Escape by top drug lord a strong blow to Mexico's government

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Drug Lord 'El Chapo' Escapes Prison Again


MEXICO CITY (AP) — The capture of drug lord Joaquin Guzman was the crowning achievement of President Enrique Pena Nieto's government in its war against drug cartels, a beacon of success amid domestic woes. That makes the bold escape by "El Chapo" from a maximum security prison all the more devastating.

A widespread manhunt that included highway checkpoints, stepped up border security and closure of an international airport failed to turn up any trace of Guzman by Monday, more than 24 hours after he got away.

Widely considered the world's richest and most powerful drug trafficker before his capture last year, Guzman slipped down a shaft from his prison cell's shower area late Saturday and disappeared into a sophisticated mile-long (1.5 kilometer-long) tunnel with ventilation, lighting and a motorcycle apparently used to move dirt.

"All the accolades that Mexico has received in their counter-drug efforts will be erased by this one event" if Guzman is not recaptured, said Michael S. Vigil, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief of international operations.

More than anything else, the escape undermined Mexico's assertion it can deal with top drug lords at home and doesn't need to extradite them to the U.S. The national pride that appeared to motivate Pena Nieto's administration to prosecute drug lords like Guzman through its own court system has now turned into a national embarrassment.

See photos of the manhunt below:
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Escape by top drug lord a strong blow to Mexico's government
ALMOLOYA DE JUAREZ, July 16, 2015-- Security forces stand guard in the surroundings of the alleged house where was built the tunnel, through which escaped from prison Mexico's drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, in Almoloya de Juarez, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, on July 15, 2015. Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, disappeared from the maximum-security Altiplano prison outside of Mexico City Saturday night, according to the National Security Commission. (Xinhua/Alejandro Ayala via Getty Images)
A Mexican soldier speaks with a man at the International airport in Mexico City on July 16, 2015. The Mexican government has offered a $3.8 million reward for fugitive drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's capture, double the amount it usually offers for the country's most wanted criminals. AFP PHOTO/ YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A Public Safety Secretary of the Federal District (SSPDF) police officer stands next to a patrol car with a picture of fugitive drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's on its window, in Acapulco, Guerrero State, Mexico, on July 14, 2015. Mexico's government offered a $3.8 million reward for the capture of 'El Chapo' Guzman on Monday and sacked top prison officials amid suspicions that guards helped him escape. Guzman vanished from his cell late Saturday even though he was wearing a monitoring bracelet and surveillance cameras were trained on the room 24 hours a day, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said. AFP PHOTO / PEDRO PARDO (Photo credit should read Pedro PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexico's Attorney General Arely Gomez shows a picture of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman during a press conference held at the Secretaria de Gobernacion in Mexico City, on July 13, 2015. Guzman managed to escape from his cell despite a monitoring bracelet and 24-hour security camera surveillance, and likely was helped by prison officials, authorities said. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A poster with the face of Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, reading 'Wanted, Again', is displayed at a newsstand in one Mexico City's major bus terminals on July 13, 2015, a day after the government informed of the escape of the drug kingpin from a maximum-security prison. Mexican security forces scrambled Monday to save face and recapture 'El Chapo' as authorities investigated whether guards helped him escape prison through a tunnel under his cell. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: View of pipes near the Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after the confirmation of the escape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washes his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
A Federal Police officer stands guard outside the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A group of journalists remain close the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A Federal Police officer stands guard outside the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture of the yellow tape put by security forces of the Office of the Attorney General around the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: Federal Police men patrol near of the Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after the confirmation of the eescape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: View of a tunnel terminated in a house under construction in a neighborhood near the prison which was allegedly used Joaquin El Chapo Guzman to eescape, during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after confirming the escape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Picture of the yellow tape put by security forces of the Office of the Attorney General around the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: View of a tunnel terminated in a house under construction in a neighborhood near the prison which was allegedly used Joaquin El Chapo Guzman to eescape, during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after confirming the escape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Picture of the yellow tape put by security forces of the Office of the Attorney General around the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: Arelly Gomez General Attorney of Mexico walks during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after te confirmation of the eeescape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Security forces of the Office of the Attorney General secure the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Guatemalan Interior Deputy Minister Elmer Sosa shows a picture of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman Loera during a press conference in Guatemala City on July 12, 2015. The security authorities of Guatemala are in alert after the escape of the leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, reported Sunday an official source. AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
View of the covers of Mexican newspapers in Mexico City, on February 23, 2014, after Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman' was arrested yesterday by Mexican marines. Guzman is the Sinaloa cartel leader and the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A semi-submersible which was seized with seven and a half tons of cocaine, is exhibited at a military unit in Tegucigalpa on February 24, 2014. Hoduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez congratulated the Mexican government for the capture of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, who had extended his power to Central America, linked for over two decades to groups that control vast territories for the passage of drugs to the US. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman escaped his captors by walking along this drainage canal and tunnel behind a house in Culiacan, Mexico, last week. Guzman was finally captured on Saturday in the nearby city of Maz. Photo was taken Feb. 24, 2014. (Tim Johnson/MCT via Getty Images)
Members of the press take photographs as drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman is flown by a Federal Police helicopter, blue helicopter in center, from a Navy hangar at Mexico's International Airport in Mexico city, Mexico, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Mexico's apprehension of the world's most-wanted drug boss struck a blow to a cartel that local and U.S. authorities say swelled into a multinational empire, fueling killings around the world. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
View of the inside of a semi-submersible -seized with seven and a half tons of cocaine- exhibited at a military unit in Tegucigalpa on February 24, 2014. Hoduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez congratulated the Mexican government for the capture of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, who had extended his power to Central America, linked for over two decades to groups that control vast territories for the passage of drugs to the US. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman escaped his captors by walking along this drainage canal and tunnel behind a house in Culiacan, Mexico, last week. Guzman was finally captured on Saturday in the nearby city of Maz. Photo was taken Feb. 24, 2014. (Tim Johnson/MCT via Getty Images)
View of the covers of Mexican newspapers in Mexico City, on February 23, 2014, after Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman' was arrested yesterday by Mexican marines. Guzman is the Sinaloa cartel leader and the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
Jesus Murillo Karam, attorney general of Mexico, center, stands next to Vidal Francisco Soberon Sanz, an admiral of the Mexican Navy, right, and Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexican secretariat of national defense, left, while speaking about the capture of drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman to members of the press outside a Navy hangar at Mexico's International Airport in Mexico city, Mexico, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Mexico's apprehension of the world's most-wanted drug boss struck a blow to a cartel that local and U.S. authorities say swelled into a multinational empire, fueling killings around the world. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Members of the Mexican Navy stand guard during an operation to present Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman' to the press, on February 22, 2014 in Mexico City. The Sinaloa cartel leader - the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies - was arrested early this morning by Mexican marines at a resort in Mazatlan, northern Mexico. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Mexican Navy stand guard near a helicopter transporting Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman', on February 22, 2014 in Mexico City. The Sinaloa cartel leader - the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies - was arrested early this morning by Mexican marines at a resort in Mazatlan, northern Mexico. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
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"This is regrettable, very bad, because it without doubt affects the image of Mexico in the world," Mexican Sen. Luis Miguel Barbosa told journalists in Paris on Monday. He was part of a delegation traveling with the Mexican president to the French capital.

