They say lightning doesn't strike twice…but it does in Mexico. The world’s most wanted drug kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, has managed to fool Mexican justice again by escaping from the maximum security prison of Altiplano on Saturday night.
Chapo allegedly pulled a "Mexican Shawshank Redemption" by using a sophisticated underground tunnel connecting his prison cell’s shower to an outside warehouse. In 2001 Chapo escaped from another maximum security prison facility in the state of Jalisco. Some accounts allege he pulled the feat by hiding inside a laundry cart, while others say he was aided by guards and walked out of the facility disguised as a woman.
On Sunday morning, Mexico’s National Security Commission gave the embarrassing news, alleging prison officials were only able to detect the one-mile tunnel complete with lighting, a ventilation system, and a motorcycle once Chapo had vanished. Mexico’s Attorney General Arely Gomez said 30 prison employees where brought in for questioning.
President Enrique Peña Nieto briefly interrupted his visit to France to address the issue from the Mexican Embassy in Paris. He said he gave indications to reinforce security in facilities like Altiplano and asked the attorney general to conduct a thorough investigation to find out if prison authorities colluded with Guzman. Mexico’s Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong traveled back to Mexico City.
Peña Nieto’s timid response and Chapo’s Hollywoodesque feat has been met with outrage in Mexico. Many are pointing to the incident as proof that organized crime flexes more muscle than the country’s institutions and the Mexican commander-in-chief himself.
“It’s a big embarrassment for Mexican justice, the president, and the whole government,” former Colombia DEA chief Joe Toft told Fusion. “Am I surprised? Not entirely. There’s a lot of money that comes into play. When money is not an object there are a lot of things that happen, and I saw this in Colombia with some frequency.”
The possibility of corruption could also hurt bilateral trust. Toft says it remains to be seen whether Chapo’s escape will further damage U.S.-Mexico drug war collaboration efforts. “It’s a big negative, but when Pablo Escobar escaped it did not affect funding. It was actually increased.”
The former DEA agent added Mexico is “not too far off” from the Colombian situation of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. “The drug war is a tough war that politicians don’t necessarily understand.”
Much of the heat is currently being directed at President Peña Nieto who last year, when the drug lord was captured in February, told Univision anchor León Krauze that a second escape would be “unforgivable.”
“This is an international scandal and Mexico’s minister of the interior should resign immediately,” Krauze told Fusion.
Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said Chapo’s escape not only mocks the government but also highlights “the inability of the state to detain and process criminals.”
“This is a blow to the government’s narrative that positive results in security matters are a product of the ruling party,” Hope said, alleging Peña Nieto’s administration has blamed most of its struggles in the war against cartels on his predecessor, former President Felipe Calderón.
“This is a systemic issue,” Hope told Fusion, “And this will somber the collaboration between U.S.-Mexico agencies and verify some doubts.” He said Peña Nieto’s initial reaction to the escape is lukewarm at best.
For now, Chapo’s second prison break is likely to become the stuff of legend while reinforcing the notion that Mexico’s most pressing problem is a deadly cocktail of institutional corruption and fragile rule of law.
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