After 13 years on the run, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has finally been captured. Mexican Navy commandos apprehended Guzman Saturday morning in the coastal resort town of Mazatlan without firing a shot. Guzman is suspected to be the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, the top supplier of illegal drugs to the U.S. with reaches as far as Europe and Asia.
Guzman, who was arrested in 1993 for drug trafficking, made a famous escape from maximum security prison in 2001 in a laundry cart and has been on the lam ever since. He reportedly had seven houses, with tunnels that allowed him to escape before police had the chance to detain him. The fugitive had been rumored to be in Guatemala, Argentina, Bolivia, and even the U.S.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has not allowed American law enforcement the same access into Mexico that former President Felipe Calderón had, but according to Eduardo Medina Mora, the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., the two governments have been working on the case together for months. Information from the Drug Enforcement Agency led to Mexican forces capturing Guzman. It remains unknown whether Guzman will be extradited to the U.S. or if he will face charges in Mexico.
The arrest was a major political victory for Peña Nieto, who on Saturday afternoon tweeted “Congratulations to all.”
Guzman was born the son of a poor farmer, and was brought up in the drug trade, in the Sierra Madre range, which is the heart of the North American marijuana and opium poppy production. He never made it past third grade. Instead, his mentors were the local drug lords who taught him the business and how to use a gun.
The legendary outlaw was not flashy or flamboyant and he became wealthier and more powerful each year until his reputation was comparable to that of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Former President Calderon was intent on catching Guzman, running at least three kill-capture units whose sole purpose was chasing the drug lord.
Yet Guzman quietly built his billion dollar narcotics empire and stayed out of reach of authorities through well-placed bribes and an army of hit men who are responsible for the death of thousands. Locals sang songs of his exploits, elevating him to folk hero status, while Forbes magazine listed him among the “World’s Most Powerful People” and estimated his fortune to be more than $1 billion.
A picture of Guzman released Saturday painted a different image, as he appeared kneeling and in handcuffs, accompanied by Mexican marines. Guzman was paraded before the media at a news conference in Mexico City before being escorted to prison.
Analysts expect that the Sinaloa Cartel will survive Guzman’s arrest. In the past, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada has proved capable of running the organization. Yet Mike Braun, former chief of operations for the DEA and currently a security consultant, said that now is the time for President Peña Nieto to do as much as he can to do as much damage as he can to the Sinaloa Cartel before they can fully regroup. Now that Mexican officials have captured Guzman, there is a chance to really disrupt operations and even dismantle the cartel over the course of two or three years.
By David Tulis