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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Get "Shorty," Part Deux: The Escape of Chapo Guzman

Police on Sunday searched a house where Mr. Guzmán allegedly emerged from the end of a tunnel.Que verguenza!   Joaquin El Chapo Guzman (chapo means shorty), the most notorious and successful drug trafficker in Mexican history, escapes from prison, again.  The Mighty Whig posted on his capture early last year.   At the time, it was a big success story.   But it did seem a bit unusual that the Mexican authorities (with significant US government help) were able to capture Chapo without him putting up a fight.  Did he know something we didn't? 

Chapo escaped from prison back in 2001, to the immense embarrassment of the Fox administration.  (He left in a laundry cart, I kid you not.) At the time, it was seen as an example of opposition incompetence; the PAN had only been in power about a year.  Now the Pena Nieto administration (PRI) is the one with egg on its face. 

The sensational Shawshank-like jail break last month in New York state involved the corruption of one prison employee.  This Mexican jailbreak, however, is corruption on an institutional-scale.   See the article below, which Mighty Whig has posted in full.   As you will notice, the tunnel has its own rails and a modified motorcycle.  Priceless.

What will be the fallout?   Can't help bilateral relations.  But maybe the Mexicans will be more inclined to turn over criminals like Chapo to the US for prosecution.  It says something about our penal system that Mexican criminals do not want to get sent there.   That is why most of the drug violence occurs south of the border.

Mexican Drug Lord ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Escapes From Prison

Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán had evaded authorities before

Mexican drug lord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán was found missing from his prison cell Saturday night. This is the second time in 15 years he has escaped. Photo: AP




Updated July 12, 2015 6:45 p.m. ET

MEXICO CITY—For the second time in nearly 15 years, Mexico’s most infamous drug lord escaped from a maximum-security prison, dealing a humiliating blow to President Enrique Peña Nieto and raising new concerns about corruption in Mexican law enforcement.

Army soldiers and federal police on Sunday set up roadblocks for hundreds of miles surrounding the prison near the central city of Toluca following the escape of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, the alleged leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

Mr. Guzmán, 58 years old, fled the Altiplano prison on Saturday night through a tunnel network that connected his cell to a house under construction almost a mile away, officials said. He slipped through a small opening in his cell’s shower area, climbed down a 30-foot ladder and traveled through a five-foot-tall tunnel equipped with lighting and ventilation, they said.

The escape was certain to add to the legend of Mr. Guzmán, who in 2001 hid in a laundry cart and was wheeled out of another maximum-security prison with the help of corrupt prison guards who were later convicted.

The drug lord went on to become a narco folk hero and the country’s most powerful kingpin, running a business empire that accounts for an estimated one quarter of the illegal narcotics shipped to the U.S., according to American and Mexican government estimates. He also earned a place on Forbes magazine’s billionaires list.

After Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011, Mr. Guzmán was widely seen as the world’s most-wanted man, and had a joint U.S.-Mexican bounty of $7 million on his head when Mr. Peña Nieto’s government recaptured him in 2014.

The escape hurts the reputation of Mr. Peña Nieto, who brought Mexico’s former ruling party back to power in 2012 with a promise to run a more efficient government and to better fight criminal gangs. It is also likely to create tensions with the U.S., which helped capture Mr. Guzman twice only to see him escape—twice.


2009 WSJ story profiled Joaquín Guzmán, who was the informal CEO of one of the world’s biggest drug-trafficking organizations, the so-called Sinaloa cartel.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the American government shared Mexico’s concern for Mr. Guzmán’s escape and was ready to “provide any assistance that may help support his swift recapture.”

After his capture 17 months ago, Mexican officials declined to extradite him to the U.S., saying there was no way he would escape again. In an interview with Univision TV last year, Mr. Peña Nieto said another escape “would be more than regrettable; it would be unforgivable for the government to not take the precautions to ensure that what happened last time would not be repeated.”

Those words were being widely cited by Mexicans on Sunday.

The government’s disclosure of the escape emerged as Mr. Peña Nieto arrived in Paris on Sunday for a state visit, accompanied by more than 400 officials and business leaders. In a brief statement, the president said the escape was “an affront” to Mexico and that officials would spare no resource trying to recapture the drug lord.

Many Mexicans also wondered aloud about how many officials Mr. Guzman must have bought off to ensure an escape.

“This obviously required a great deal of logistics from both inside and outside the prison,” said Raúl Benítez Manaut, a Mexican national-security expert. “Plans probably were being made from the moment he entered the prison.”

Mexico's Attorney General, Arely Gomez crouches to look at the alleged end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, at a house in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico.ENLARGE

Mexico's Attorney General, Arely Gomez crouches to look at the alleged end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, at a house in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico. PHOTO: --/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Guzmán, whose nickname “El Chapo” means “Shorty,” must have had help escaping, including getting hold of the plans to the penitentiary, said Alejandro Schtulmann, an analyst at Empra, a Mexican political consultancy. “This is a complete embarrassment for Mr. Peña Nieto and leaves Mexico looking bad before the U.S. and the world,” he said.

Authorities brought 18 prison staff members to Mexico City for questioning, said Monte Alejandro Rubido, Mexico’s national security commissioner.

