Although Mexico’s attorney general has called for a “full investigation” into Guzmán’s escape, we may never know exactly what happened. But if there is a level of complicity by the state, or state agencies, this would not be illogical. Friendly relations between the state and Guzmán would have a rational motive. Not for nothing did the Sinaloa cartel, until recently, have its own hangar at Mexico City airport, not far from the President’s.
In matters mafia, one of the dilemmas is whether it is harder for a state to live with an organised, patriarchal pyramid of power, like Guzmán’s, or the myriad mini-cartels, street-gang micro-cartels, so-called combos and super-combos, that arise if the pyramid is smashed. Which is worse: a formidable power with which some kind of accommodation is possible, or a narco-nuclear-fission reactor of electrons and protons charging into one another?
Colombia had to opt for smashing the pyramid, in the form of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel, because it was becoming a a state within a state that threatened to take over. In the improving situation for Colombians, the problem is now the miasma of uncontrollable combos.
But the Mexican experience is different. The worst violence has ravaged the country since December 1996, when President Felipe Calderón sent the army into Tamaulipas and Michoacan to deal with insurgencies in those states by the Zetas and a cartel called La Familia, which were breaking up the prevailing order of things. Once the hornet’s nest was kicked, the killing accelerated as Guzmán laid claim to the whole frontier (previously allocated by his predecessor Gallardo) and the army and police established mafia systems of their own, often in league with one cartel or another.
In this war, Guzmán and the state have a common cause against the insurgents and new-wave cartels, and it is no secret that Mexico’s best bet in bringing down the violence is to back the strongest and biggest against its rivals, or at least to act in tandem. An official of the ruling PRI party, when it was fighting the last election, talked to me about the need for “adjustments” with the most powerful cartel.
The figures speak for themselves. For a while, in 2008, Tijuana was the most violent city in Mexico, as Guzmán assailed the local Arellano Felix cartel. Soon afterwards, Ciudad Juárez became the most dangerous city in the world, as Guzmán, the local Juárez cartel, army and police factions fought over local drug markets and smuggling routes to the US.
The military went into both places, followed by the Federal police, with Guzmán’s cartel gunmen on the slipstream of both, recruiting local gangs. Now, both cities are relatively quiet; no one knows quite why, but the most common (and terrifying) explanation is that Guzmán now runs the drug business – domestic and export – in both cities, with official or semi-official blessing.
The tunnel began with a 50-by-50-centimeter (20-by-20-inch) opening inside the shower of Guzman’s cell, Rubido said. The tunnel stretched for about a mile and ended inside a half-built house
To pull off the escape, it’s likely the Sinaloa cartel had spent years infiltrating the country’s prison system, a Mexican official said on Monday. Whoever helped in the plot likely had the architectural plans for the prison that pointed them toward the shower area, the official said.
“If he went out that tunnel, it was with an armed escort, most likely a mix of prison guards and his own people, if the past is prologue,” said Don Winslow, who’s tracked Guzman’s career for 15 years and wrote about a fictional version of the famed kingpin’s 2001 escape in his recent novel “The Cartel.”
“My bet is that he went out the front gate, and the tunnel was a tissue-thin face-saving device for Mexican officials, the motorcycle a dramatic improvement over the laundry cart.”
How did Guzman slip by the prison’s extensive network of security systems?
It’s likely prison workers played a role, Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said Monday as he announced that he’d fired the prison’s director and other prison officials as authorities continue their investigation.
Guzman, he said, was inside a cell with 24-hour hour closed circuit video surveillance and a bracelet that monitored his every move. The video system, he said, had two blind spots that Guzman exploited. And he left the bracelet behind before he crawled into the tunnel and made his getaway.
Mexico’s attorney general said Monday that 34 people had been questioned in connection with the escape. And the country’s interior minister asked for help from the public in tracking Guzman down.
Where could he be?
It’s possible Guzman is hiding out in the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City while the search is hot, accordintg to a Mexican official.
But in the end, the official said it’s likely Guzman will head back to his home turf in the Sinaloa region on the Pacific Coast, where there’s a vast network of local residents who will help him stay out of harm’s way. Guzman is believed to have found refuge at times during his past stints on the lam in rugged mountain areas of Mexico.
No matter where he’s hiding, time is of the essence, according to Mike Braun, a former chief of operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration who spent years tracking and gathering evidence on Guzman.