Unless you are living under a rock, you know that the most trending topic on social media is the dramatic prison escape by Joaquín Guzmán Loera aka El Chapo from a Mexican prison. I have been asked in Quora social media channel to answer the question of whether El Chapo will be caught. I thought I would share my response with you all as well.
Joaquín Guzmán Loera aka El Chapo escaped the Altiplano federal prison on July 11, 2015. As with everything related to El Chapo and the drug cartels there is a lot of dramatic misinformation. Let me state from the onset that corruption was involved in the prison escape but so was a lot of incompetence and ineptitude in all levels of the government as well as interference non-governmental agencies. More importantly, there is a lot of money involved.
Unfortunately, US-Mexico geopolitics are at play exasperating the misinformation about Guzmán. Let me attempt to break it down as many of the pieces as best as I can.
Let us start with the fact that because of various political necessities it is in Mexico’s best interest and the federal government’s goal to capture El Chapo as quickly as possible. Just as Guzmán’s money has allowed him to escape there is also the monetary necessity for the Mexican government to take him back to prison as quickly as possible. The US-Mexico economy is so tightly intertwined that the political fallout of Guzmán’s escape will be felt economically in all levels in Mexico’s economy.
The Mexican government wants El Chapo in prison.
There was corruption involved in his escape and there is likely corruption involved in his hiding out. However, the corruption is not as dramatic as the news media tends to portray it. If you look closely at the surveillance prison video released by the Mexican government late on July 14, 2015, you will notice that Guzmán is anxiously pacing moments before his escape. The prison video shows that El Chapo escaped through a hole in the shower area of his prison cell.
It is likely that the tunnel, through which he escaped, was dug from outside of the prison into the cell’s shower area. That is a small target to hit from underground. Not only is the tunnel an engineering feat but the surveying required to direct the tunnel almost a mile long and end up directly under one of two areas obscured from surveillance cameras is extremely difficult. I do not know whether corruption allowed a complete survey of Chapo’s prison cell as well as the prison blueprints or details may have been given to the engineers who engineered the tunnel or whether GPS technology or both were used, regardless it was an extremely difficult engineering feat.
It took a considerable amount of money and time to build the tunnel.
It is important to remember that Chapo Guzmán was captured on February 21, 2014. He was in prison for 504 days, over a year before his escape. It took time to organize the escape and engineer the tunnel and not to mention digging it. Corruption is only one aspect of the escape.
El Chapo previously escaped a Mexican prison on January 19, 2001. He had been arrested on June 9, 1993 in Guatemala. It has been reported that the 2001 escape was facilitated by corrupt prison officials. Guzmán has told the news media that he paid the prison laundry employee about 80 thousand Pesos to take him out via the laundry cart. Although unlikely, that is the only reliable figure we have to work with. The prison’s second in command was implicated in the 2001 escape although to my knowledge no monetary figures have been reliably released.
Regardless, the tunnel cost millions of US dollars to build. Some have speculated that it cost upwards of $50 million in US dollars.
It is also important to remember that El Chapo is adept at avoiding highly technical surveillance operations. When he was being pursued in 2012 through 2014 he slept in various houses, about six, that were connected via sophisticated tunnels in the sewer systems. After he realized in 2012, after he came within hours of being captured, that his Blackberry was being used to triangulate his location he initiated a complex communications system that relied on at least four subordinates being used as WiFi and cellular bridges to send and receive messages. In 2012, he evaded capture by giving his Blackberry to a subordinate that led the chase team away from Guzmán facilitating his escape.
With money and an understanding of surveillance techniques, it will be extremely difficult to capture Guzmán.
However, for many reasons the Mexican government needs to capture, or kill El Chapo Guzmán. It is no secret that US law enforcement and military support is operating quietly in Mexico so it is likely that they are assisting technically in the search for Guzmán. In the 2014 operation that resulted in his capture, various news media outlets have reported that a US drone was operating in the area. There is no reason to suspect that this is not the same case today. Likely there are more assets that have been brought into help in his capture.
Although corruption has played a part in his escape there are also two other important factors that played a role in the escape.
El Chapo is not only adept at manipulating the legal process, spending money but also takes advantage of political considerations such as human rights. It is no secret that the use of torture was part of the process that allowed him to be captured in 2014. Politically, it is not acknowledged or discussed, but at least two immediate subordinates of his provided the information that the Mexican Marines used to capture him in 2014.
The news media and the US law enforcement officials that publicly proclaim “corruption” conveniently forget this fact. As well as the fact that the shower stall in Guzmán’s cell was obscured because Mexican Human Rights advocates demanded that El Chapo be given some measure of privacy in the maximum-security prison.
Anyone that has seen pictures or video of US maximum security prisons has seen that showering facilities are not part of the prisoner’s cell and toilet facilities are completely open to the guards. In the case of the prison cell in the Altiplano prison, where El Chapo was imprisoned, security video cameras were blocked at the toilet and the shower area due to human rights concerns.
Additionally, prison officials were prohibited by Human Rights activists of securing a tamper-proof GPS tracking bracelet, like the ones used on some prisoners out on bail in the United States, on El Chapo. This was also a result of human rights concerns. The tracking bracelet on El Chapo was a less secure internal tracking bracelet easily removed by the prisoner.
To blame corruption as the sole reason for his escape is simplistic and ignores the other important factors, it also leads to feeding the sensationalism that surrounds the mystic of El Chapo. The mile long tunnel has been propped up as an example of rampant corruption by the Mexican government because it was not discovered. This also ignores the fact that Chapo’s organization has been perfecting the use of tunnels for transporting drugs into the United States for many years. Over a hundred of them have been discovered going into the United States. Tunneling the tunnels have been accomplished even though the US has deployed sophisticated detection technology along the US-Mexico border. To assume that the tunnel used by El Chapo to escape should have been detected ignores the many more traversing the US-Mexico border that have not been detected by the sophisticated technology deployed by US security forces, especially the US Border Patrol.
It is important to keep in mind that the facts around this case are very fluid and it will be months, if not years before we know most of the details.
Strictly, from a practical and geopolitical consideration, neither the Mexican nor the US government can allow Chapo Guzmán to remain at large. He will be captured or killed as quickly as they can locate him.