SAN DIEGO – Adios “El Chapo.”
You mean to tell me that a notorious Mexican drug lord who was arrested in February of last year, and whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes to be about $1 billion, managed to escape from the Altiplano maximum-security prison west of Mexico City in a poor country where many people earn as little as $6 per day?
How did that happen? Take a guess. Money opens doors. But more importantly, in Mexico, it also builds tunnels.
As a Mexican-American who views my grandfather’s homeland with a mix of angst and amusement, and who recognizes that a corrupt and divided Mexico is often its own worst enemy, I can’t say I’m surprised.
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Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman – who national security experts in Mexico say continued to run the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel from his prison cell – marshaled a substantial amount of resources to plan and execute his escape. He disappeared through an elaborate mile-long tunnel with electricity, ventilation and a system for removing dirt during the excavation process.
Authorities say that the digging began under a building, within sight of the prison, that was constructed just for the jailbreak. There had to have been a large crew of diggers, carpenters, electricians and construction workers – all toiling for as long as a year to build the tunnel.
And, this whole time, no one at the prison heard or saw anything? That’s unbelievable. Literally, we shouldn’t believe it.
In Mexico, when you bribe law enforcement officers, they don’t have to outright help you commit a crime – i.e. arrange a prison break. They just cover their ears and look the other way.
The prison director and a few other officials have been relieved of command. No worries. Something tells me they might have a nice retirement package waiting for them on the outside.
Since 2008, under the Merida Initiative – which was intended not just to disrupt drug syndicates but also to create reforms in the courts and prisons that help sustain the rule of law in Mexico – Congress has appropriated about $2.3 billion in aid to our neighbor.
I’ve toured the headquarters of the Mexican federales in Mexico City. I’ve seen the computer equipment and helicopters that were either given to Mexican authorities or bought by them with U.S. tax dollars. Mexico wants to project an image of modernity. But Guzman’s escape under suspicious circumstances shows that the old Mexico won’t go quietly.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump – who doesn’t know how to be quiet and may be the most hated gringo south of the border since President James Polk invaded Mexico in 1846 – has alerted the FBI that he was sent a threat from what appears to be Guzman’s Twitter account. Trump carelessly implied that all illegal immigrants coming from Mexico to the United States are criminals, and now a real-life criminal might be coming to make the loudmouth, as the tweet said, eat his words.
Would you like salsa with that, Mr. Trump?
It is no wonder that U.S. law enforcement officials who have chased Guzman for years are furious. They wanted him extradited. And if that had happened, the drug kingpin would almost certainly still be in U.S. federal prison. Which is probably why the Mexican officials refused to hand him over. They were likely in no hurry to give up their leverage with the United States – or, perhaps, with the cartels.
With El Chapo on the loose, the Obama administration is offering Mexico drones, federal marshals and even a special task force to bring him back. Mexican officials have not responded to the offer of additional resources.
We never learn. What makes us think the Mexican government doesn’t know exactly where to find Guzman – that is, if it had any interest in doing so?
El Chapo’s “escape” should be the absolute last straw in the farcical partnership between the United States and Mexico in a drug war that has become a joke. You can’t partner with someone who doesn’t respect you, and the Mexicans are treating the Americans like chumps. They intend to take us for all they can get, and give us nothing in return but lies, frustration and disappointment.
If Americans accept those things, and demand nothing more, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we’re misled and mistreated. And, in the long term, we have much more to worry about than a runaway drug lord.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.