If the drug lord is not caught within a few days, he will likely evade capture for a very long time, said Mike Vigil, a retired chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s international operations, who spent much of his career pursuing Mr. Guzman and other Mexican traffickers.

Mr. Vigil said former colleagues in the DEA and other U.S. agencies “are very disillusioned” over Mexico’s refusal to extradite Mr. Guzman to the U.S. to try him there, which “would have removed him from his criminal infrastructure.”

A Federal Police officer stands guard Sunday outside the house at the alleged end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin ’El Chapo’ Guzman is said to have escaped from the Altiplano prison.ENLARGE

A Federal Police officer stands guard Sunday outside the house at the alleged end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin ’El Chapo’ Guzman is said to have escaped from the Altiplano prison. PHOTO: YURI CORTEZ/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Under Mr. Peña Nieto, Mexico has all but eliminated the extradition of crime bosses that was an anchor of his predecessor, President Felipe Calderón. Mr. Guzmán’s second great escape now throws those policies into disarray, analysts say.

“The government has to change its attitude,” Mr. Benítez said. “They have to give up this idea of judicial patriotism.”

U.S. law enforcement agencies were also dismayed when a Mexican judge in 2013 released another convicted drug lord, Rafael Caro Quintero, seemingly taking Mexican officials by surprise. Mr. Caro Quintero, who grew up not far from Mr. Guzman in Sinaloa, is wanted in the U.S. in connection for the 1985 torture-murder of U.S. DEA agent Enrique Camarena.

Days after his release, the Mexican government issued a new arrest warrant for Mr. Caro Quintero, but he remains a fugitive.

Mr. Guzmán’s escape will likely strengthen the Sinaloa Cartel. Their former main rivals, the violent Zeta gang, has been crushed by the capture or killing of most of its top leaders, spawning new gangs racing to secure areas along Mexico’s Gulf coast.

Meanwhile, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is challenging the Sinaloa group in its own backyard, along the Pacific coast, experts say.

“Chapo isn’t expected to retire, he will fight to reposition his Sinaloa cartel as Mexico´s leading drug-trafficking organization,” said Guillermo Valdés, Mexico’s former intelligence director.

Mr. Guzmán was last seen on Saturday at about 8 p.m. local time when he was given regular medications. He then apparently went for a shower, where there are no security cameras, Mr. Rubido said. When he didn’t reappear, officials raised the alarm, only to find a 20-inch-wide tunnel from the shower area leading underground.

A bumpy lane through the corn fields and pastures leads to the nondescript cinder-block house where authorities say Mr. Guzman emerged from his escape tunnel. Soldiers and police stood guard at the house throughout Sunday as investigators gathered evidence inside. But officials said a sweep of the adjoining fields turned up nothing of the escaped crime boss

Neighbors said a cattle farmer and his family lived in the house and drew little notice until unusual activity began there in recent months.

“We have seen in the last months a lot of pick-ups and luxury vehicles coming to that house,” said Maria Ortiz, a woman who lives nearby. “But we never suspected anything.”

It seemed fitting that Mr. Guzmán used a tunnel to escape. He is widely credited with pioneering the use of tunnels to smuggle drugs across the Mexican-U.S. border. Many of these tunnels, like the one used in his escape, had electricity and even rail tracks to ferry drugs. Mexicans joked on Twitter that the tunnels are likely the best infrastructure built in recent years under the Mexican government.

“His engineers are geniuses,” Mr. Benítez said.


Police on Sunday searched a house where Mr. Guzmán allegedly emerged from the end of a tunnel. PHOTO:AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Guzmán grew up poor in the rugged mountains of Sinaloa state, an area known for its opium-poppy and marijuana plantations and the cradle of many of Mexico’s most-notorious drug lords. Mr. Guzmán’s wiles and willingness to employ violence had made him a top lieutenant in the Sinlaoa cartel by the time he was first arrested in 1993, captured in Guatemala and later sentenced to 20 years for conspiracy, bribery and drug trafficking.

Over the next eight years, Mr. Guzman continued to help run the cartel from behind bars, according to former Mexican government officials who investigated his 2001 escape. His cell had a television, and he sometimes chose his meals from a menu rather than be served with the rest of the inmates, these people said.

Over the next 13 years at large, Mr. Guzmán enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as an escape artist, often aided by warnings provided by informants within Mexico’s security forces.

He narrowly evaded capture in the resort Los Cabos in early 2012, fleeing a luxury house moments before it was stormed by federal police and troops. In the weeks leading up to his capture in Mazatlan, he had escaped raids on various safehouses in Culiacán, the Sinaloa capital, scurrying down tunnels and through the city’s sewer system, Mexican officials said.

At the same time, he repeatedly attacking other cartels’ turf and igniting tit-for-tat homicides that turned parts of the country into a war zone. More than 100,000 Mexicans have died in gangland violence since 2006.

People who have met Mr. Guzmán, who has a third-grade education, say he comes across as down-to-earth and intelligent. He described himself as a simple farmer when arrested by Mexican police early in his career, but admitted he had a penchant for Russian-made AK-47s.

—Juan Montes in Almoloya de Juárez, Mexico, Santiago Pérez in Mexico City and Elizabeth Williamson in Washington contributed to this article.

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