Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Less than three days after the summit of North American leaders, the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has its biggest plum to date: the capture of wanted drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Contrary to speculation that the elusive Guzman was hiding in Central America or the outback of Mexico’s Sierra Madres, the man named by Forbes magazine as one of the richest indiviudals in the world was reportedly nabbed overnight by Mexican marines at a modest hotel in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlan, Sinaloa. He was then quickly transferred to Mexico City.
“Not a single shot was fired,” was how an unnamed U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official described the operation that resulted in Guzman’s arrest.
As details of the successful raid come to light, which reportedly was conducted in cooperation with the United States, Guzman is expected to face extradition to this country.
“The arrest of El Chapo is a very strong blow against the structure of the Sinaloa Cartel, and the most important capture that the governments of Mexico and the U.S. have made in the last 30 years,” the anonymous DEA official told Mexico’s Proceso magazine.
As of mid-day February 22, the office of President Enrique Pena Nieto had not yet issued an official statement on Guzman’s detention.
The longtime fugitive escaped from one of Mexico’s most high security prisons at the beginning ofPresident Vicente Fox’s term in January 2001.
In subsequent years, Guzman expanded a drug distribution business worldwide, tapping new marketsin Europe and Australia, among other places. Along the way, ” “El Chapo,” as he is known because of his
short stature, waged bloody battles across Mexico for control of the illicit drug production and disribution system. His battle with the Juárez Cartel for the Mexican city bordering El Paso left as many as 12,000 people dead from 2008 to 2012, with the Sinaloa Cartel reputedly emerging as the dominant force.
Guzman’ s arrest came amid an extensive Mexican Navy operation in Sinlaoa aimed at his partner, “El Mayo” Zamada, that yielded important arrests and confiscations of drugs and arms
in recent days. It is not known if intelligence or leads obtained during the earlier raids led to Guman’s detention in the coastal city of Mazatlan.
The coveted capture occurs at a time when narco-tainted violence is picking up again in Ciudad Juarez, surging in states like Guerrero and continuing in Michoacan, among other places.
How Guzman’s arrest will affect the balance of power between competing criminal groups, particularly in Ciudad Juarez, will be a key issue to watch in the days ahead.
Previous arrests or killings of capos like Arturo Beltran Leyva, a onetime ally and later enemy of Guzman, have typically resulted in the splintering of cartels into rival, smaller ones and more violence across the board, as new leaders scramble to maintain or walk off with the spoils of the trade.
Meantime, the administration of Enrique Pena Nieto, the Mexican Navy and the anti-drug U.S.-Mexico Merida Initiative have all gotten important, short-term boosts in the political realm.
Sources: El Universal, February 22, 2014. Proceso, February 22, 2014. Article by J. Jesus Equivel. Lapolaka.com, February 22, 2014. El Sur, February 21 and 22, 2014. Articles by Proceso, Reforma and editorial staff.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico