The front page of today’s Brownsville newspaper reads: “Se fuga de nuevo” – “He escapes again.” The manhunt for the Mexican drug lord who heads the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin Guzman – better known as El Chapo – is on the front page of almost every Texas paper, and it isn’t just about proximity. As the Dallas Morning News puts it, Guzman’s breakout has profound implications for the U.S. and Mexico, with this weekend’s escape from a maximum security prison being the second for the notorious drug kingpin.
The Dallas Morning News’ Mexican bureau chief Alfredo Corchado, who has covered the region for decades, says this escape was a slap in the face to the Mexican intelligence officials.
“I just think it really builds on this whole lack of trust,” he says. “They’ve been trying so hard, both sides, for the last 15, almost 20 years, to try to build some kind of confidence, some kind of a sense of trust with one another. And as I talked to one official yesterday, he says, ‘This sets us back 10 years.’”
One U.S. undercover agent speaking anonymously to Corchado said the situation is like Osama Bin Laden escaping prison: shocking, mind-boggling and numbing. Although El Chapo has been wanted in the U.S. for many years, the Mexican government has been reluctant to put him on a plane to face U.S. justice. This may be because he’s known to be gifted at bribing people and knowing too many of the government’s secrets.
“One Mexican government official at one point joked that it’ll be 300, maybe 400 years before El Chapo steps foot on U.S. soil,” Corchado says. “Once the Americans get him, he will steal every secret, he will tell them everything he knows, which is something that especially corrupt Mexican officials … that’s their biggest nightmare.”
Photos from the maximum security prison where Guzman was detained show how elaborate the escape tunnels he dug are. It begs the question: Did he receive help from inside, as he had in his previous escape? Corchado says that although it’s too early to tell if Mexican officials are being candid about the situation, this had to be a massive operation.
“This was a well-lit place, it had a motorcycle rail where workers were coming in and out,” he says. “You have to think there were dozens of people working on this tunnel. The government late last night said it’s not 18 people they’re questioning, but more like 30 people.”
If even a maximum security prison can’t hold Guzman for more than a year, the quest to track him down again is frustrating to everyone involved. A U.S. official that spoke with Corchado said they’re ready to go back and renew their search for Guzman under the guarantee that if he’s caught, he’ll come straight to the U.S.
“The level of disappointment, it’s not just the Americans, but I think a lot of Mexicans who are really trying to do the right thing,” he says. “It just kills you.”