One does not understand how deep a drug lord’s branches are until he is placed in a maximum security prison 50 miles outside of Mexico city, and still manages to escape via a mile-long ventilated tunnel with modified motorcycle tracks. Apparently, the head of the largest Mexican criminal gang, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, is a skilled prison breaker who doesn’t take no for an answer when dishing out worthwhile bribes and menacing threats. Following a 13 year prison hiatus – Guzman escaped for the first time back in 2001 – the powerful Sinaloa kingpin was finally captured and arrested in February of 2014.
And like his 2001 escape, which saw the prosecution of the warden and other prison workers, many believed ‘El Chapo’ had received help from the inside. One would reasonably assume that it is hard to avoid hearing or seeing a man continuously dig and dig for months on end, especially when it is in the prison showers.
The Associated Press reported that DEA obtained documents unveiled “potential operations to free Guzman” a mere month after he was captured. When asked about the information allegedly brought to the attention of Mexican authorities more than a year ago, Mexico’s Interior Secretary, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, said that officials were never informed of the planned escape.
According to Jim Dinkins, the former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit, Guzman’s tunnel escape was “really ingenious.” The development of the tunnel would have taken about 18 to 24 months to complete, suggesting that work immediately begun after the arrest. It was likely that contacts on the outside regularly visited or had some form of communication with the prisoner.
And when did they have the time to light and ventilate the tunnel? It was a luxury escape that Chong believes all “had something or a lot to do with what happened.”
“I’m surprised it took a year for him to escape,” said former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Phil Jordan. He goes on to correct himself, “before he was allowed to escape.”
Did corrupt authorities at the Altiplano prison allow ‘El Chapo’ to escape or was the arrest a sham in the first place? They are not mutually exclusive, however, Jordan prefers the latter. His more than 30 years of experience with the DEA leads him to believe that Mexico simply set up the arrest to show the world, most importantly, the paternal figure that is the United States, that they have control over the drug war.
Jordan makes a solid point in arguing that it does not make any sense for a man who usually travels with an army in lieu of a few security guards to be caught with his family and a single bodyguard in a Mexican beach resort.
“They don’t capture Guzman unless they’ve made a deal with Guzman not to extradite him to the United States.”
Because even the worst crop of criminals know Supermax is a real dehumanizing thing in Colorado. ‘El Chapo’ would be mindless spending 23 hours of the day in a cell. Why would Mexico be opposed to such a thing? Dubbed as “Public Enemy No. 1” by the city of Chicago, ‘El Chapo’ is notorious for not only elevating Mexico’s drug trade to a globally organized scheme that reaped a lucrative $3 billion a year, but also for his savagery.
“It was, I believe, a source of national pride to say that, ‘We’ve got this. This is our situation and we can handle it,’ ” said Sylvia Longmire, author of “Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars.”
Now, several days have passed, and anxiety levels are rising. The Mexican government has initiated the spectacle of a manhunt by issuing 60 million pesos or a $3.8 million bounty reward. Interpol, the international policing agency, delivered alerts to nearly a dozen countries, notifying them of the ever elusive Joaquin Guzman. Guatemala is said to have increased its border security with Mexico, and even Donald Trump is scared for his life after receiving threats on Twitter. Sometimes he should know when not to get involved.
The most interesting part of Guzman’s escape is what happens next. Slate’s own Malcolm Beith explores the possibility of a sans ‘Chapo’ Sinaloa cartel. Considering the tumultuous nature of the cartel and the mistrust that has divided them over the years, no one knows whether the “uneducated boy from the hills of Sinaloa” will ever be seen again.
Image: Via Flickr/Day Donaldson
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org