On Saturday, dozens of soldiers and police officers descended on a condominium tower in Mazatlán, Mexico, acting on a tip that Joaquín Guzmán Loera — a notorious drug kingpin known as El Chapo— was hiding out in the complex.
El Chapo had eluded such raids for 13 years since escaping from prison, by many accounts in a laundry cart. With an army of guards and enforced loyalty, he reigned over a worldwide, multibillion-dollar drug empire that supplied much of the cocaine and marijuana to the United States.
Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel is considered the largest and most powerful trafficking organization in the world, with a reach as far as Europe and Asia, and has been a main combatant in a spasm of violence that has left tens of thousands dead in Mexico.
This time, authorities surprised him. News reports say that Guzman apparently had no time to reach for the arsenal of guns and grenades he had amassed or escape into one of the underground tunnels said to connect several hideouts. (Estimates are that authorities seized 97 large guns, 36 handguns, 2 grenade launchers, a rocket launcher, and 43 vehicles, several of them armored.)
Mexican marines and the police, aided by information from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, immigration and customs officials and the United States Marshals Service, took Guzman into custody without firing a shot, according to Mexican officials. Guzmán faces a slew of drug trafficking and organized crime charges in the United States, however, it is likely that he will face charges in Mexico first.
Only time will tell whether this arrest will have a real impact on the Mexican drug trade. On one hand, the capture of a high profile leader could result in infighting and violence as rival cartels fight for new footing in the market. On the other, the Sinaloa Cartel is a sophisticated enterprise which may manage a smooth transition to a new leader and continue with business as usual— especially since it has long been suspected that Guzman was a figurehead, with much of the day-to-day management falling to subordinates.
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