Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto might have made a more auspicious choice of words in proudly announcing the recapture of fugitive drug lord Joaquin Guzmán Loera AKA "El Chapo" on Jan. 8. "Mission accomplished: we have him," the prez declared in Spanish on his Twitter account. El Chapo's escape from Mexico's top-security prison in July was a bitter humiliation for Peña Nieto and his government. The elusive Chapo had spent a decade and change as the country's most-wanted fugitive after his last escape from a Mexican prison, in 2001. The first time around, he allegedly used bribes to slip out in a laundry cart; the second time he slipped out through an elaborate tunnel that had been built from his shower block at Altiplano Prison to a nearby apartment. The Sinaloa Cartel kingpin taunted the world on social media as the second manhunt was carried out. So we have to ask: Was a nervous Peña Nieto unconsciously echoing the famously premature boast of George W. Bush after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003?
Mexico on Sept. 30 extradited 13 people to the United States—including two accused drug lords and several suspects in two high-profile attacks on US citizens. One was the 2011 deadly ambush of US immigration agents in San Luis Potosí state; the other the previous year's killing of US consulate workers in Ciudad Juárez. The two accused kingpins were Edgar Valdez Villarreal AKA "La Barbie" of the Beltran- Leyva Organization and Jorge Costilla Sánchez AKA "El Coss" of Los Zetas. The US Justice Department hyped the extraditions as signaling a new binational coordination following a June meeting between US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her Mexican counterpart, Arely Gómez. As AP noted, extraditions had fallen dramatically since 2012, the final year of President Felipe Calderón's term, when Mexico sent 115 people to face criminal charges in the US. Under President Enrique Peña Nieto, the number dropped to just 66 last year. (AP, Sept. 30)
The Mexican interior ministry, known as Gobernación, was on Sept. 15 accused by a senate committee of covering up evidence pointing to official complicity in the July escape of drug kingpin Joaquin Guzmán Loera AKA "El Chapo"—for more than 10 years the country's most-wanted fugitive. Sen. Alejandro Encinas of the left-opposition PRD, who heads the Senate National Security Committee, said that Gobernación had denied him access to video footage from Guzmán's cell—which is now revealed to incude "drilling sounds" in the background, incdicating that prison authorities ignored construction work on the tunnel through which Chapo escaped. "The video exists and it is crucial in order to identify the extent of complicity in Chapo’s escape," Encinas told the EFE news agency. "Just the fact that the sound of a drill can be heard [on the recording] implies complicity on several levels."
Well, that didn't take long, did it? A massive manhunt is underway in Mexico after the country's most notorious drug lord escaped from the country's highest security prison on the night of July 11. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán stepped into a shower and through a secret door down a tunnel that led out of Altiplano Federal Prison. The lighted and ventilated tunnel was nearly a mile long, Mexico's National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García admitted. Reports indicate the tunnel even had a "rail system." It came out in a warehouse. The Mexican press have now dubbed El Chapo the "Lord of the Tunnels."
Identical twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores on Jan. 27 were the latest to be sentenced in a series of high-profile federal cases targeting the Sinaloa Cartel's operations in Chicago. Accused of running a continent-spanning trafficking ring, they each received 14 years in prison after US District Judge Ruben Castillo agreed to sharply reduce their term in recognition of their work as government informants. Castillo called the Flores twins, natives of Chicago's West Side, the "most significant drug dealers" he'd dealt with in two decades on the bench, stating that they had "devastated the walls" of US national security by bringing at least 70 tons of cocaine and heroin into the country from 2005 to 2008. Prosecutors also charged the twins smuggled $1.8 billion back to Mexico—wrapped in plastic and duct tape. But it was federal prosecutors who pleaded for leniency, hailing the twins for gathering evidence against the Cartel's long-fugitive kingpin "El Chapo" Guzmán, who was finally busted in Mexico last year.
Amid peace talks in Havana, Colombia's FARC guerillas issued an angry communique Dec. 14, insisting "We are a rebel group, not narco-traffickers." This was in response to President Juan Manuel Santos' suggestion that FARC drug-trafficking could be considered a "political crime," potentially sparing guerilla leaders prosecution. This of course won Santos howls of outrage from the right; now he gets it from the other side. The FARC statement accused the government of trying to "confuse the minds of Colombians" with a "distortion," and decried the existence of a "capitalist narco-trafficking business" in the country. (El Espectador, El Tiempo, Dec. 14)
Reuters on Dec. 10 reported that the alleged Chicago jefe of Mexico's Guerreros Unidos narco-gang faces federal charges with seven others for a plot that involved moving heroin and cocaine to the Windy City in passenger buses. Pablo Vega Cuevas and his brother-in-law, Alexander Figueroa, both of Aurora, Ill., were arrested in Oklahoma; three suspected accomplices were busted in the Chicago area. Warrants have been issued for three others, including one believed to be in Mexico. The investigation led to the seizure of 68 kilos of heroin, nine kilos of cocaine and more than $500,000 in cash. "These arrests will have a significant impact on the supply and distribution of heroin and cocaine throughout the Midwest," Dennis Wichern, the DEA's Chicago special agent-in-charge, said in a statement.
The sentencing last month in a case related to the Sinaloa Cartel's Chicago connection provided further fodder for the increasingly plausible conspiracy theory that the DEA protected Mexico's biggest criminal machine. Federal Judge Ruben Castillo sentenced Alfredo Vázquez Hernández, who had been extradited after serving a sentence in Mexico, to 22 years in prison for shipping 276 kilograms of cocaine to Chicago hidden in railway cars. Federal prosecutors said Vazquez was a top-ranking operative of the Sinaloa synidcate, who arranged airplanes, submarines, trains and trucks to move cocaine from Colombia to Chicago via Mexico. Vazquez was characterized as a lifelong friend of the cartel's now-imprisoned top kingpin "Shorty" Guzmán. Judge Castillo said this hadn't been proved, but stated: "Given the amount, it's nonsensical to think this was this defendant’s inaugural voyage into cocaine trafficking."