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Capturing ‘El Chapo’ won’t fix drug trade problem

The third time’s the charm. That must be what Mexican government authorities are hoping after capturing Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán-Loera on Jan. 8 during a military raid in Los Mochis, located near the Gulf of California.

According to Mexican officials, a meeting between U.S. actor Sean Penn and Guzmán helped lead to the capture of the drug kingpin.

The meeting in question refers to an interview supposedly held at an undisclosed hideout in northern Mexico last October, just three months after Guzmán last escaped prison. This interview was then promptly released online by Rolling Stone the day after Guzmán’s capture, showcasing a handshake between the two men.

While Mexican authorities have an interest in talking with Penn, it is highly unlikely that Penn did anything illegal when conducting the interview. Undoubtedly, Mexican officials will want to know how Penn knew where Guzmán was and they didn’t. This all just builds on the legend of ‘El Chapo’ in Mexico and perhaps it is now time for them to finally realize extraditing Guzmán to the U.S. is the best option.

The U.S. has previously sent two extradition requests under the charges of drug trafficking and murder, as well as an arrest warrant to ship Guzmán to the U.S. Mexican officials have previously been opposed to extradition, but have had a change of heart this time around.

The U.S. and Mexico have an extradition treaty, but Mexico was let of the hook from proceeding on it last year since Guzmán managed to escape the Altiplano prison near Mexico City via a one-mile tunnel below his cell’s shower.

Now that Guzmán has been recaptured, the extradition proceedings will have to begin. According to law enforcement officials in Mexico though, the quickest Guzmán could be extradited is six months, and certainly his lawyers will appeal, dragging on the process.

For someone who has escaped prison in Mexico twice already, the extradition can’t get processed fast enough. Let’s assume that Guzmán gets sent to prison in the U.S. though and spends the rest of his life there, what happens then?

In the Rolling Stone interview, Guzmán claims that the drug industry won’t change at all if he was taken out of the picture, and he is probably right. In the mid-1990s, the leaders of the Medellín and Cali Cartels in Colombia were gunned down and captured. While this weakened the central authority of the drug trade in Colombia, it caused a spider-web reaction with new cartels starting up in various parts of Latin America.

One such cartel was Guzmán’s own Sinaloa, which began in the late 1980s and quickly became responsible for over a quarter of all drugs entering the U.S. via Mexico. This is likely what will happen if Guzmán has seen his last days outside of prison. The Sinaloa Cartel may become weakened, but others will just attempt to replace its position.

One possible outcome would be the increase of influence Los Zetas has in the drug industry. Much of the current violence in Mexico can be attributed to a war raging between the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas.

Los Zetas originated from the Gulf Cartel but began to branch off in the early 21st century. This has led to its capacity to build in kidnapping, extortion, killings, and the drug trade.

A 2008 government raid in Mexico revealed a cache of anti-armor weapons, cluster grenades, anti-aircraft missiles, armored Humvees, and chemical protective suits. This is hardly a better scenario for Mexico if Los Zetas does indeed gain more power.

The other possible outcome would be nothing changes at all. Ismael Zambada jointly heads the Sinaloa Cartel, so with the capture of Guzmán, it has fallen upon him to lead. However, since Guzmán has already been captured twice before, it’s not as if Zambada is new to the situation. In fact, the Sinaloa Cartel seems to have done just fine with Guzmán behind bars.

This is not to say that the capture of Guzmán is meaningless. It serves a great psychological purpose to cartels in Mexico, saying that luck will run out on even its “legends.” It also gives justice to all of the violent crimes he has committed.

However, the capture will not solve the underlying issues. The appetite for drugs in America will sadly not change much, but the corruption and bribery that leads to its importation in the U.S. can.

Put bluntly, capturing Guzmán is great, but there are also much more challenging issues to solve within Mexico’s drug trade industry.

Follow Jake Pfeifer on Twitter at @jake8922.

Jake Pfeifer

Jake Pfeifer is a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, which encompasses the Hastings Star Gazette, Farmington-Rosemount Independent Town Pages, South Washington County Bulletin and Woodbury Bulletin. He previously worked as a sports reporter and outdoors editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and as a multimedia artist/editor for Detroit Lakes Newspapers.

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