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Corruption Seen Thwarting Push to Recapture Mexico Drug Lord

Corruption Seen Thwarting Push to Recapture Mexico Drug Lord
Soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on an highway in Contepec, in Michoacan state. (REUTERS/Alan Ortega)

Tuesday, 14 July 2015 11:22 AM

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has failed to keep one pledge regarding Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and experts familiar with the country's drug war say a second vow is at risk: the cartel kingpin's recapture.

After Guzman's Saturday escape from a maximum security prison, which Pena Nieto said last year would be "unforgivable," Mexico's most notorious drug trafficker won't likely be apprehended anytime soon, says Mexico City-based political risk consulting firm EMPRA.

Guzman's fortune is valued at $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, and he is accused of corrupting Mexican officials at the two maximum-security prisons from which he's escaped. That mythic status along with a manhunt that took too long to be reported to the public, won't help the government's chances, says Mike Vigil, a retired former head of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

"The probability is minimal" he'll be recaptured, Vigil said by telephone. "I've worked in Mexico and they're very slow at generating a response. If he gets up into the mountains of Sinaloa, it's going to be very difficult to capture him and he may live out his days there."

‘Long Time'

Sinaloa's Sierra Madre hills, where roads are often unpaved, is home turf to Guzman, who built a cult-like following that helped him evade capture for 13 years after his previous prison escape in 2001.

Mexico informed the public more than four hours after Guzman was last seen heading to the shower late Saturday, where he disappeared down a vertical shaft of more than 30 feet that connected with a tunnel almost a mile long. The tunnel at the jail where Guzman was sent after his arrest in February 2014 was equipped with lighting, ventilation and a motorcycle on rails, the government said.

Authorities also took their time in informing the army of the breakout, more than three hours, according to Mexican newspaper La Jornada.

"The amount of people who need to be either paid off or threatened to allow this to happen is a long list," said Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, in a telephone interview. "If they don't get him in the next few days, I don't think they're going to catch him for a long time."

Reward Offered

At least 49 people have been questioned in connection with the escape, the government said Monday. Mexico is offering a reward of 60 million pesos ($3.83 million) for information leading to Guzman's arrest.

Authorities were alerted in a timely fashion about the prison break, which couldn't have taken place without complicity of prison officials, Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong said at a news conference late Monday.

"The instruction has been singular: to use all of our human resources and technology available to locate and re- apprehend this criminal," Osorio Chong said. "There will be no rest for this criminal."

The president's press office didn't respond to requests for further comment after business hours.

In Chicago, once referred to by Guzman as his home port, there is little optimism that he'll be recaptured.

Key Question

Darryl A. Goldberg, a Chicago-based attorney with a national practice on drug trafficking cases, said the escape shows how loyal the Sinaloa Cartel is to its alleged leader, and also the sophistication that he has at his hands. "He got caught a second time," Goldberg said. "I don't think there will be a third."

The escape of a man the U.S. once called the world's most powerful drug trafficker deals a blow to Pena Nieto's attempt to rein in drug-related violence, which has left more than 70,000 dead and more than 20,000 missing since 2006.

In a statement Sunday, the president said his law enforcement institutions were up to the task of recapturing Guzman, an assertion questioned by Guillermo Valdes, who from 2008 to 2011 led Mexico's intelligence agency, Cisen.

Not only is Guzman's detention "very doubtful," but his escape points to the administration's failure to strengthen security institutions now charged with hunting him down, along with the penitentiary system he flouted, Valdes said.

"The most important question isn't whether they recapture him or how fast they recapture him or whether they extradite him," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. It's "whether this will jolt the Pena administration into getting serious about security issues, which they have not been."

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Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has failed to keep one pledge regarding Joaquin El Chapo Guzman and experts familiar with the country's drug war say a second vow is at risk: the cartel kingpin's recapture.
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