A victorious arrest for both sides of the border

By Jorge Castorena
Opinion Editor

He was a billionaire, listed in Forbes every year. He was one of the world’s most powerful men.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) named him Public Enemy No. 1 in 2013. He ran the world’s most powerful drug cartel and the world’s most sophisticated system of organized crime, responsible for thousands of deaths.

And they caught him. 

Two weeks ago, in a cooperative operation between Mexican navy seals and American officials, the infamous Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was arrested in Mazatlan, Mexico at a mid-rise Pacific beach resort. The arrest came after a near-miss the week before, and was a direct result of an intercepted phone call from El Chapo’s cellphone. It must be noted that it was the Americans who tracked and spied on the phone call, and maybe I’m one small step closer to being convinced of the necessity of the NSA.

It must also be noted that the arrest was very bizarre, to say the least. We’re talking about the drug kingpin of the world. The most feared man in Latin America. His arrest would surely mean there would be a scene that would make “Breaking Bad” and “The Godfather” seem like walks in the park. They’d make movies out of this moment. 

Instead, the Mexican navy team waltzed right into El Chapo’s hotel room. He typically traveled with an army of security guards and arsenals of weapons, and on this particular Saturday morning, there were no guards to be seen and there was only one out-of-reach AK47. Not a single shot was fired, and the untouchable, all-powerful druglord of the world went down without a fight.

Too easy? It would seem so. Conspiracy? I don’t know. Was it staged? Did the Mexicans cut a deal with him? Or was it the Americans who strong-armed him into surrender? 
Indeed, the arrest left many more questions than it answered. But, if you ask me, who cares?

The world’s most dangerous man (according to the DEA) is now behind bars, charged with drug trafficking and illegal possession of weapons. He could also face a trial in the U.S. as at least six U.S. jurisdictions have filed indictments against him.

The Mexican government had been hunting El Chapo – which means “the short one” or “Shorty” due to his 5’6’’ stature – since 2001 when he escaped from a maximum-security prison. I use the term “escaped” very loosely, because bribes and deals with officials essentially allowed him to walk right out of the prison. I might add that the Mexican government still maintains that he escaped from prison and that they’ve been diligently working to catch him ever since. Please.

Nevertheless, assuming that he did, in fact, “escape” in 2001, El Chapo’s arrest is a great feat for Mexican officials as it has led to rises in approval ratings. The Mexican public has continually lost faith in the government, claiming that those who run the country are corrupt, greedy and owned by the drug cartels that have so powerfully ravaged the country in the last decade. Some estimates show that since 2006, there have been at least 60,000 deaths connected to the Mexican Drug War, while some sources say there have been as many as 100,000 deaths.

The bulk of these deaths were of criminals directly involved in gang confrontations, but the numbers also account for thousands of people caught in the crossfires or who were kidnapped or extorted, and disappeared. Over the last eight years, these became regular, common occurrences, and it seemed that either the Mexican government wasn’t doing anything to help, or was making it worse.

I might also add here to keep in mind that these things were going on at America’s doorstep, in Mexican border cities like Tijuana (across from San Diego, Calif.) and Juarez (across from El Paso, Tx.). And, moreover, the demand that keeps the drug wars going comes from the U.S. – Americans are the cartels’ biggest and most loyal customers. 

That makes our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Philippines and so forth, a bit more irrelevant, considering that we share a 2,000-mile long border with Mexico. But maybe that’s just me.

It also highlights the importance of the cooperation between the two governments, as criminals like El Chapo are problems for both Mexico and the U.S., not just the former. El Chapo was said to extend his violent influence to American cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York, all of which house aggressive gangs directly connected to the Mexican Drug War. 

Many Mexicans are critical of Mexico’s cooperation with American officials. There is skepticism in American intervention, and there are Mexicans who see the American involvement as a red flag, indicating the U.S.’s intent to gain political control over the region. Based on our military history, that isn’t necessarily an unsubstantiated claim.

But nevertheless, there are now two priorities that should take precedence for both governments. The first is to continue hunting down, together, the druglords that afflict both nations. The second is to make sure El Chapo doesn’t “escape”, and it seems that the power of American intervention – which made catching him possible in the first place – might be the only way to prevent that from happening again.