It can be said without exaggeration that the escape of Joaquín Guzmán (El Chapo – “Shorty”), a Mexican drug lord and the head of the Sinaloa cartel, excited the whole Mexico. It happened on July 11, when El Chapo stepped into a shower area. Despite the camera installed there, he moved ceramic tiles to descent a 10-meter-long vertical passageway that was outfitted with a ladder and led to a tunnel stretching for over a mile.
It had taken more than a year for El Chapo’s associates to build it under high risk conditions. Some prison guards were bribed, but betrayal was not excluded. El Chapo knew about it from his past experience. Guards patrolling outside, especially marines, posed a threat. They were tough on narcos. Normally they opened fire without warning.
It was not the first breakout. El Chapo greased the palm of prison overseers to bribe his way out of prison in 2001. Back then he escaped hiding in a dirty-laundry cart. Since then he became a hero extolled by narcocorridos – ballads with lyrics tended to speak approvingly of illegal activities, mainly drug trafficking, and the way of life free from the rules imposed by unkind and unjust government, the activities against law enforcement agencies, including tortures, racket and murders are romanticized.
El Chapo’s fame of being elusive fueled interest towards him and his criminal group. The Sinaloa cartel rapidly expanded operations in the United States. The lyrics of ballads were often devoted to “Mexican revenge” for “Gringo’s crimes”.
Twenty-four people, all of them government employees, including high standing officials of federal penitentiary system, top prison officers, prison supervisors and police officers, have been arrested in connection with the July 11 escape. The police have also detained the pilot of the plane that transported El Chapo to a landing strip in an area hard to access. There he changed the plane to reach location “X” at the crossroads of the northern states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua.
The area is under control of Pacific cartel led by El Chapo. He failed to hide in a rancho located deep in mountains away from public eye: marine commandos attacked his shelter. El Chapo escaped at the last minute. He is still at large and on the run, it’s not clear how it’s all going to end up. It is more often said that Guzmán is hiding in a bunker on the territory of Sinaloa state. No politician can hold a candle to his popularity. The El Chapo’s generous treatment of the poor has made him as popular as Robin Hood with the only difference that Robin Hood robbed the rich to give to the poor while El Chapo is not involved in robbery at all. That’s why he has become an indisputable authority for the residents of Culiacán, his home town and the main target for the manhunt conducted by police. There was no need to spread around the wanted posters. The Sinaloa and other states souvenir markets offer a plethora of T-shirts and mugs with his pictures full face and side view. Hardly will anyone residing in Sinaloa dare to give away El Chapo to police. Despite his charity activities he is the man who can take vengeance. Media cite state residents saying “We’ll have money soon. El Chapo is at large!”
The State Department is offering a $5 million reward for information that would lead to his recapture. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has said it is ready to provide maximum assistance to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in his effort to put El Chapo behind bars again. ChuckRosenberg, the head of DEA, has said El Chapo has not left Mexico. According to him, DEA agents are sharing intelligence with their Mexican counterparts but "institutional problems" in the country made such information gathering difficult. "We have sources in Mexico we can work closely with. It doesn't extend throughout the entire government," he said at a briefing with reporters. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and other US agencies are also involved, Rosenberg said. Talking about the sources of information, Rosenberg primarily had in mind the means of electronic surveillance used by the United States in Mexico without restrictions. The DEA has intensified unmanned aerial vehicles flights over the territory of Sinaloa. Electronic surveillance has literally become omnipresent. Video surveillance is covertly used to monitor the places where El Chapo can appear.
The DEA operations include even the chapels built to honor Jesús Malverde, the places loved so much by drug traffickers. As the story goes, Jesús Malverde lived in the state in 1870-1909. He was a highwayman. Malverde robbed the rich to give to the poor generously sharing with them the loot. He was captured and hanged. The Catholic Church does not recognize him as a saint for the reasons easy to understand, but the people remember him as Angelof the Poor, Generous Bandit. When the times get rough, drug traffickers ask Malverde for moral support. Mexican bloggers let know that DEA agents have installed electronic devices in Malverde chapels in Culiacan, as well as in some other places to survey the visitors and tap their conversations among other things.
The interference of the US Drug Enforcement Agency into Mexican internal affairs gives rise to deep discontent among Mexican people, including in ruling circles. Experts believe that the escape of El Chapo is an action undertaken by people who have influence in political and power structures of the country. Washington has been persistent in its demands to extradite El Chapo to the United States to track down Sinaloa drug trafficking network and hold a show trial. There are also other reasons for putting such demands forward. For instance, according to rumors circulated in Mexico, the Drug Enforcement Agency has tried to make El Capo provide incriminating information against President Enrique Peña Nieto. Former DEA Director Phil Jordan told MDZ Radio (Argentina) on July 19 that drug lord Joaquin Guzman (El Chapo) provided funds for Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidential campaign in 2012. In turn, the President replayed the drug lord by preventing his arrest by the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s operatives.
Internet networks show EL Chapo’s high popularity in Mexico. According to bloggers, the correlation between positive and negative responses is 22:1. Sociologists say the government should not take any special administrative measures to filter posts and do away with the expression of solidarity with the drug lord. Protest sentiments are spread in the country. According to a study by the Mexican Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL, from its acronym in Spanish), 53.5 million Mexicans were living under the poverty line in 2012, half a million more than in 2010. And not only that, but another 40 percent are at the risk of crossing the line.
The discontent is exacerbated by economic slump accompanied by corruption at all levels with crime going on a rampage while the government is losing the trust of the people. Under the circumstances, El Chapo appears to be a hero. Born in a run-down area, he was poor but managed to make it and join the list of the richest people on the planet – something unbelievable for young people, especially those who went to work in the United States to be humiliated, including on racial grounds.
The popular support of El Chapo mirrors the anti-government sentiments among Mexican grassroots disappointed with the unhappy state of things. President Enrique Peña Nieto came to power as a result of evident electoral fraud. In recent months, his former rival Lopez Obrador, known as moderate populist, has been preparing for the 2018 election. He has a chance. The country is going through a period of social stagnation and El Chapo is willy-nilly perceived as a strong man, an antithesis to the liberal President Nieto. The manifestations in his support take place under the slogan “El Chapo is our hero!” His story became a base for several TV shows. Some girls who take part in the actions to support the drug lord are holding posters saying they want babies from El Chapo.
Halloween is usually celebrated throughout Mexico. This year usual masks and costumes of vampires, trolls, witches and other scary creatures are added by something brand new. Prison stripe attire tagged "El Chapo" with latex masks with eye holes of the mustachioed drug lord are offered for sale. According to Diego Esponda, chief executive of the Mexican company Grupo Rev that specializes in masks and Halloween costumes, the outfit of the twice-escaped drug kingpin are selling like ice-cream on a hot day. Caretas has produced more than 2,600 of the masks this month, many of them for export to the US and Canada.