Sunday, October 26, 2014
MEXICO CITY—Mexican Navy marines captured Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, the world's most powerful drug lord, in a predawn raid Saturday on a modest condominium in the western resort of Mazatlan, officials said. The Drug Lord Who Got Away A 2009 WSJ story profiled Joaquín Guzmán, who was the informal CEO of one of the world's biggest drug-trafficking organizations, the so-called Sinaloa cartel. Culiacan, Sinaloa is the unofficial capital of Mexico's drug-trafficking business. Given the shortened lifespan for drug traffickers, shrines and mausoleums honoring fallen narcos have become an integral part of the city's landscape. David Luhnow and José de Córdoba report from Mexico. The capture likely ends the legendary career of the farmer who rose from poverty in the mountains of the state of Sinaloa and built an empire of cocaine and marijuana that made him a billionaire and caused much of the violence that has killed tens of thousands of Mexicans in the last decade. The arrest of the capo, often described as today's equivalent of the late 1980s Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, marks a victory for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and for his party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI ruled Mexico for seven decades until it lost power in 2000, returning with Mr. Peña Nieto in 2012 elections. "It's a major coup for the Peña Nieto administration and its allies," said George Grayson, an expert on Mexico and the drug trade at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder hailed the capture as a "landmark achievement." Mr. Guzmán, believed to be 56 years old, was captured once before in 1993, but became a legend among drug traffickers by escaping, hidden in a laundry cart, from a maximum-security prison in Mexico in 2001. He had been on the run ever since, a living symbol of the inability of the Mexican state to corral its powerful drug gangs or their corrupting influence on the country's law-enforcement institutions. Most Mexicans believe the drug lord bribed his way out of jail. It seems unlikely that the arrest will ease the violence. In the past, the capture or death of cartel bosses has often led to a short-term spike in violence as either a fight over succession breaks out within the cartel or other cartels try to take over turf from the deceased capo. Cartels such as the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, which have been weakened in recent years by government strikes, could fight over the drug routes and regions left on the table by Mr. Guzmán, said Raul Benitez, an expert on security at National Autonomous University of Mexico. "There will be a war to control his territories," said Mr. Benitez. Mr. Guzmán arrived on a government airplane to Mexico City's airport, where a waiting helicopter took him to prison. Two marines in camouflage uniforms firmly grasped the captured drug lord, one of them pushing his head down with his hand. In addition to one of Mr. Guzmán's alleged accomplices, authorities confiscated 133 weapons, as well as two grenade launchers and a rocket launcher. The capture was the final scene in a month-long drama that began when intelligence agents discovered one of Mr. Guzmán's hide-outs, a house with reinforced steel doors, in Culiacán, Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam told a news conference. Mexican military held Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman Saturday. European Pressphoto Agency The house had underground tunnels that connected it to seven other nearby houses and was also linked to the city's drainage system, which offered the drug lord an easy means of escape. Mexican authorities could have captured Mr. Guzmán in previous days, but waited to ensure no civilians might be caught in a potential crossfire, Mr. Murillo Karam said. "It was an impeccable operation achieved by navy personnel," he said. U.S. intelligence played a role in the operation, but U.S. officials described this as very much a Mexican operation. "It was a Mexican operation in Mexican territory," said a top-ranking U.S. official. "We played a supporting role." Mr. Guzmán will likely be replaced by his close associate Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, according to Mr. Grayson, the Mexico expert. He said it was unlikely the cartel would be torn apart by infighting. "There was never a hint of hostility between El Mayo and El Chapo," he said. "They worked together deftly." Mr. Guzmán's power to corrupt security forces is the stuff of legend in U.S. and Mexican government circles. Four or five times, Mexican security forces arrived a day late to where Mr. Guzmán had just been. "There were more sightings of El Chapo than there were of Elvis," said Mr. Grayson. Many ordinary Mexicans had trouble believing the news.