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Column 032612 Wall

Monday, March 26, 2012

Will Mexico's Most Wanted Drug Lord Be Captured This Year?

By Allan Wall

Mexico's most powerful drug cartel chief is Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, who heads up the Sinaloa Cartel.  Like other prominent Mexican narcos, Guzman has a nickname. It's "el Chapo" (Shorty). 

Guzman is a billionaire, having a net worth of at least a billion U.S. dollars, and has been included on the Forbes billionaire list for the past few years.  See my previous column, Eleven Mexicans Make Forbes 2012 List of Billionaires.

Chapo Guzman is at large and is one of the world's most wanted men, maybe the most wanted man.  The drug baron is said to be guarded by 30 armed mercenaries.

The government of Mexico is offering a $30 million peso [US$2,356,970] reward for information leading to Guzman's capture, while the U.S. offers US$5 million. Any takers?

In January of 2001, el Chapo escaped in a laundry cart from the Puente Grande prison in Guadalajara, Mexico, and has been at large ever since.  In Puente Grande, his escape was facilitated by plenty of help both inside and outside the prison.

Sightings of el Chapo pop up from time to time in various places.  Guzman has been reported to be in various parts of Mexico, in the United States, and in Guatemala. In 2008, the government of the Central American nation of Honduras was investigating the possibility that he was in that Central American country.

Guzman likes to dine out from time to time, so these sightings include restaurant visits.  Guzman and bodyguards will enter a restaurant, the cell phones of diners are confiscated, Guzman and company eat a meal and then leave -- with el Chapo picking up the tab for all the other customers.

Some critics have actually charged that the Mexican government is protecting Guzman, and of course the Mexican government denies this.  Several other high-ranking Sinaloa narcos have been arrested.

In 2009, in the Mexican state of Durango, Catholic Archbishop Hector Gonzalez made the announcement that Chapo was "living nearby and everyone knows it except the authorities, who just don't happen to see him for some reason."  Several days later two dead bodies (who turned out to be of undercover military officers) were found with a message: "You'll never get el Chapo, not the priests, not the government."

On February 18th, 2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended a meeting of foreign ministers in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico.  The very next day, Mexican authorities were said to have "nearly nabbed" Guzman in Los Cabos, but he got away.

But what if Mexican authorities are able to capture el Chapo Guzman?

There is a political question involved here.

Mexico has a presidential election this year.  The candidates have been selected and campaigning is officially scheduled to begin on March 31st.

What would happen if the Mexican government captured Guzman before Election Day (scheduled for the 1st of July)?  This would be a real public relations triumph for the Calderon administration.  Would it carry over to help the PAN candidate, Josefina Vasquez Mota, who is currently trailing PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in the polls?

Would a Chapo Guzman capture be a "June surprise"?

Even beyond the election, how would the capture of Chapo Guzman affect the historical legacy of President Calderon?  Felipe Calderon is in his last year as president, and he has to be thinking about that.  How will his administration be viewed in Mexican history?

The high profile capture of the billionaire narco baron Guzman, at large for over a decade, would indeed be a big catch for Calderon.  On the other hand, Mexicans are very prone to conspiracy theories, and it would be argued by some that the government was waiting to capture el Chapo until right before the election, or something like that.

Would Guzman's capture really change things?  Certainly it would be a triumph.  However, a captured narco chief is still very dangerous and can still manipulate the situation from behind bars, as others have in Mexico.

If Guzman were completely cut off from contact with his cartel, wouldn't a bloody succession struggle break out?

In other words, would the capture of el Chapo Guzman, in and of itself, really improve the situation in Mexico?  There are certainly many other factors involved in the ongoing drug cartel war besides catching one big fish.

On the other hand, Guzman is a huge fish and he would be a big catch indeed.

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info/.


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