Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman prison photos

Just over 16 months after he was captured, Mexico’s legendary drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped from a maximum security prison. The embarrassing event has the potential to torpedo the rest of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration and roil relations between the US and Mexico.

According to the National Security Commission (Comision Nacional de Seguridad - CNS), Guzman was last seen at 8:52 p.m. local time, July 11, in the shower area of the Altiplano prison. When he did not appear in his cell, authorities checked and “found it empty.”

In a press conference, CNS head Monte Alejandro Rubido said El Chapo escaped via tunnel specially constructed beneath the showers that measured 50 cm x 50 cm at the point of departure, and connected to a ladder that extended 10 meters below the surface.

From there, the tunnel widens, reaching 1.7 meters in height and about 70 to 80 centimeters in width, Monte Rubio said; it stretches 1.5 kilometers and includes air ducts, lighting and was built with high-quality construction materials, he added.

Authorities also found a motorcycle mounted on some sort of rail system, Monte Rubio said, which they presume was used to move materials and possibly Guzman himself as he made his way to freedom.

After the escape, Mexico’s government shut the closest airport and sent hundreds of police and military troops to comb the area around the prison, which is located in a state known for criminal activity. Authorities are also interrogating some 30 prison guards about the escape.

Guzman was captured in 1993 in Guatemala and imprisoned in Mexico, but he escaped in 2001. He was recaptured in February 2014, but not before he had transformed into the world’s most wanted drug trafficker.

SEE ALSO: El Chapo Guzman Profile

Guzman’s second capture was a huge win for the Peña Nieto administration, which has shown itself adept at corralling high-level drug trafficking suspects, even while it has had difficulty reigning in other criminal activities such as extortion and kidnapping.

Peña Nieto’s administration has captured nearly every big capo that his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, did not, including two top Zetas leaders, the head of the Betran Leyva Organization, the leader of the Juarez Cartel and the two leaders of the Knights Templar, among many others. These captures were, up until El Chapo's escape, a powerful testament that something was going right.  

InSight Crime Analysis

In the short term, Guzman’s escape is more of a political than a security question. The high-level captures were the result of what appeared to be better intelligence and coordination amongst security forces. But the most important message was one of political will: Peña Nieto had will and was not beholden to the traffickers.

El Chapo's stunning escape has the potential to reverse that sentiment completely. Unless the Mexican government recaptures Guzman quickly, his escape will overshadow all those other success stories and give the appearance that the will of the president has dissipated.

It comes at a terrible time for the president. His security strategy remains in tatters following the dramatic disappearance of 43 students last year. Local politicians and police presumably played important roles in the disappearance and coverup of the crime, which was committed by a local criminal group, the Guerreros Unidos. But the national government has shouldered the blame, especially following its slow and shoddy investigation.

The government is also facing down accusations that its security forces are involved in extrajudicial killings. In early July, a report by a leading Mexican human rights organization said the military was ordered to "take...out" suspected criminals in an operation in the municipality of Tlatlaya that ended in the death of some 22 people, at least 12 of whom the government's Human Rights Commission said were extrajudicially executed. Another report released by Mexico's National Autonomous University said that for every military death, 32 suspected criminals die.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles  

The escape could also paralyze the presidency on the security front for Peña Nieto’s three remaining years in office. The agenda is full: among other projects, the president is trying to purge police units and restock others; and his government is continuing the long process or moving the justice system from the inquisitorial to the accusatory system (see Wilson Center background paper on the efforts here - pdf).   

Finally, the escape will have a devastating impact on the relations between the United States and Mexico. Various US courts were seeking the extradition of Guzman following his capture last year, but Mexico never really considered them.

Guzman now joins Rafael Caro Quintero, the former head of the Guadalajara Cartel whose early release severely strained US-Mexico relations. Caro Quintero is wanted in the United States for his participation in the murder of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in 1985. The Mexican government has been trying to recapture Quintero since his release in August 2013.

The longer Chapo eludes the government, the worse it may get for Peña Nieto. Media routinely referred to him as the "eternal fugitive" prior to his capture, a title he has now regained. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
Prev Next

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

In May 2011, a 26-year-old prison gang leader held 4,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, at bay for weeks. Humiliated nationally and internationally, it pushed President Hugo Chávez into a different and disastrous approach to the prison system.

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...