Of course El Chapo’s escape from prison matters. But if you’re reading this article, you’ve probably already read a dozen articles or analysis pieces explaining why. You don’t need me to restate them. It’s more useful and fun to be the writer arguing against the conventional wisdom. So here are the reasons Guzman’s escape doesn’t matter.
Guzman’s escape is unlikely to impact Mexico’s security situation. If you check the statistics in the past two years, Guzman’s arrest did not significantly improve or deteriorate the overall security situation in Mexico and his escape is unlikely to change the current trends. Guzman’s leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel doesn’t impact the average person on the street. The average person’s security in Mexico is far more impacted by the criminal mugging people in the park, the gang extorting the local restaurant, the crooked taxi driver committing express kidnappings or the police officer who isn’t doing his job. Big organized crime issues matter for Mexico’s overall security and stability, but the arrest or escape of one leader is not moving the statistics that matter to the general population.
Guzman’s escape will not impact the viability of the Sinaloa Cartel. The criminal organization didn’t appear to take a serious hit when Guzman was arrested. Guzman’s arrest did not set off a major internal leadership battle inside his criminal group (though leadership battles did occur in a few cities). His return shouldn’t alter the internal dynamics or day to day operations of the criminal group much. The fact that his organization managed to successfully build that tunnel also suggests that perhaps Guzman never really lost control, even from within the prison. In either case, the Sinaloa Cartel is a criminal network that is more dynamic than its leadership and it continues along.
Guzman’s escape is unlikely to change US-Mexico relations. The US and Mexico have a lot of important bilateral issues that go beyond this one high profile individual. Optimistically, the US will not and should not let this single issue get in the way of a big and important partnership that includes far more than security issues. Pessimistically, the US rarely lets failures like Guzman’s escape cause a major change or rethink in its security and counter-narcotics policies, partnerships and strategies. In spite of some officials grumbling off the record in the media, the US will continue to push forward with its security partnership with Mexico because that’s what the US does in this hemisphere.
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Guzman’s escape won’t impact EPN’s political standing. For all the pundits who say this escape was a blow to the government’s security narrative, it will be hard to find anyone whose mind was actually changed by this escape. Nearly every person quoted in the media about how this is a big blow to President Peña Nieto are people who were already critics of the president before this event. For those who were skeptical before, this escape certainly reinforced that skepticism. But people who believed the government before the escape are likely to continue believing government statements now about being committed to recapturing the criminal leader. The last three years have seen several events in Mexico that have led analysts to claim “this is the moment the public’s mind will change,” but few events create a public opinion paradigm shift and this is not one of them.
SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profiles
Individual criminal leaders are overrated. As a writer, it’s always easier to write about individual criminal leaders than the big criminal systems and macro-trends that drive them. In the particular case of El Chapo, it’s hard to not be attracted to the narrative of the criminal billionaire on the run and his Hollywood-esque prison escape. But analysts know that the individual criminal leadership matter less than the bigger issues that drive crime and violence.
Mexico, like many of the countries in the hemisphere impacted by high levels of violence and organized crime, needs to reform its police, judicial system and penitentiary system. It needs to provide education and economically viable employment opportunities to its population. It needs to break networks of corruption, knock down money laundering networks and work with the United States to reduce southbound weapons trafficking and bulk cash shipments.
Whether El Chapo is free or in prison, alive or dead, those bigger issues impact Mexico’s security far more than any individual criminal leader. Chasing down HVTs may be part of a strategy, but the whac-a-mole game played against the criminal leadership can’t be a substitute for bigger reforms and smarter policies to bring sustainable security and peace.