Friday, January 8, 2016

El Chapo, Escaped Drug Lord, Has Been Recaptured, Mexican President Says



The drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, also known as El Chapo, in a photo released on Friday by the office of the Mexican Attorney General. Credit Office of the Mexican Attorney General

MEXICO CITY — Nearly six months after his escape from a maximum-security prison in Mexico, the drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, also known as El Chapo, has been arrested by the Mexican authorities, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced Friday.

  • The arrest came after an intense gun battle this morning in the city of Los Mochis, a seaside area in Mr. Guzmán’s home state of Sinaloa.

“Mission Accomplished: We have him,” read the announcement from Mr. Peña Nieto. “I would like to inform the Mexican people that Joaquín Guzmán Loera has been detained.”

The mission began shortly before 5 a.m. Friday, after an anonymous tip came in from a citizen concerned about armed men in a nearby home.

The authorities went to the house, where they were fired upon. The operation was conducted by Mexico’s most-trusted military wing, the Marines, which captured Mr. Guzmán in early 2014, before his escape last July.

It is unclear whether the government knew Mr. Guzmán was in Los Mochis, or whether his capture was a fortunate coincidence. Orso Ivan Gastelum Cruz, a leader of Mr. Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel, managed to escape, the Navy said, in the first indication that the gun battle involved high-ranking members of the cartel.

The capture of the fugitive drug lord concludes a deeply embarrassing chapter for the government of Mr. Peña Nieto, which has been waylaid by a series of security and corruption scandals that reached their low point with Mr. Guzmán’s daring escape.

Mr. Guzmán stunned the world last summer when he stepped into the shower in his cell — in the most secure wing of one of the most secure prisons in Mexico — and abruptly vanished in full view of a video camera. When guards entered the cell, they discovered a small hole in the shower floor, through which Mr. Guzmán had disappeared.

The opening in the shower led to a mile-long tunnel to a construction site. The tunnel was more than two feet wide and more than five feet high, tall enough for Mr. Guzmán to walk through standing upright — his nickname translates to Shorty — and was burrowed more than 30 feet underground.

It had been equipped with lighting, ventilation and a motorcycle on rails. Some engineers estimated that the tunnel took more than a year and at least $1 million to build.

The prison break humiliated the government of Mr. Peña Nieto, which had proclaimed the arrest of Mr. Guzmán and leaders of other drug cartels as crucial achievements in restoring order and sovereignty to a country long beleaguered by the horrific violence associated with organized crime.

It was particularly embarrassing because Mr. Guzmán had already escaped from prison before, in 2001, when his conspirators managed to smuggle him out. By some accounts, he escaped by hiding in a laundry bin.

There are still major questions looming, including the potential extradition of Mr. Guzmán to the United States.

Shortly after Mr. Guzmán was captured in 2014, the attorney general of Mexico at the time refused to extradite him to the United States, saying that the criminal would serve his time in Mexico first before he was sent to another country.

Officials and analysts said it was an effort to show sovereignty and put some distance between the Mexican authorities and their American counterparts, who often used a heavy hand to influence policy in Mexico.

But that stance came to haunt the Peña Nieto administration after the kingpin escaped. The United States had issued a formal request for his extradition less than three weeks before Mr. Guzmán broke out.

The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a statement via Twitter on the arrest Friday, saying the agency was pleased with Mr. Guzmán’s capture and congratulating the Mexican government.

While the likelihood of Mr. Guzmán escaping from an American maximum security prison is considered low, extradition would come at a cost to the image of the Mexican state, some analysts say.

“Extraditing him is a way to say we cannot cope with this with our own institutions,” said Pablo A. Piccato, a history professor at Columbia University. “While this is something everyone knows, obviously the government has not been able to publicly recognize this or tackle it in the past.”

Many analysts suspected that after his latest escape, Mr. Guzmán would hide-out in the mountains of his native Sinaloa state, where passage in and out of the area is monitored by young men driving four-wheelers and local communities revere the cartel leader as something of a Robin Hood figure.

In October, security forces said they had located Mr. Guzmán in the remote northwestern mountains where he had been hiding out, an area known as the Golden Triangle at the border of his home state of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua.

But the authorities ultimately found Mr. Guzmán in Los Mochis, a coastal town of about 250,000 people that has long been known as a center of boxing in Mexico.

In the aftermath of Mr. Guzmán’s escape last July, American officials were frustrated with what they considered Mexico’s resistance to accepting help in the manhunt. In the days after his escape, American officials offered to give their Mexican counterparts whatever assistance they could.

When the offer was rebuffed, many analysts as well as Mexican and American officials worried that it would mean Mr. Guzmán would never be caught.

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