Manhunt For Mexico’s Most Notorious Drug Lord Begins

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Just as the search for New York prison escapees David Sweat and Richard Matt recently came to an end, an even bigger manhunt has begun in Mexico. Joaquin Guzman, also known as “El Chapo” and Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, escaped from Altiplano maximum security federal prison on Saturday night.

This isn’t Guzman’s first escape. In 2001 he escaped by hiding in a laundry cart with the help from prison guards who were later prosecuted and convicted. He was not captured again until 2014 during a raid in a condo in Mazatlan, a Pacific resort in Sinaloa state.

After spending almost a year and a half behind bars, the kingpin is on the loose again. Guzman used an intricate escape route that was somehow built without any authorities noticing. According to the National Security Commission, he was last seen in his shower area around 9pm on Saturday. Once he was lost by the prison’s security cameras, his cell was checked. Authorities found it empty and saw a 20-by-20-inch hole near the shower. He climbed down a 30 foot vertical hole and then escaped through a fully ventilated tunnel with lighting according to National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubid. Guzman’s cartel is known for building tunnels beneath the Mexico-U.S. border to transport cocaine, methamphetamines, and marijuana, often including ventilation, lighting, and even railcars to easily move products. The tunnel ended in a half-built barn, which according to an unidentified woman was bought by outsiders–possibly connected to Guzman–who began to build immediately about a year ago. Tools, oxygen tanks, and a motorcycle adapted to run on rails were also found by authorities.

While Guzman was a fugitive after his 2001 escape, he turned himself into one of the world’s most notorious drug traffickers with an estimated fortune of $1 billion. Forbes magazine listed him among the “World’s Most Powerful People,” and ranked him above the presidents of countries such as France and Venezuela. Michael S. Vigil, retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Chief of International Operations, stated that if El Chapo is not caught immediately he will most likely be back in full command of the Sinaloa cartel within two days. So far thirty employees from Altiplano have been questioned to see if Guzman received any inside help. His escape has embarrassed the Pena Nieto administration, which once received praise for its aggressive approach to top drug lords. President Enrique Pena Nieto said:

This represents without a doubt an affront to the Mexican state. But I also have confidence in the institutions of the Mexican state … that they have the strength and determination to recapture this criminal.

In an interview after Guzman’s 2014 arrest, the president said that allowing him to escape again would be “unforgivable.” The attorney general at the time, Jesús Murillo Karam, said the possibility of another Guzman escape “does not exist.” Clearly both men were wrong. Ana Maria Salazar, a security analyst and former Pentagon counter-narcotics official stated exactly what most people are thinking,

One would have assumed that he would have been the most watched criminal in the world, and apparently, that just didn’t happen. This is a huge embarrassment for the Mexican government. Obviously it’s going to raise a lot of questions as to what’s happening with the Mexican criminal justice system.

Authorities have launched a widespread manhunt to find Guzman and have also closed Toluca International Airport, which is a 45 minute drive away from the prison. The drug lord was very prepared and probably had his escape and post-escape plans well thought out. This scandal should serve as a huge wake up call for the the Mexican government. Officials need to thoroughly examine their prisons and improve the security so that there will be no more chances of criminals escaping. There was no trace of Guzman 24 hours after his escape and officials are going to have to work extremely hard to find him, given his track record.

Taelor Bentley
Taelor is a member of the Hampton University Class of 2017 and was a Law Street Media Fellow for the Summer of 2015. Contact Taelor at



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