The Arrest of El Chapo: How Will It Affect The Mexican-American Drug War?

on February 22 2014 9:38 PM
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Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman (R) is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the Navy's airstrip in Mexico City February 22, 2014. Mexico has captured its most wanted man, drug kingpin Guzman, President Enrique Pena Nieto said via Twitter on Saturday, in a major victory in a long, grisly fight against drug gangs. Guzman, known as "El Chapo" (Shorty) in Spanish, runs Mexico's infamous Sinaloa Cartel and over the past decade emerged as one of the world's most powerful organized crime bosses. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Mexican Marines captured one of the world’s most notorious drug lords Saturday morning. Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, more commonly known as “El Chapo,” is the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, the largest in Mexico. He was captured in the west coast city of Mazatlán, a center for Sinaloa's operations.

Guzmán’s capture is a huge victory for Mexican and American authorities, but it doesn't necessarily spell an end for the world's largest drug cartel. The event will have far-reaching ramifications for all entities involved in the U.S.-Mexican drug trade, some good, some bad.

Guzmán’s capture will weaken the Sinaloa cartel, but this may only set off a scramble for power both within Sinaloa and against rival cartels seeking to take advantage of Sinaloa's temporary weakness. Mexican civilians can expect to be caught in the crossfire. One Mazatlán resident echoed that sentiment, saying the arrest was bad news for his city, where Guzmán was “keeping the peace.”

Forbes called Guzmán “the world’s most powerful drug trafficker.” His cartel brings in upwards of $3 billion per year, and a $3 billion business doesn’t just disappear. Like the hydra of Greek myth, when you cut off one head of the beast, two grow in its place. The destabilization of the Sinaloa cartel could ignite an inter-cartel war across the country.

Guzmán’s arrest was inevitable in the long run and he probably groomed a successor to take command of the Sinaloa cartel in that event. Even if he didn’t, the cartel could likely maintain its regular operation without him.

The Sinaloa cartel still has two of its high-ranking members at large, Ismael García and Juan José Esparragoza. Either one could step up to take the place of Guzmán. Besides the arrests of García, Esparragoza or another high-ranking member, the only thing that could truly tear the Sinaloa cartel down would be an internal schism.

This is assuming Guzmán is immobilized as leader of the Sinaloa cartel. If he is jailed in Mexico, there's a chance his prison time could reflect his last stint from 1993 to 2001, when he effectively ran the syndicate from the big house and then escaped in fear of being extradited to the U.S. He got out by hiding in a laundry bin that was wheeled out of the prison.

Experts say that prison officials helped Guzmán escape, which wouldn’t be unlikely considering the rampant corruption in Mexican police, prison, military and government entities. Arranging the escape reportedly cost him $2.5 million.

Things have changed in Mexico, however. The government is cracking down on corruption and going after cartels with everything they have. In 2009, the Mexican government targeted 37 of their most-wanted drug lords and has since captured or killed at least 70 percent of them.

Guzmán certainly won't fare well if he is extradited to the U.S. to face his many charges, including kidnapping, murder, smuggling any one of the drugs he brings to the U.S. and money laundering. He won’t be able to buy his way out of prison, and his odds of avoiding any one of his convictions are highly unlikely.

If convicted, he’d likely be put in a super-maximum security prison unit, where he’ll have a very small chance of escaping via laundry cart.

No matter which scenario plays out for Guzmán personally, his arrest is sure to create a significant ripple in the drug trafficking scene. Just how it will play out will have to be seen.

One hopes the joint Mexican and American authorities will take advantage of the temporary instability to track down more cartel leaders. They've made dozens of notable arrests in the last few years, particularly in the last few months. Guzmán's arrest just may be the beginning of a series of arrests for crucial members of the Mexican drug mafias.

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