El Chapo’s Escape: The Final Nail in Peña Nieto’s Credibility Coffin

El Chapo Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, has once again evaded justice in Mexico.
El Chapo Guzmán, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, has once again evaded justice in Mexico. (Excelsior)

EspañolIn the tragicomedy that is Mexican politics, nothing is what it seems. Or better still, nothing promised is ever delivered.

Mexico gave us the perfect example on Saturday, July 11, when Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, also known as “El Chapo,” escaped from the Altiplano maximum security prison.

The country’s most monitored prisoner skipped jail through a hole in his cell’s shower stall that connected to a 1.5 kilometer tunnel. He surfaced at a building under construction inside the Santa Juanita colony, in the town of Almoya de Juárez, Mexico state.

According to the National Security Commission, the prison guards saw El Chapo for the last time inside his cell when he entered the shower stall. They sent an alert as soon as they noticed his absence, they said.

Mexican authorities still don’t have a single lead on where he might be now.

It was the second time the leader of Sinaloa Cartel — the world’s largest and most powerful criminal organization with a presence in 50 countries across the globe — was able to slip through the fingers of Mexican authorities. In 2001, El Chapo escaped from another maximum-security prison in Puente Grande. with the aid of 71 people, including prisoners, guards, and even state employees.

The tunnel El Chapo Guzmán used to escape from the Altiplano maximum-security prison.
The tunnel El Chapo Guzmán used to escape from the Altiplano maximum-security prison. (El Informador)

While Guzmán performed his most recent jailbreak, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was flying across the Atlantic on an official state visit to France. After landing and learning the news, Peña Nieto gave a press conference from the Mexican ambassador’s home. He described El Chapo’s second escape as an “affront to the state” that has outraged the country.

Instead of taking the matter into his own hands, the president dispatched Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong back to Mexico to deal with it. In other words, he sent Osorio to put out his own fires and stick up for him.

Empty Promises

“Many promises, few accomplishments” sums up Peña Nieto’s administration so far. The Mexican president loves to make promises, but he is not so big on delivering on them.

During his presidential campaign, Peña Nieto made 266 commitments, but three and a half years into his administration, he has only fulfilled 28 of them, around 10 percent, as revealed in a report by El Financiero. El Chapo’s second jailbreak stands out as a blow to the Mexican government’s credibility.

Almost a year ago, on February 22, 2014, Peña Nieto celebrated the arrest of the world’s most-wanted drug lord. His administration received help from the United States and the Mexican Marines in Mazatlán, Sinaloa.

When journalist Leon Krauze asked Peña Nieto if he could promise El Chapo would not escape again, the president assured it was the national government’s responsibility to keep the drug kingpin behind bars.

“Considering past events, it would be something truly beyond terrible, unforgivable.… It’s the national government’s responsibility to ensure the jailbreak of some years ago does not happen again,” Peña Nieto said back then.

More than a surprise, the slip reveals the incompetence of an administration incapable of living up to its promises. A poll showed that even 70 percent of Mexicans believed El Chapo was going to evade justice again.

A Blow to Mexico’s Image

Besides exposing the world to the fragility of Mexican institutions, which are rife with corruption, influence peddling, and a lack of accountability, Chapo’s escape also strikes a blow to the darkest parts of the Mexican psyche.

From Paris, Mexican President Peña Nieto described the jailbreak as an "affront to the state."
From Paris, Mexican President Peña Nieto described the jailbreak as an “affront to the state.” (Notimex)

Amid 100,000 dead from the War on Drugs, the forced disappearance of 43 students in Iguala, the wave of attacks against journalists, or just everyday violence, it’s hard for citizens to believe in the current security strategy. Skepticism sinks in over time.

Edgardo Buscaglia, a top scholar from Columbia University and president of the Citizens Action Institute, said in an interview with Semanario ZETA that El Chapo’s evasion is a symbol of reigning corruption and impunity, since no one in the Peña Nieto administration is likely to face any consequences or be forced to step down.

Peña Nieto must return, of course, it is a national security crisis. It is a historical security crisis that Guzmán Loera is trying to forge an alliance among the most important criminal bands on the continent, because he is aware they have lost a lot of ground due to state action in Mexico and Central America.

Felipe Chabat, a researcher at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, joins Buscaglia in arguing that the political cost, absent any resignations, would directly affect Peña Nieto.

At this point, the damage can no longer be reversed by capturing El Chapo again. From an international perspective, it would not be enough to silence critics of Mexico’s drug war, who are already demanding the US government put an end to the financial and security assistance delivered through the Mérida Initiative, in order to curb human-rights violations.

From a domestic point of view, arresting El Chapo will do nothing to compensate the drug war’s human costs: it would neither resurrect the dead, nor achieve political stability in a country where the rule of law has taken a back seat.

“We have to stop assuming that insecurity and organized crime are [solely] the government’s fault,” Peña Nieto once said during a military ceremony. “They are everyone’s problems, and only together can we defeat them.”

Yes, together we can, Mr. President. Let’s start with you and your coworkers.

Translated by Paz Gómez.

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