U.S. Says Mexican Drug Lord El Chapo Guzmán’s Prison Escape Could Trigger More Border Violence
Testifying before Congress last week, Robert Harris, the man in charge of border security at the Department of Homeland Security, warned that the recent escape of Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, “could potentially instigate further border violence similar to incidents following his first prison escape in 2001.”
On July 11, Guzmán, one of the world’s most famous and powerful drug criminals, fled an alleged maximum-security prison near Mexico City through a tunnel built under his cell. Four middle to low-level officials have been arrested in connection to his escape.
Guzmán’s current whereabouts are unknown, despite a massive international manhunt to recapture him and a $5 million reward offered by the Obama Administration. More than half a dozen criminal indictments are pending against him in several U.S. states.
Fourteen years ago, the head of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, which is responsible for flooding U.S. streets with cocaine and heroin, also escaped from of a high-security prison in the Western state of Jalisco, allegedly by bribing corrupt prison guards.
Harris’s warnings are not unwarranted. Guzmán’s 2001 break out unleashed a bloody drug cartel turf war, with Guzmán attempting to take over lucrative border crossing points controlled by rival cartels. During the following years, cartel leaders were executed in daylight and violence, particularly in the border region, reached new levels.
In his September 9 remarks before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Harris said the Department of Homeland Security is concern about the cartel-related violence on the Mexican side of the border. Harris, who is the Department’s Joint Task Force-West Director, described several incidents in which U.S. personnel and U.S. equipment were targeted by drug-related violence, including a recent shooting involving a U.S. aircraft, and the robbery of a truck transporting Border Crossing Cards that were en route to a U.S. Consulate in Mexico.
“The reach and influence of the Mexican cartels… stretches across and beyond the Southwest border, operating through loose business ties with smaller organizations in cities across the U.S.,” Harris said, adding that the threat of the Mexican cartels, “is dynamic; rival organizations are constantly vying for control, and as U.S. and Mexican anti-drug efforts diminish criminal networks, new groups arise and form new alliances.”
It took the Mexican authorities 13 years to recapture El Chapo in 2014, only to see him flee again 17 months later. Although the U.S. government claims to be confident the drug lord will be hunted down with U.S. assistance, Guzmán has a proven reputation of outsmarting his hunters.
For starters, in the two months he has been a free man, his long-time Mexican lawyer, Juan Pablo Badillo, has filed two judicial requests, known as “amparos,” demanding that the Mexican government stop looking for Guzmán.
In an interview with The Washington Post’s Mexico correspondent Joshua Partlow, Badillo said that he believes that belligerent language coming from authorities in Mexico and the U.S.– phrases like “we’re going to find him and take him off the streets” — sound like death threats, and he wants the authorities to protect his client.
Badillo said that there is nothing Guzmán fears more than extradition to the U.S. and that he escaped when he learned it was coming. “He was concerned and motivated [to escape] precisely by these rumors that his extradition was imminent,” Badillo said. “He was anticipating that they would kill him.”
While it is unlikely the Mexican government will accept Badillo’s arguments, El Chapo’s attorney told Partlow he hopes people could just relax a little bit about “ol’ Chapo.” ”He’s a living legend, give the guy some peace.”
As I first reported in January, the Obama Administration sent the Mexican government an extradition request for Guzmán, but Mexico’s Attorney General refused to send him to the U.S. Mexico said yes to the U.S. request only after Guzmán had already escaped.
Following his arrest, El Chapo did not make the 2014 list of Forbes’ World’s Most Powerful People list. In 2013, he had been dropped from Forbes’ World’s Billionaires list due to the complexity of assessing his wealth.
This article was written by Dolia Estevez from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.