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Monday, January 11, 2016

Feds: Capturing El Chapo Will Be Ultimately Meaningless

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2016 at 7:08 PM

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Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is the most successful drug dealer of our day, and quite possibly the "greatest" narcotraficante of all time. The leader of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, "Shorty" is routinely compared to 1980s cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. By sheer dollar amount, the Medellín Cartel run by Escobar may have out-earned El Chapo, but Guzman's exploits — more diverse, and coming at a time with bloodier competition — are arguably more "impressive," if you are the type to be impressed by piles of drug dollars and piles of corpses.

His recapture over the weekenda few months after he was interviewed at an undisclosed location by actor Sean Penn, which was in turn a few months after he was sprung from high security lockup near Mexico City — is seen as a coup for both Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his conduct in Mexico's persistent drug war, which is entering its tenth year.

How will his recapture be felt in the United States, the marketplace for the narcotics in which El Chapo trucks? About the same before and after his other captures, which is to say: not at all, a fact even the federal Justice Department admits, according to a memo posted by

In 2011 — when El Chapo was on the lam for the first time, after escaping eight years into a 20-year prison stint in 2001 via a laundry cart, and two years after prosecutors in Chicago indicted him in absentia for being responsible for most of the drugs available in that city — U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials produced a memo that sought to quantify the impact whenever the "head" of a DTO (drug-trafficking organization) was captured or killed.

That impact was estimated to be exactly squat. 

"There was no change in the seizure rates when a key DTO member was arrested or killed," according to the memo, which was obtained by the anonymous hacker-activist collective known as LulzSec. "If the weight of drugs seized was increasing prior to the event, the trend continued. If the weight of drugs seized was decreasing prior to the event, that trend also continued."

Pretty much the only thing that had an impact on the flow of drugs, the memo concluded, were religious holidays.  You get a break at Easter, basically. After that, it's back to business.

This raises serious questions over the meaning of the capture of El Chapo. But a bigger question is: will anything ever change the Mexican drug war? If current conditions persist — where the narcotraficantes offer wealth and wages far and above what any working stiff could earn, or, in some cases, where the cartels offer the only employment available at all — the answer is no.

No less a source than El Chapo himself says so.

"Unfortunately," he tells Rolling Stone, "where I grew up there was no other way and there still isn't...  a way to survive... no other way to work on our economy to be able to make a living."

So. If El Chapo is indeed extradited to the United States and imprisoned in a Supermax for life, there will be other El Chapos. There are probably other El Chapos among us today, and unless impoverished Mexicans are given a viable economic alternative, there will always be more. 
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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