Mexico's Most Powerful Drug Lord Escapes From Prison A Second Time
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was last seen inside the "Atiplano" prison around 8 p.m., Saturday night, located about 50 miles west of Mexico City. Guzman reported for his medicine before heading off to the showers, which were the only part of his cell without surveillance cameras. It was there where authorities discovered the entrance to an elaborate mile-long tunnel—that had artificial lighting, ventilation, and even a motorcycle on rails—that ran underneath the prison and ended in a nearby neighborhood filled with construction sites.
Having Guzman in custody was a point of pride for President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose administration had cracked down hard on the leaders of the country's drug cartels, but Mexico's legal system was always seen as corrupt and in the pockets of cartels. Guzman's latest escape suggests that the tunnel was at least made with the complicity of prison officials, and according to the L.A. Times eighteen guards and employees are currently being held for questioning. A former government intelligence said on TV that the prison break "shows the weakness of the entire chain of [Mexico's] judicial system."
Authorities have set up roadblocks in the region, suspended flights at the nearby Toluca airport, and soldiers have set up inside Mexico City's international airport.
Through his Sinaloa drug cartel, Guzman became one of the world's wealthiest men, amassing a personal fortune that Forbes estimated at over $1 billion. His network trafficked cocaine, heroin, and marijuana throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia. Although he was captured by authorities in February of 2014, many did not doubt he still essentially ran the cartel from his cell. His first escape was in 2001, when he snuck out of a prison in a laundry cart.
The New Yorker's Patrick Radden Keefe, who had written about the hunt for El Chapo last year, noted there were signs of an escape, "Several of Guzmán’s children maintain an active presence on Twitter. On May 8, his son Ivan wrote in a tweet, in a possible reference to his father, 'I promise you, the general will soon be back.' Six days ago, he tweeted, 'Everything comes to those who know how to wait.'"
U.S. officials had long pressed for his extradition to the United States to face charges here and also be held in a more secure facility. According to the DEA, Sinaloa accounts for more cocaine and marijuana in the United States than any other Mexican cartel, and more than half of the heroin in the country. "Obviously we are extremely unhappy," an anonymous senior DEA official told the Washington Post.
Mexico's violent drug war escalated in 2006 when President Felipe Calderón used the military to intervene and stop drug violence. It has since claimed the lives of at least 100,000 people.
US Border Patrol agents along the border with Mexico, 60 miles east of San Diego (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)