Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is once again on the loose. In a July 11 escape from a supposedly maximum security prison, Guzman apparently fled through a sophisticated tunnel out of the Altiplano prison near Mexico City.
According to Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia, Mexico’s national security commissioner, 18 prison personnel have been detained in connection with the stunning escape.
“In my position as national security commissioner, I went with the head of the special prosecutor’s office for organized crime, Felipe de Jesus Munoz, with the objective of having the federal attorney general’s office take over the corresponding investigation,” Rubido said. “For this reason the (prison) personnel that were on duty cannot leave the prison and the shift that would have relieved them will not have access to the same place.”
Guzman was reportedly last documented inside the prison at 10 pm last night when he was administered a routine dose of medication. He is said to have escaped before midnight. Authorities later discovered a nearly-mile long tunnel running from the prison grounds that was outfitted with a motorcycle on a track, oxygen tanks and other equipment. The tunnel exited in a building under construction in the Santa Juanita neighborhood southwest of the prison.
The Altiplano prison, which is sometimes called Almoloya de Juarez, is the Mexican government’s favored place to incarcerate high-profile organized crime figures. Leading members of virtually all the so-called cartels are locked up in the facility. Last year, Guzman banded together with Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villareal and other ostensibly rival kingpins in a hunger strike to protest the conditions of their confinement.
If Guzman is not quickly recaptured, his escape threatens a political firestorm in Mexico with unpredictable consequences. “El Chapo’s” continued freedom would likely strain relations between Mexico City and Washington, which is pressing for Guzman’s extradition to this country on drug charges.
Guzman’s 2001 flight from the Puente Grande prison in the state of Jalisco, carried out with the aid of prison officials and workers, was regarded by many Mexican analysts as a crucial event that unleashed the hyper-violence between crime groups which has devastated Mexico ever since.
After the 2001 escape, Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel variously waged war with the Gulf Cartel in Tamaulipas, the Arellano Felix group in Baja California, the Zetas in Guerrero and the Carrillo Fuentes organization in Ciudad Juarez. Guzman had been held in Altiplano since his February 2014 recapture by Mexican marines in Mazatlan, Sinaloa.
“The key to the legend of El Chapo was constructed during those 12 years,” wrote Mexican analyst Jenaro Villamil. “He wasn’t only an individual but also an industry, with a (security force) capable of downing aircraft, pursuing and confronting the Zetas-the bloodiest ones of the those years- taking revenge on his ex-associates, the Beltran Leyvas, coopting governors, and changing from a marijuana producer to an exporter of methamphetamines to the U.S., Europe and Asia.”
The drug lord’s latest escape comes at a time when most of the old leaders of the criminal syndicates have been killed or jailed, and when newer organizations that have emerged from the smoke and ashes of the so-called drug war like the New Generation Jalisco Cartel are filling in power vacuums and making their plays for domination of the drug business and other rackets.
Guzman’s escape also coincides with a new spate of violence in Ciudad Juarez and its environs, in which public executions inside the city coupled with killings and kidnappings in the rural Juarez Valley (a strategic smuggling corridor turned upside down by the war between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels from 2008 to 2012) have the public on renewed edge.
Guzman joins another old associate on the lam. Incarcerated for many years, Rafael Caro Quintero was released by a Mexican court in 2013 only to quickly find a new warrant issued for his arrest.
Both Guzman and Quintero trace their careers to the old Guadalajara Cartel, from which the Sinaloa, Juarez and Arellano Felix organizations all count their origins. Caro Quintero is wanted in the United States for his alleged role in the murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena in 1985.
A slew of articles in Proceso magazine, Narconews and other media during late 2013 and early 2014 questioned Washington’s version of the Camarena murder, instead pointing to a network of CIA operatives with ties to the Iran-Contra operation of the 1980s.
As Frontera NorteSur went to press, Mexican military and police agencies were still searching for Guzman. As the manhunt proceeds, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is in France on an official visit. Stay closely tuned.
Sources: La Jornada, July 12, 2015. Articles by Gustavo Castillo Garcia and Rosa Elvira Vargas. El Diario de Juarez/Reforma, July 12, 2015. Proceso, July 12, 2015. Articles by Jenaro Villamil and Patricia Davila.