The impact of El Chapo’s recapture
Mexican Marines arrested Joaquín Loera Guzmán, “El Chapo,” following a firefight at his Los Mochis hideout in his home state of Sinaloa. Guzmán was not injured in the gun battle, which claimed the lives of five of his bodyguards. Following the capture, President Enrique Peña Nieto tweeted, “Mission Accomplished: We got him.”
Guzmán escaped from a maximum security prison last July. Video cameras recorded him entering a shower stall, only to disappear from view. Authorities discovered he slipped down a small hole in the stall. He climbed down 30 feet to a tunnel that ran a mile to a construction site. Guzmán used a motorcycle on rails to traverse the distance. Authorities estimate the cost of the tunnel at more than $1 million.
El Chapo – Spanish for Shorty – began life as a farmer but moved into drug business in 1980. He created the Sinaloa cartel, which grew into Mexico’s richest, most powerful and most ruthless. According to Forbes, the cartel was responsible for 25 percent of all illegal drugs entering the U.S. from Mexico. Drug enforcement authorities estimated the organization’s annual revenues exceeded $3 billion. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 60,000 people were killed between 2006 and 2012 due to drug-related violence. One source estimates the Sinaloa cartel was responsible for more than 19,000 murders between 2006 and 2010.
What the cartel moved: diversity is the key
When cocaine was the drug of choice, Guzmán and his confederates would purchase a kilo of cocaine in Colombia for $2,000. By the time the drug reached the States, that kilo was going for $30,000 wholesale. Street dealers then sold it in grams. The $2,000 would net $100,000 by the end of the kilo’s lifecycle. And the cartel would get a hefty percentage.
What distinguishes Sinaloa from other cartels is diversification. Once cocaine lost its luster, Guzmán adapted his production lines to meet new demands. The cartel quickly dominated the heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine market.
The cartel relies on established entry ports along the Mexico – U.S. border to move its product. The majority of drugs enter the U.S. in trucks equipped with false bottoms, holds and walls. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, El Paso, San Antonio, Phoenix and Los Angeles are major distribution centers. Trucks are driven to warehouses located on the outskirts of the cities. There the drugs are repackaged in amounts street dealers can sell. These include small envelopes bearing the cartel’s brand.
In Sinaloa, Guzmán is considered by many a folk hero. His repeated escapes from prison have elevated him to a mythical figure. But what has endeared him to the people is his generosity. He is known to distribute considerable sums to the poor. Guzmán is the subject of many narcocorridos, or drug ballads. These extol Guzmán as a righteous figure; a protector of the people and an enemy of the corrupt government. National Public Radio notes many narcocorridos surfaced following Guzmán’s July escape. In these songs, he assumes a stature worthy of Robin Hood.
The toll his recapture will have on the drug trade
Edgardo Buscaglia is an expert in international organized crime. Buscaglia believes Guzmán used his time behind bars to consolidate Sinaloa’s hold on the drug trade.
He says the wars between drug cartels may have helped Guzmán solidify his position as the number one kingpin but it also damaged the business as a whole. Buscaglia says El Chapo positioned his cartel to head up a criminal network of networks. The expansion is based on tactical alliances; not on aggrandizement through might. “It’s a development that is completely compatible with the criminal game you see all over the planet,” he says. This infrastructure will allow the cartel to continue its hegemony as before.
Many believe the Mexican government was complicit in Guzmán’s latest escape. If that is the case, what is to prevent El Chapo from running the cartel from behind bars – for however long that may be?
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Written by Darren Fraser, Sovereign Health Group writer