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Recapture Of Mexico's Most Wanted Drug Lord Won't Stop Cartels
February 23, 2014 3:00 pm
Recapture of Mexico’s most wanted drugs lord boosts Nieto but cartels go on
By Jude Webber in Mexico City
Mexico’s recapture of the world’s most-wanted drug lord 13 years after he broke out of a top-security jail is a blow to the country’s criminal cartels and a coup for the can-do image of Enrique Peña Nieto, the president.
But even with Joaquín Guzmán back behind bars, this is far from the end for the Sinaloa cartel he controlled with such ruthlessness, cautioned Anabel Hernández, author of Narcoland, a bestselling book on Mexico’s drugs wars.
“His arrest is very important. He is a criminal who owes many lives,” Ms Hernández said. “But this is not even close to the end of the road for the Sinaloa Cartel. Ironically, the cartel will probably come out of this strengthened.”
Alejandro Hope, security analyst at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, said the arrest of Mr Guzmán was highly “symbolic – this was the face of impunity and the failure of previous administrations [to capture him]”.
Mr Guzmán – know as “El Chapo”, or Shorty – is credited with controlling as much as half of the illicit drugs delivered into the US every year. His wealth was such that for a spell he held a place on the Forbes rich list of the world’s wealthiest people.
The arrest on Saturdaycame as Mexican marines, working with US intelligence, stormed into a property in the Pacific resort of Mazatlán, surprising Mr Guzmán while he slept and before he had a chance to reach for the AK-47 he kept by his bed.
Unlike other operations which ended in a hail of bullets and sometimes the death of the drug boss, not a single shot was fired in the capture of Mr Guzmán – an operation that had almost succeeded a week ago.
Getting ‘Shorty’: call tips off US and Mexico
Just as in the fall of Colombian cocaine king Pablo Escobar in 1993, the fatal error that gave away Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán may have been using his telephone
Then, as troops struggled with a reinforced door, Mr Guzmán slipped into a maze of tunnels connecting several houses and the local sewer system, and disappeared, admitted Jesús Murillo Karam, Mexico’s attorney-general.
Mexico’s drugs war has claimed an estimated 80,000 lives in the past eight years, and Mr Nieto has made taking the fight to the cartels one of the themes of his presidency.
Ismael Zambada is the man expected to take the reins of the Sinaloa Cartel, due to the fact that he already shared power with Mr Guzmán, Ms Hernández said. Other analysts see Mr Zambada more as Mr Guzmán’s second-in-command.
Considered less violent and flamboyant than Mr Guzmán – a man who was said to revel in being untouchable by the police – Mr Zambada would be more open to alliances with other drugs organisations, such as the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, Ms Hernández added. This could boost the Sinaloa cartel’s power base, while keeping business going as usual.
Mr Hope said he expected the capture of a man with a $5m price put on his head by the US to fuel a shift to a more local, gang-based model of organised crime.
This would accelerate a transition from cartels closely allied to Mexican political and business bosses focused on shifting drugs into the US “to a more local, less sophisticated and more territorial model of organised crime”.
This is not even close to the end of the road for the Sinaloa Cartel. Ironically, the cartel will probably come out of this strengthened.”
- Anabel Hernández, author of Narcoland
This does not mean fewer Mexican drugs will find their way on to the streets. Yet it could mean more gang-ledextortion and kidnapping – activities that have turned into money-spinners for some cartels, like the Zetas.
“Small gangs no longer pose an existential threat to the Mexican state the way the old Sinaloa or Gulf cartels did,” said Mr Hope. “They would not have the financial or political wherewithal to capture large parts of the state. But they do pose a major threat to public security.”
Mr Guzmán – looking paunchier than at the time of his 2001 jailbreak, with black hair and a moustache – kept his face stony as he was paraded before the press before being flown to the Altiplano maximum security prison in the state of Mexico.
There, Ms Hernández noted, he will be in the company of other drug bosses, including Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, the head of the Zetas who was captured last year; Edgar Valdez Villareal, the drugs boss known as La Barbie; and his own brother, Miguel Guzmán. Their arrests, she noted, had done little or nothing to dent their cartels’ power.
Guzmán is also wanted on a string of charges in the US and a spokesman for the US Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, Robert Nardoza, was quoted by Reuters as saying that his office planned to seek the drug lord’s extradition. Prosecutors in Chicago, where Guzmán has been designated Public Enemy No 1 by the Chicago Crime Commission, were also reported to be readying extradition plans.