Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Leora has yet again been arrested. The leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s largest drug cartel that maintains influence in 54 other countries, was arrested this past Saturday in the Mexican Pacific resort town of Mazatlan. Although the world’s most wanted drug lord had an assault rifle by his side, there was not a single shot fired during his arrest. According to CNN, the Mexican marines who raided the condo where he was staying with his wife and two twin daughters used infrared and body-heat sensors to wait until everyone was asleep, including his bodyguard, before entering the premises. Once inside, they were able to efficiently arrest everyone in the condo and within minutes, a criminal who has been on the run for the last 13 years was once again in the hands of the law.
“El Chapo” Guzman was as tough as he was cunning, steadily rising through the ranks of Mexico’s criminal underworld. Getting into the drug business early in his life, Guzman rose to prominence within the former Guadalajara cartel in the 1980s, leading drug shipment operations from Colombia to Mexico for leader Miguel Felix Gallardo. When Gallardo was arrested in 1989 for the murder of a DEA informant, Guzman and other major drug traffickers within the cartel divided up the territory that was controlled by the Guadalajara cartel at the time and began to create cartels of their own. Guzman, along with two other men, took control of the Sinaloa cartel, which controlled two border crossings that connect the states of Sonora and Baja California with the U.S. states of Arizona and California.
Once in control of the Sinaloa cartel, Guzman and his associates relentlessly increased production and expanded the drug trafficking networks of the cartel, pushing large amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and heroin into the US. Never fearing violent confrontation with other cartel leaders, Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel became the most powerful in the country in a short period of time. Guzman was arrested in a hotel in Guatemala in 1993 and extradited back to Mexico to serve a 20-year prison sentence. Even behind bars, Guzman and his associates were able to successfully run their operations and deliver millions of dollars worth of contraband to the US.
Not only has Guzman’s cartel used murder, rape, extortion, and robberies to maintain supremacy amongst Mexico’s drug cartels, but also has extensively used bribery to pay off Mexican authorities. In doing so, Guzman’s business flourished without being threatened by legal implications. He escaped Mexico’s high-security prison in 2001 by paying off dozens of guards and administrators to allow him to escape in a laundry cart. Ever since his escape he has been in full command of the Sinaloa cartel, handling billions of dollars in drug operations while avoiding both Mexican and US authorities. Now Guzman’s cartel runs the illegal drug markets of not only the US, but also most of Europe and Australia. Ever since 2009, Forbes magazine has annually ranked him among the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world, with his net worth estimated to be around $1 billion.
Now that Guzman is back in custody, the question of where he will be tried has arisen. Criminal charges are being brought against him by both the US and Mexico, the countries in which his drug business has committed the most crimes and caused the most destruction. Several US federal prosecutors are already discussing who would be the first to try the international drug lord, but Mexican President Pena Nieto’s administration says that he will face at least six different criminal cases in Mexico before they even think about extraditing him to the US. According to CBS News, Mexican authorities want to take this opportunity to start an entirely new investigation focused on Guzman in attempt to dismantle the billion-dollar drug industry of the Sinaloa cartel. While trying Guzman in Mexico could empower the new President’s nationalist credentials, it could also result in a negative illustration of Mexico’s corrupt and inefficient judicial system.
Mexico’s courts are known to have corrupted officials and judges on numerous cartel members’ payroll. The chance that Guzman could be given lesser charges or placed in a correctional facility where he has a chance to escape are higher within the Mexican judiciary than compared to US courts. In August of last year, one of Guzman’s closest associates, Rafael Caro Quintero, who was serving a 40-year prison sentence for several killings, including the death of a DEA agent, was released 12 years early under a ruling by a federal appeals court in the state of Jalisco. The three-judge court stated that Quintero should have been tried in a state court as opposed to a federal court and as a result his sentenced must be vacated. In the minds of both Mexican and US officials this ruling reeked of corruption, yet it ultimately didn’t have much influence as Quintero had continued to run drug operations from within his prison cell.
Risks are clearly taken when the leaders of drug cartels are tried in Mexico. Cartels have spent years paying off local and federal police, judges, prison guards, officials, politicians, and anyone else who might serve as a beneficial ally when running a drug industry. Guzman was able to escape Mexico’s high-security prison once. Why won’t he be able to do it again? Even if Mexico pursues its agenda of trying and interrogating Guzman in the attempt to dismantle his cartel, will it be enough to halt the operations of the world’s most powerful drug cartel? Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, Guzman’s top lieutenant, said that other top cartel members who were taken in as part of the investigation to capture Guzman have already been replaced. Arrests of high-level cartel members haven’t stopped the flow of drugs across the US-Mexico border or the wave of violence that plagues Mexican border towns. If Guzman is eventually extradited to the US and put in an American prison, the chances of the Sinaloa cartel still following his leadership is much slimmer. Until then, arrests like Guzman’s look good in the headlines, but when it comes to putting an end to the War on Drugs, nothing changes at all.