It’s the real-life version of The Shawshank Redemption: Mexico’s most notorious drug lord has escaped from a maximum-security prison by tunnelling through 1.5km of rubble.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was reported missing from his cell at the Altiplano Federal Prison on the 11th of June this year.
Investigating authorities searched his cell and found a small gap in the floor of his cell’s shower which led to an elaborate labyrinth of tunnels leading to an abandoned home in the Mexican countryside.
The revelation has sparked contention between US FBI officials and the Mexican government with the US suggesting that the escape sheds light on the extent of corruption in Mexico.
Who is Joaquin Guzman?
Better known as “El Chapo” (‘The Shorty’), Joaquin Guzman was long considered the world’s most powerful drug trafficker and the head of the Sinaloa cartel, which smuggles tonnes of cocaine and other drugs from Mexico into the United States.
Guzman quickly rose through the ranks of the drug trade, kick starting his career in the 1970’s under the eye of Mexican drug lord Hector Palma, and transporting drugs to areas near the US-Mexico border.
From his early years, Guzman adopted a no-nonsense approach to doing business: associates who delivered shipments late or who tried to deceive him were brutally murdered.
This approach won him praise from his superiors, and he soon began working directly for Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, better known as ‘The Godfather,’ who was one of the heads of the Guadalajara Cartel.
After the cartel was infiltrated by the DEA and Gallardo imprisoned, Guzman gained more control and eventually broke away to form the Sinaloa cartel, which controlled certain drug corridors in Mexico.
Throughout the 1980’s, the cartel was responsible for trafficking quantities of marijuana and cocaine from Mexico into the United States using aircraft, tunnels and even packing them into cans of chilli which were then shipped into the US on trains.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, conflict erupted between the Sinaloa cartel and another cartel, known as the Tijuana cartel, which had also broken off the Gudalajara cartel following Gallardo’s arrest.
This resulted in a brutal war between the two groups, during which several members were killed.
In 1993, the Tijuana cartel attempted to kill Guzman by shooting at a parked car in which he was believed to be hiding, but they were mistaken and ended up killing the Cardinal and Archbishop of Guadalajara, Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo.
The incident sparked a widespread manhunt for the perpetrators, which eventually resulted in Guzman being arrested in Guatemala on 9 June 1993.
He was then extradited back to Mexico where he stood trial for drug trafficking, bribery and criminal association, and was ultimately sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
A Practised Escapee
Guzman’s recent escape is not his first.
After his arrest and sentencing, Guzman continued to run his drug empire from within maximum security prisons.
He wielded great power and influence inside prison, bribing guards to facilitate his escape.
On 19 January 2001, Guzman hid inside a laundry cart which was smuggled out of the facility by a maintenance worker.
He remained on the run for some 13 years, living in the Sierra Madre mountains.
Authorities finally arrested him on 22 February 2014 after a lengthy operation involving over 65 soldiers, who had been tipped off by members of his security team.
78 people are believed to have played a role in his first escape; including the director of this prison, who is now behind bars himself.
Now You See Me…
After being arrested again, Guzman was sent to a maximum security prison where security measures were ramped up both inside and outside the facility.
He was put in an isolated cell, consisting of a single bed, shower and toilet, and was only allowed out of his cell for an hour each day.
He was charged with drug trafficking and participating in organised criminal activities, and also faced the possibility of being extradited to the US to face further charges.
Despite the extra security measures, Gizman was reported missing last Saturday after he apparently took a shower.
His cell was under 24-hour video surveillance, but the shower area was not being monitored.
After Guzman failed to reappear on camera after two hours, authorities became suspicious and searched his cell.
They found a tunnel which had been dug out underneath his shower, and which led to an abandoned house some 1.5 km away.
The tunnel, located 9 metres underground, had been constructed using high-quality building materials, and had lighting and extraction fans. A motorcycle was also found in the tunnel which Guzman is believed to have used in his escape.
Guzman remains on the run, with a $3.8 million USD bounty for information leading to his arrest.
A National Embarrassment
News of Guzman’s escape has been a source of embarrassment for Mexican President Peña Nieto, who has long spoken of his desire to stamp out corruption.
Guzman’s 2014 arrest had been played up as evidence that Nieto’s government was delivering results in their crackdown on crime, with the President even declaring that a second escape would be “unforgivable.”
But Guzman’s latest escape is a painful reminder that the power wielded by drug lords remains unwavering.
Although the President has since promised to spare no resources in securing Guzman’s re-arrest, he has been widely ridiculed and condemned by US authorities, who had warned Mexican officials that Guzman would try to escape.
US concerns were reportedly ignored, leading some to suggest that corruption remains rampant within all ranks of the political system.
For Mexicans, it is a stark reminder that drug money continues to buy enormous power and influence, even in this day and age.