The spectacular escape of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán from a maximum-security prison in Mexico is an embarrassment for Enrique Peña Nieto’s government, whose reputation has been damaged by corruption and claims of human rights violations. Guzman’s jailbreak showed not only that the government is unable to hold on to its most important prisoner, but also that it can’t combat drug trafficking.
When Guzmán was captured in February of last year, Eduardo Medina Mora and Jesús Murillo Karam, who were at the time Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S. and Mexico’s attorney general, rejected the possibility of an expedited extradition. The arguments they used were national sovereignty and confidence in being able to keep him behind bars, despite his having escaped once.
Now a government that already had questionable credibility has become the butt of everyone’s jokes. The fact that public mockery has been the Mexican people’s main reaction instead of surprise highlights the administration’s poor image. It is unfortunate that the government’s lack of credibility is indirectly helping raise the stature of an assassin like El Chapo. Thanks to this second escape, he is becoming a legend.
Drug trafficking is a binational problem between the consumer—the United States—and the producer—Mexico. Because of a lack of trust and sovereignty matters, the relationship between U.S. and Mexican antidrug efforts leaves much to be desired. Closer cooperation is a must. If there is multinational crime that two countries are fighting against, there should also be multinational justice based on extradition.
The figure of El Chapo as “the boss of bosses” has become gigantic. But the reality is that hierarchies in drug trafficking make it so no one is indispensable. It doesn’t seem like El Chapo’s arrest stopped the activities of the Sinaloa Cartel or the network of businesspeople and banks needed for its criminal operations. Drug trafficking is much more complex than an individual, no matter if he is the boss.
Mexico can’t fight the war on drugs on its own. There is cooperation with the United States, but not enough to have a serious impact. In the meantime, both El Chapo’s escape and the release of Rafael Caro Quintero are already part of Peña Nieto’s legacy.