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Column 022414 Wall

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mexican Drug Lord 'Chapo' Guzman Captured in Mazatlan, Sinaloa

By Allan Wall

During the morning of February 22nd, Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman was captured in Mazatlan, on Mexico’s Pacific coast.  

Guzman was the world’s most wanted man, #1 on the Forbes Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, with bounties on his head offered by both the U.S. and Mexican governments.  Besides being #1 on the Forbes list of international fugitives, he had also been on their list of billionaires and their list of most powerful people.  That was quite a combination. 

Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s biggest and strongest, ran an international criminal network, its tentacles reaching beyond this hemisphere, to Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.  

Guzman had brought the Sinaloa Cartel to dominance in the world cocaine market, also dealing in heroin, meth and marijuana. The cartel was also involved in kidnapping, extortion and human trafficking. 

According to an anonymous former U.S. law official, "There's no drug-trafficking organization in Mexico with the scope, the savvy, the operational ability, expertise and knowledge as the Sinaloa cartel.  You've kind of lined yourself up with the New York Yankees of the drug trafficking world." 

On February 22nd, Mexican Marines captured el Chapo without firing a shot, which was good.  

The high-level capture was the culmination of an operation lasting four days which arrested 13.  Weapons (97 rifles, 36 handguns, two grenade launchers and a rocket launcher) were confiscated, as were 43 vehicles (19 of them armored).  Sixteen houses and four ranches were taken over.  

Reportedly there was help too from members of Chapo Guzman’s own security team, who had been arrested earlier in the month.  

According to a U.S. spokesman, the DEA and U.S. marshals’ service were “heavily involved”.  In what way were they involved?  Details may leak out in the next few days.  

Joaquin Guzman was born in the 1950s in the state of Sinaloa, and he moved his way up in the underworld. 

Imprisoned in Jalisco’s El Puente Grande prison, Guzman escaped in 2001 in a laundry cart, with inside help of course.  Apparently, Chapo Guzman flew the coop because he feared extradition to the U.S., since he reportedly had almost everybody working in the jail under his influence, in one way or another.  

In the intervening years, reputed sightings of Chapo Guzman would pop up from time to time in various places.  The drug lord was reported to be in various parts of Mexico, and in the U.S., Guatemala, and Honduras. 

Guzman liked to dine out from time to time, so this is how he’d do it.  Guzman and bodyguards would enter a restaurant, and the cell phones of diners would be confiscated.  Guzman and company would eat a meal and leave -- with el Chapo picking up the tab for all the other customers. 

Some critics have actually charged that the Mexican government was protecting Guzman, and of course the Mexican government denied this.  There’s no doubt though that Chapo had authorities on his payroll, the question was how high up?
 
Now though, Guzman has been captured and he is now in custody.  

No doubt this was a great catch. But how will it affect the future course of the Mexican drug war?  There are several factors to consider.  

In the first place, although Guzman was the cartel’s most famous figure he wasn’t its only leader.  El Chapo’s partner, Ismael Zambada Garcia, “el Mayo,” is of equal rank to Chapo and he is still at large.  

And of course, there are no doubt plenty of lower ranking cartel bosses who would be happy to fill Guzman’s shoes.  

As el Mayo Zambada put it in a 2010 interview, "When it comes to the capos, jailed, dead or extradited — their replacements are ready." 

Not only that, some Mexican drug bosses have been able to continue their direction of cartel business from jail, as Guzman did during his El Puente Grande days.  

This leads to speculation that Guzman may be extradited to the United States, where imprisoned Mexican drug lords have less influence.  Legally it wouldn’t be hard to accomplish, as Guzman faces various federal indictments in the U.S. legal system, and he is on the DEA’s Most Wanted List.  

And how about the Sinaloa Cartel’s archenemies, the ruthless Zetas?  How will they react to the Guzman arrest? 

The Chapo Guzman capture is a definite feather in the cap for the Enrique Peña Nieto administration.  

As the days go by, there will likely be all sorts of interesting details about Chapo Guzman’s capture filtering to the media.

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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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