Tuesday 20 March 2018

Drug lord's capture ends his dream of movie glory

Drug baron's US debut will be in court

Mexican drug lord Joaquin
Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, right, is escorted by soldiers and marines to a waiting helicopter, at a federal hangar in Mexico City, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. The world's most wanted drug lord was recaptured by Mexican marines Friday, six months after he fled through a tunnel from a maximum security prison in an escape that deeply embarrassed the government and strained ties with the United States.(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
David Usborne

David Usborne

Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman was so enamoured of his own life story that after escaping from prison a second time last summer he put out feelers to Hollywood about turning it into a blockbuster biopic. But in reaching out he had tipped off those hunting him down to his whereabouts, leading finally to his dramatic recapture. What the next act of his story brings may not be so much to his liking.

For the Mexican government it was a moment of sweet revenge. Elite marines had stormed a house in Los Mochis, on the Pacific coast, on Friday, meeting a barrage of return fire from assault rifles and a grenade launcher. Five of Guzman's men were killed. Guzman and a top sidekick escaped through a drainage channel and a manhole outside, only to be seized on the streets minutes later in a getaway car.

That his own narcissism and dreams of immortalisation on the silver screen had helped trip him up was confirmed a few hours later by Mexico's Attorney General, Arely Gomez, in a press conference. "He established communication with actresses and producers, which became a new line of investigation."

All this just six months after Guzman had humiliated the Mexican state - and especially President Enrique Pena Nieto by performing his own vanishing trick at the Altiplano maximum security prison near Mexico City, slipping down a hole in the shower room of his cell under the noses of the guards, making it through a meticulously carved tunnel to a nearby warehouse and reclaiming his freedom.

The operation resulted from months of investigation by Mexican forces leading to the raid on the house Los Mochis. One marine was injured. Yet the glow of success - snatching Guzman then parading him before the media in Mexico City before flying him back by helicopter to Altiplano may quickly fade.

Having bungled twice - Guzman (58) made his first prison break in 2001, allegedly in laundry basket - Mexico was yesterday under intense pressure to acknowledge the shortcomings of its own penal system and acquiesce to extradition requests that the US filed when Guzman was caught previously, in 2014. Mexico ignored them, arguing that he had to pay his debt to Mexican society first.

Those extradition filings from the US still stand. El Chapo (slang for "Shorty") is wanted in the US on drug trafficking and other charges; in 2013, Chicago dubbed him "Public Enemy No 1" - a designation previously reserved for Al Capone in the 1920s. Also still standing on file, however, are the legal challenges to US extradition by his own defence lawyers.

Last night there were indications of Mexico already setting in train the process for quick extradition. The move would still come with some political cost for Mexico. Among some poorer Mexicans, especially in Sinaloa, Guzman remains an anti-hero with an folkloric following.

But the capture of one man, even Guzman, will not end the violence that the decade-long war on drugs has unleashed.

"Mexico is in the hands of narcos and is living a deep political and social crisis," Mr Saviano said, noting the recent assassination of Gisela Mota, the newly elected mayor of Temixco, one day after she took office in "a city where the drug lords want to be the only ones to rule, and know they can".

Sunday Independent

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