The recapture of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias El Chapo, is a breath of fresh air for a beleaguered President Enrique Peña Nieto. But it probably won’t offset the shame that his July 11 escape caused the administration.
- His recapture was almost inevitable. Never in the history of Mexico had a man faced so many resources arrayed against him. Along with the Mexican Navy, every federal security agency was involved, in some way or another, in the chase. And they were not alone: although we don’t know for certain the full extent of U.S. participation, it’s a safe bet that several U.S. agencies (DEA, CIA, CBP, ICE, DIA, etc.) were heavily involved in the manhunt.
- Nevertheless, such a speedy recapture comes definitely as a surprise. I am on record claiming that El Chapo would not be behind bars anytime soon. I was wrong. Less than six months after his great escape, he will once again see the inside of a prison. What explains it? Here are three theories:
a) The Mexican government and its U.S. partners threw more resources at the chase than I expected. The heavy-handed operation last October in Tamazula, Durango, was a sign of the large scope of the manhunt. That was not a stealth infiltration by an elite team; it was a full-blown military operation. And it was successful at a key goal: smoking him out of his mountain refuges.
b) Age and a long life on the run probably took its toll on Guzmán. After all, the man is nearing 60 and his self-preservation skills are probably not as sharp as they used to be. In all likelihood, he got sloppy and failed on at least two counts: i) he did not purge his inner circle (as shown by the arrests of his accomplices in the escape, some of whom were well known by the security agencies), thus saving intelligence analysts a fair amount of work, and ii) he probably remained in close contact with his family since his escape. Again, that may have provided invaluable leads to his chasers.
c) The Sinaloa Cartel may no longer be what it once was. The decline of cocaine and marijuana trafficking in recent years may have left their finances in a weakened state. In turn, that might have reduced the scope of its protection network. The organization probably has fewer informants and collaborators within the federal security apparatus. The result? A less agile response to the moves of his persecutors.
- Will he be extradited to the United States? Hell yeah. For two reasons: a) this time around, there is a formal extradition request from the U.S. government, and b) the benefit of the doubt is gone. It should be rather clear that the day he enters a Mexican prison is the day he will start planning his next escape. And he might very well succeed (probably not as quickly as the last time around, but eventually). So I don’t think the Mexican government will want to run the risk of another world-class humiliation.
- When will he be extradited? That’s the big question. His lawyers had in the past filed injunctions to prevent his extradition, but as far as is known at this point, none actually prevents the Mexican government from sending him to the United States. However, several new injunctions will probably be filed over the next few days and some could end up protecting him from an express extradition. So it is very hard to say at this juncture when will he actually see the inside of a U.S. prison.
- Does the capture represent a win for the Peña Nieto administration? Undoubtedly: For the first time in more than a year, they can project an aura of effectiveness. But is it enough to erase the humiliation of the escape? Probably not. We already knew they were good at capturing capos. Now they have to prove they can actually keep them inside a prison. And, to some extent, this might end up reopening the escape file. After all, El Chapo could say a thing or two (maybe as leverage) about who helped him break out of prison. And those revelations could prove somewhat embarrassing to the Peña Nieto team.
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