, for example, an asylum-seeking couple from Cuba were kidnapped immediately after they were returned to Nuevo Laredo by US officials, “held by armed men in a room covered in blood where migrants with missing body parts moaned on the floor,” according to Human Rights First.

Critics don’t just blame the United States, however. The Remain in Mexico program is only possible, after all, because the government of center-left President Andrés Manuel López Obrador agreed to it. On Wednesday, two Mexican nonprofit organizations, the Institute for Women in Migration and the Foundation for Justice and the Democratic State of Law, filed a complaint with Mexico’s top prosecutor demanding an investigation into the de facto impunity enjoyed by those who victimize US asylum-seekers in the country.

The attorney general should not only look for those criminals, they said, “but also they should investigate the criminal liability of the Mexican authorities that have assumed the obligation of guarantors [of migrant safety] and have breached it,” the Mexican outlet Animal Politico reported.

Many of those being denied entry to the US, meanwhile, are coming from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, countries that the Trump administration at least publicly considers violent and politically repressive. Some have managed to avoid the Remain in Mexico program only to be forcibly returned to the hands of a government they fled.

Valeska Alemán Sandoval, a Nicaraguan student activist, told this reporter she was tortured by a pro-government paramilitary group, a toenail ripped out, and forced by police to record a “confession” identifying her fellow anti-austerity protesters as criminals and drug addicts. But the Nicaraguan government, while adamantly “anti-imperialist” in its rhetoric, closely collaborates with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, helping the Trump administration expedite the deportation of its own citizens.

In August, Alemán was a beneficiary of this international cooperation and put on a flight back to Managua, where Nicaraguan authorities were waiting.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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Mexico’s president asked citizens to avoid giving out Christmas presents this season to limit the spread of the coronavirus

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Mexico’s President Obrador holds a news conference in Mexico City

  • Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador advised citizens to avoid gatherings, traveling, and exchanging presents this holiday season as the coronavirus continues to spread. 
  • Mexico has the fourth-highest coronavirus death toll in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 
  • “Let’s leave Christmas presents for another time,” Obrador said in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, according to Reuters.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador told citizens on Friday to avoid festivities and exchanging gifts this holiday season to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reported.

“Let’s leave Christmas presents for another time,” Obrador said, urging people to avoid traveling unless there is something “truly important to do.”

Obrador also announced that he expects to see hospitalizations rise and test the capacity, equipment, and staff levels, Reuters reported. But he will not enforce mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus, he said.

Positive coronavirus cases have been spiking in Mexico in recent weeks, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

With more than 1.1 million confirmed cases, Mexico’s infection counts pales in comparison with the United States, which has counted more than 14.3 million, the world’s most confirmed coronavirus cases. 

Still, US officials are worried about Americans contracting the coronavirus while traveling in Mexico. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, is urging Americans to “avoid all travel to Mexico.” 

Mexico, with more than 108,000 deaths, has the fourth-highest death toll rate in the world, behind India, Brazil, and the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Obrador said his words of caution are particularly important in large metropolitan areas like Mexico City, Reuters reported. Almost 9 million people live in Mexico City, and people have already begun to prepare for the holiday season.

Best Buy stores had to temporarily shut down on Thursday after crowds gathered to take advantage of deals. The consumer electronics retailer announced it will depart from Mexico beginning December 31, and shoppers showed up in droves to seek out sales.

Already, hospitals in Mexico City have grown overwhelmed as coronavirus cases continue to spike, the Associated Press reported

“Mexico is in bad shape,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization director-general, in a press briefing earlier this week. He also urged leaders to step up and respond to the threats of the pandemic seriously.

Obrador has in the past downplayed the disease and has received criticism for his handling of the pandemic. 

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