The Drug War’s Theater of the Absurd: El Chapo Guzmán’s Arrest


Español In the theater of the absurd that is the War on Drugs, the rational gives way to the irrational — the logical to the illogical.

We observe the narcotics supply-chain of individuals and the law enforcement apparatus, both trapped in seemingly hopeless situations. Then those in positions of power — government, big business, and banks — act out their role with the same repetitive and meaningless actions. They assuage the public with words of comfort, but they ring full of clichés and nonsense. In the end, there is no meaning, a cyclical and destructive plot without bounds.

The arrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán fits into this narrative all too well. Touted as one of the most dangerous and sought after criminals on the planet, his capture has led to much congratulatory back-slapping on the part of Mexican and US authorities. The takedown of the face of the Sinaloa Cartel has been said to mark the end of an era, and yet, paradoxically, has left many more questions than answers.

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Aside from the uncertainties of the future, questions linger as to the planning, execution, and timing of the arrest — how, who, or what set the stage for El Chapo’s fall?

The Three Amigos at the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico on Wednesday, Feb.19, 2014.
The “Three Amigos” at the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico on Wednesday, Feb.19, 2014. Source: The White House.

Guzmán’s capture came only three days after the “Three Amigos Summit” — a meeting between Mexican President Peña Nieto, Canadian Prime Minister Harper, and US President Obama over trade deals — and only a week after Peña Nieto’s Time magazine cover was revealed as a paid advertisement.

The billionaire on-the-run was eventually captured in a rather ordinary-looking hotel room and immediately photographed, shirtless and disheveled — the image of a bested and broken man. Normally traveling with a security team of up to 300 heavily armed men, Guzmán was, incredibly, done in without single shot fired. The “CEO of Crime” was then put in front of the cameras again, made to perform the classic “perp walk,” breaking with the tradition of the Peña Nieto administration thus far.

Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán at the moment of arrest.
Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán at the moment of arrest. Source: Mexican law enforcement.

Danny Benavides, writing for Traces of Reality, highlights the inconsistency: “Take note, for instance, the manner in which Chapo Guzmán was led out before the cameras after his arrest: a Mexican Marine seen applying a Vulcan nerve grip on the back of his neck, head down and cuffed (see video here). Then contrast that with the way captured Zetas leader Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales (alias “Z-40″) performed his perp walk: unrestrained, strutting at a cool pace alongside Mexican Marines (see video here).”

Indeed, the very capture of the drug lord itself possesses many elements of theater — so much so that even former agents of the DEA, now retired and able to speak freely, have come forward to voice their suspicions.

Former DEA supervisor, Hector Berrellez, recently went as far as to say the entire thing was “arranged.” Speaking to Narco News, Berrellez said, “Chapo was protected by Mexican federal agents and military, by the Mexican government. He was making Peña Nieto look bad, and so the government decided to withdraw his security detail. Chapo was told he could either surrender, or he would be killed.”

Hector Berrellez, Former DEA Supervisor.
Hector Berrellez, Former DEA Supervisor. Source: Proceso.

Berrellez, although retired, says he maintains contact with informants within the Mexican government and military. The information he has received from those informants accounts for the way Guzmán was captured without a struggle.

“He ran around with a several-hundred man security detail that included Mexican military and federal agents, yet, in the end, he is arrested like a rat in a hole. My sources are telling me it was an arranged thing.”

Another retired DEA agent, Phil Jordan, also expressed doubt regarding the developing storyline of El Chapo’s demise. During an interview with Univision, Jordan said he was surprised Guzmán was arrested now, while Mexico is under the control of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. He claims to have seen intelligence reports in the past that indicate Guzmán has been a strong financial supporter of the PRI and put millions of dollars into Peña Nieto’s campaign — presumably in exchange for continued protection.

Jordan’s comments support Berrellez’s assertion that El Chapo was indeed being protected by the Mexican government through its police and military, but, for whatever reason, that arrangement had come to an end.

As with Pablo Escobar in Colombia, or Al Capone in the United States, the “heroic” actions by our “saviors” in the state require willing villains to play their role. The details may vary, their fates not always the same, but the function these characters like El Chapo Guzmán play — time, and time again — is disturbingly similar.

As only one of several leaders within the Sinaloa Cartel — in itself only one of the very many drug cartels in Mexico — the arrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán does absolutely nothing to change the realities on the ground in Mexico. The day-to-day operations of the Sinaloa Cartel continue without interruption, and the problems caused by this “drug war” that plague the people of the Mexico and the bordering regions of the United States go on unchallenged.

The theater on display this week is the same generations-old show we’ve been asked to cheer and applaud for: the same government created and imposed problem, the same predictable public reaction and consequence, and the same state-sanctioned solution. The absurdity continues, all the while nothing improves in the lives of ordinary people, and the interests of the corrupt political and crony elite are well preserved.

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