To Find El Chapo, Mexico Enlists Colombia’s Escobar-Hunters

To aid in the search for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico has solicited advice from the Colombian officials who hunted Pablo Escobar — an attention-grabbing move that is nonetheless unlikely to improve the government’s chances for a quick recapture of the fugitive drug lord. 

Three retired Colombian generals credited for spearheading the manhunt that led to Pablo Escobar’s death in December 1993 traveled to Mexico to share their experiences with authorities searching for El Chapo reported El Pais.

Rosso Jose Serrano and Ismael Trujilly Polanco — both former directors of Colombia’s National Police — and Luis Enrique Montenegro, the former head of Colombia’s disbanded secret police (DAS) are credited with taking down top leaders of the Medellin, Cali, and Norte del Valle drug cartels. This includes Pablo Escobar, the notorious boss of the Medellin Cartel, and the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, leaders of the Cali Cartel. One Colombian police source described the men as, “The most effective three musketeers the country has against the narcos.”

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In Mexico, the three officials shared their knowledge and expertise from their work in the 1980s and 1990s combating Colombia’s powerful drug cartels. While they have since returned to Colombia, six active Colombian police officials have remained in Mexico to aid in the El Chapo manhunt.

Meanwhile, on July 29 a spokesperson for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced the United States is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to El Chapo’s arrest. In addition to the $3.8 million on offer from the Mexican government, this brings the total bounty on El Chapo’s head to at least $8.8 million.

Additionally, on July 28 law enforcement officials from Mexico, the United States, Colombia, and Guatemala held a meeting in Texas to discuss and coordinate efforts to find El Chapo. Among the actions to be taken are the identification and dismantlement of El Chapo’s financial and transnational support network.

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Guzman’s brazen escape from a maximum-security prison on July 11 was a massive embarrassment for the Mexican government, which has vowed to swiftly recapture him.

However, recruiting top Colombian police officials credited for tracking down Pablo Escobar to aid in the search for El Chapo is at best a publicity stunt, and at worst a dangerous sign of the lengths Mexican authorities might go to recapture the fugitive drug lord. 

The exact circumstances surrounding Escobar’s death are murky, and to this day it is unclear who can claim responsibility for his demise. The official government narrative holds that it was the Colombian police who tracked down and killed Escobar at his Medellin hideout. Yet competing versions have surfaced, with one suggesting the People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar (PEPES) — a group of drug traffickers and paramilitaries who were Escobar’s enemies — worked side-by-side with police. PEPES member and paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo, alias “Don Berna,” has even claimed it was his brother who killed Escobar, not police.

Notwithstanding the precise details of their involvement, the PEPES appear to have been instrumental in bringing down Escobar. If Mexican authorities were to follow a similar model to track down El Chapo, this implies the government would coordinate with the Sinaloa Cartel’s rivals, such as the bloodthirsty Zetas — an untenable and politically unfeasible option.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

It is also unclear how beneficial the techniques and methods used by Colombian police over 20 years ago to find Escobar would be at bringing down El Chapo. Technological advancements and the evolution of drug trafficking organizations have rendered many of the tools used by Colombian officials to find Escobar outdated or inapplicable in the current Mexican context.

What’s more, Colombian police have struggled to track down their own most wanted drug lord, Dario Antonio Usuga, alias “Otoniel.” Despite a massive manhunt and $5 million reward offered by the US for information on the leader of the Urabeños drug trafficking organization, Otoniel has nonetheless managed to avoid capture.

Ultimately, the Colombian officials who hunted Escobar have little to offer Mexico, and their involvement will likely serve more as way to create exciting headlines and the impression authorities are doing all they can to find El Chapo, rather than actually helping lead to his capture.