Chapo Escapes

Yesterday, once and future Sinaloa kingpin Chapo Guzmán escaped from the high security Mexican prison where he had been held since February 2014. He escaped via the same kind of highly developed tunnel system in which Mexican Naval forces, assisted by US Marshals and DEA Agents, found him. Both tunnels provided escapes through the bathroom.

You’d think maybe Mexican officials would have been on the lookout for any tunneling systems that might assist Guzmán.

Already, the Mexican press is calling this an embarrassment for Enrique Peña Nieto (though remember, he seemed rather reluctant to boast of Chapo’s capture when it happened, until the story leaked to the US press).

US officials, who have curiously been granted anonymity to bitch, are complaining that the Mexicans never extradited Guzmán so we could dump him in Florence SuperMax, where he’d be far less likely to escape. The on-the-record statements from people like Attorney General Lynch are much more reserved — though even she makes it clear she wants to bring him here and try him.

I’m at least as interested in what this escape says about the hierarchy of the Mexican drug industry as anything about the legend of Chapo. WaPo’s story — whose reporter is also tweeting some fascinating pictures that show just how predictable this escape should have been — also addressed this somewhat.

Even with Guzman in jail, his Sinaloa organization remained the dominant narcotics smuggling power in Mexico, with trafficking networks that spread across the United States. Guzman’s cartel sends more cocaine and marijuana than any other into the United States, according to DEA officials, and it accounts for more than half of the heroin surging into U.S. communities as overdose deaths skyrocket.

[snip]

Guzman’s longtime business partner, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, was believed to have assumed operational control of the cartel after Guzman’s arrest, though few in Mexico doubted that Chapo continued calling the shots from his maximum-security cell.

That is, Chapo’s arrest seems to have had little affect on the dominance of Sinaloa in the market (which may also suggest some favor from officials). Which will likely lead the decapitation-faithful in US law enforcement agencies to accidentally shoot Guzmán the next time we “help” with an arrest.

Finally, Chapo’s escape has led to predictable tut-tutting about the corruption of Mexico generally and Peña Nieto specifically. Those complaints are true: over time we’re likely to discover that Guzmán had help from inside, if not from even higher-level authorities (the house where his tunnel ended is close to a military base, apparently).

But is the US really in any position to complain? After all, at least under Eric Holder, our government didn’t even try to imprison our transnational crime organization bosses — people like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, men who don’t use the same overt violence that Sinaloa does, but who nevertheless have presided over transnational networks of entrenched crime. Jamie Dimon has never had to hide in a tunnel, in part because DOJ presumed he’d always escape whatever legal efforts we made to keep him there. And one reason we don’t change the underlying law is because our Presidents, of both parties, are just as tied to those criminal TCOs as Peña Nieto and many of his predecessors.

I absolutely agree that Guzmán’s escape reflects the lack of seriousness of some in Mexico about prosecuting him. But that’s not unique to Mexico, not even in North America.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    The tunnel in the phot I saw at SFGate looked like it was at least 8 feet in diameter and lined. That’s a professional job, takes a while to build, and someone should have noticed it.

  2. scribe says:

    Now, now, you have to keep your terminology straight. Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein are not the leaders of transnational criminal organizations, no matter how it looks to you. Rather they are, in the words of Our Beloved President, “savvy businessmen”.
    .
    Please correct your records.
    .
    And, beyond that, how could you expect the USG to prosecute them for anything? I mean, if they can blow off meeting with Obama at the White House to discuss how to get us out of the Bush Depression – because it was too foggy for their private jets to fly down from NYC to DC on Monday – and the blow off going to Obama’s speech to the assembled of Wall Street when he came to NYC to tell it/them to straighten up and fly right, they’ve pretty much shown that they hold the whip hand and Obama’s their bitch. Just like Scooter and Mrs. Libby did to get Bush the Second to grant him enough clemency to keep him out of prison, and not too much – to keep his testimony from being compelled.
    .
    So, please. Stop displaying your naivete. It’s embarrassing.

  3. emptywheel says:

    FWIW, I did not mean to use “entrenched” right be for envisioning Jamie Dimon hiding in a tunnel.

    But I’m going to pretend I did.

  4. orionATL says:

    “high-security mexican prison” ??

    is that phrase an attempt at humor or merely a contradiction in terms ?

  5. RUKidding says:

    I thought Loretta Lynch worked for HSBC, where it’s known that drug traffickers, amongst other criminal elements, launder money. Am I wrong in assuming that the Sinoloa Cartel laundered money at HSBC along with everyone else who’s engaged in BigCrime (which includes ALL of, at least, the .001% – let’s get real, they’re not that rich because they were honest)?? So does Lynch really really want to extradite El Chapo, or is that just for show? Serious Q.
    *
    I admit that I snorted and rolled my eyes when I heard Chapo got out… esp via a tunnel. Shades of what happened recently at the NY state prison, albeit Sweat-Matt eventually got found, and the prison guards/officials who helped them get out are in big trouble… or so they say.
    *
    Yeah, Chapo got out via a tunnel that started YET AGAIN in the showers. Who’da guesses that one??? How very amazing that the Mexican prison officials once again had NO IDEA that this was happening. I guess no one in the Mexican prison system every bothers to check the showers, even with Chapo in residence.
    *
    My other serious Q is: does it matter or not? Sinoloa Cartel, as far as I know, didn’t lose a moment of work-time by their big boss being busted again. No doubt Chapo was directing the trafficking from inside anyway. The whole thing is just a joke. And not least bc I suspect various Norte Americano Alphabetos are involved anyway… everyone’s got their fingers in that lucrative pie & gets their cut.
    *
    So we get treated to some gasping in the media about this latest Most Excellent Adventure of Chapo in another tunnel.
    *
    Will this ever change? Doubtful.

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