The spectacular escape of Sinaloa cartel drug boss Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman from the “maximum security” Altiplano Prison at Almoloya, Mexico, on July 11th, 2015, was a true embarrassment for the Enrique Peña Nieto administration.
The timing alone was very significant. Peña Nieto and several hundred Mexican officials and military personnel were on a much-ballyhooed trip to France, with some of them there already and some like the president en route when the news of the escape got out. Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, who had already arrived in France, had to return to Mexico.
It’s probably logical to assume that PR-wise, for the Peña Nieto administration, it would have been better had Chapo not been captured, rather than be captured and then escape.
Early in 2015, then-Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told Associated Press that not extraditing Guzman to the U.S., but retaining him imprisoned in Mexico, was a matter of Mexican national sovereignty. Maybe so, but it would have gotten a hot potato out of the Mexican government’s hands.
Furthermore, Murillo Karam overconfidently declared that the risk of Chapo escaping “does not exist.” Wow, that’s too confident!
(Late last February Murillo Karam was moved from the Attorney Generalship to the Secretariat of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development, so he wasn’t in a position to have to deal with the Chapo escape. That was probably a relief for him.)
The Chapo Guzman tunnel was no furtive tunnel scratched out of the soil. It was a carefully-designed and professionally constructed passageway, with construction having apparently begun soon after Chapo was sent to the prison.
Where is Chapo Guzman now? With his vast fortune, web of contacts, and a drug-trafficking empire spanning continents, Chapo could be anywhere.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) thinks that Chapo Guzman went back to his home state of Sinaloa, and is there now.
It’s not that the DEA is proffering any hard evidence that Chapo is in Sinaloa, in fact a DEA spokesperson said the agency doesn’t have any such evidence that the drug lord is even in Mexico.
It’s just that, for several reasons, it seems like a reasonable assumption.
For one thing, there’s the physical geography of Sinaloa.
My family and I once traveled by bus through the mountains of Sinaloa. The scenery is impressive, albeit dangerous if a driver isn’t careful. Our bus moved slowly around the mountainous curves, so as not to tumble into the chasms below. There is now a new super-highway (including the spectacular Baluarte Bridge) that traverses the mountains. It wasn’t completed, but was under construction, when we traveled through Sinaloa.
It was during a summer when we made this trip, nevertheless, I recall our bus being stopped at a Mexican Army checkpoint and I could see a soldier’s breath.
But it’s not just that the rugged mountain fastness of Sinaloa could protect Chapo. It’s also the social element.
According to Chuck Rosenberg, the DEA’s Acting Administrator, Sinaloa is where el Chapo “would feel safest” as that is where he has “his family and his contacts.” Furthermore, it would help him maintain authority in the cartel.
In Sinaloa, many see Chapo Guzman as a folk hero and benefactor. Click here for an MSNBC video about support for Guzman in Sinaloa.
Hector Berrellez, a former DEA agent, predicts that Chapo is going to have a meeting, or maybe has already met, with Rafael Caro Quintero.
Caro Quintero is infamous for his participating in the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena, for which he as jailed in 1989. In 2013 Caro Quintero was released from prison on a technicality (see here), and he is now believed to be in Sinaloa. If both el Chapo and Caro Quintero are in that same state, such a meeting would not be surprising. After all, Chapo used to work for Caro Quintero.
So, is Chapo Guzman in Sinaloa? We can’t say for sure, but it wouldn’t be surprising.
By Allan Wall