The lack of transparency and accountability following El Chapo Guzmán's jail break last month shows just how little the Mexican government has evolved since the first time the drug lord escaped prison in 2001.
That escape 14 years ago set in motion a cycle of impunity that will come to an improbable conclusion next month when Enrique Pérez Rodríguez, the former head of federal prisons who's allegedly under investigation for letting El Chapo escape the first time, becomes an alternate congressman to Miguel Ángel Yunes, a conservative with the PAN party.
Why does that matter? Because when and if Yunes resigns from Congress to run for Governor of Veracruz next year, as many expect he will, Pérez will slide quietly into the seat of national lawmaker, giving him full legal immunity from any further government investigation. The practice is so common in Mexico it even has a name: pulling a "Juanito."
It would cap a remarkable political comeback for Pérez, who was fired from his post as director of prisons after El Chapo escaped on his watch in 2001. The Mexican daily El Financiero, which gained access to the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) 2001 case file, reports that Pérez is still under investigation for that event.
According to the file, Pérez allegedly knew El Chapo was given special privileges behind bars — including parties with drugs, booze and women — and stepped in to prevent the drug kingpin from getting transferred to another prison. Testimony from witnesses and a former high-ranking security officer at the Puente Grande maximum security prison claim Pérez was aware of the rampant corruption within the jail and was possibly alerted to El Chapo's escape plan beforehand.
Pérez declined to comment on the allegations at the time. Now, he seems to have remarkably put the scandal behind him — just sorta ignored it until it went away.
Pérez's unlikely political rise from scandal is further evidence, some say, of how little Mexico's government has evolved in terms of accountability. Though many officials were initially arrested in connection to El Chapo’s 2001 jailbreak, only a few remain behind bars (the warden was sentenced to 18 years but released after serving nine).
Now history appears to be repeating itself with El Chapo’s second escape. The director of the Altiplano prison and the head of intelligence at Mexico’s Federal Police were forced to resign, and seven prison employees were initially detained. But only three are still in custody, and many doubt justice will be served.
Strangely enough, following El Chapo's arrest last year the spokesman for the presidency vowed that the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto would finally get to the bottom of the 2001 prison break and prosecute all those who were involved.
Now they've got two investigations on their hands — El Chapo is nowhere to be found, and Pérez is having business cards made for Congress.