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It wasn’t very long ago that I was writing with astonishment that two convicts had managed to escape from the high-security Clinton correctional facility in upstate New York.  Now, we have word that Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the head of the brutally violent Mexican Sinaloan drug cartel, has escaped from his “impregnable” Mexican jail.  He apparently fled through a mile-long tunnel from his prison-cell shower to an abandoned house in the middle of a grassy field.  This time, though, the escapee won’t be swatting black flies in the swamps of upstate New York.  In 2013, Guzman was dropped from Forbes Magazine’s list of billionaires.  He has the wherewithal to pretty much go where he pleases.  Needless to say, he is not welcome in the United States. He has been indicted in at least 7 instances in the United States, in federal court in Arizona, California, Texas, Illinois and New York.

One person has said that “[t]hey used to say, once El Chapo went into the mountains, it would be like trying to find Osama bin Laden.  If a marine, a police officer, a soldier goes into that area, they are seen. [Guzman] has his spies, his spotters, his killers..”

The consensus in Mexico seemed to be that it was unlikely Guzman will ever be recaptured. His escape was so elaborate, the tunnel so sophisticated, the thinking goes, that if he had the influence to pull that off, he must be gone for good.  One former DEA official told CNN that if the drug lord is not found in the next day or so, “I don’t know, we may never see this guy again.

As if all this isn’t crazy enough, now a Twitter war has erupted between Guzman and…. you guessed it, The Donald.  A Twitter account claiming to be Guzman’s has blasted Donald rump, in language I won’t repeat here.  Kind of surreal. Trump is said to have shut up and alerted the FBI.

But what of this comparison to Bin Laden?  My belief is that, as with Bin Laden, we have the capability to hunt Guzman down and kill him and may very well do so.  But just as killing Bin Laden did not bring the Never-Ending Global War On Terror to an end, so, too, if  “El Chapo” is killed, the “War on Drugs” will continue and without success.  Ed Vulliamy writes in The Guardian:

All this falls within a crucial context. The great writer on matters mafia, Roberto Saviano – author of Gomorrah and Inferno – visited the Guardian last week to talk about international organised crime. Among his points were that “we must not think about what is happening in Mexico as far away in some distant land”, and indeed we must not.


For a start, it is thanks to the 120,000 dead and 20,000 missing in Mexico’s narco-war that mountains of cocaine go up British, European and American noses. Everyone wants to forget that Britain’s biggest bank, HSBC, was caught, and admitted, laundering Chapo Guzmán’s giddy profits, as was Wachovia bank, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo: hundreds of billions of dollars of Sinaloa cartel blood money, handled with effective impunity inasmuch as no one in either instance was prosecuted, let alone jailed – indeed, most were promoted.


The logical conclusion is what Saviano, his Mexican counterparts Lydia Cacho and Hernández (and I for that matter) have been arguing for years: that the “cops and robbers” model of reaction to events like Guzmán’s escape – indeed, the whole farce of the “war on drugs” – is bankrupt; that the idea of our healthy society fighting outlaw criminals is fantasy. The antics of HSBC and tradition of conviviality between the Mexican state and Guzmán’s cartel turn the idea of some line the sand between criminality and legality into a brazen lie. Just as Guzmán and the new cartels operate within the logic of the “legal” economy, and become major investors in it, so the “legal” economy and polity embrace the cartels.


Whether Guzmán will continue to run his cartel from hiding again is arguable, but he is hardly likely to abdicate having pulled off a coup like Sunday’s escape, whatever it was. He may try a run to Guatemala, where he was arrested for the first time in 1993, or just return to where the “biggest manhunt in history” supposedly failed to find him for 13 years, right where he would obviously be, at home in his villa. Right there in Sinaloa, where Guzman’s mother was found and interviewed by British film-maker Angus McQueen for his movie The Legend of Shorty, and where the army, Guzmán’s bodyguards told McQueen, was paid to turn a blind eye.


In Tijuana and Juárez, meanwhile, the product keeps rolling, and the killing has abated; last April counted the lowest murder rate in Juárez for nine years. Bars and shops have re-opened along Juárez Avenue, including the one in which the Margarita was invented; people on the streets and families head out for dinner for the first time in ages. Meanwhile, Guzmán, free again, counts the money.


In Italy, it was always known as Pax Mafiosa – mafia peace – and, according to the twisted logic that admits the lie of a line between legal and criminal, it works.

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