"You have to completely renew the Mexican prison system. The arrest of all warders and managers is not enough," he said. "This happened due to collaboration from within the jail at the highest level."

According to a report from the Congressional Research Service in May, extraditions from Mexico to the U.S. peaked at 115 in 2012, the last year of Pena Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderon. There were 66 last year.

The escape route apparently was built over the last year right under authorities' noses into a supposedly escape-proof lockup. Its scale has raised suspicions of corruption that could most discourage the U.S., Mexico's main ally that has poured more than $1 billion into joint efforts at battling organized crime cartels, much of it focused on reforming the criminal justice system.

The United States was already stinging from a court decision in August 2013 to free drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero on procedural grounds, overturning his conviction in the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena. Caro Quintero hasn't been seen in public since then.

"For the most-wanted criminal to escape from the highest-security prison is going to create conflicts, the first of them with the United States," Mexican security expert Jorge Chabat said Sunday.

The escape also hurt Pena Nieto domestically. He had campaigned on one main promise — to diminish drug cartel violence — and had claimed success in attacking drug gang capos like no administration before, arresting or killing essentially all the top leadership of the Zetas, Beltran Leyva and Knights Templar cartels.

It was a highlight for an administration struggling on other fronts, including a lackluster economy and scandals over the disappearance of 43 college students, and the purchase by the president's wife of a mansion, known as the "white house," from a government contractor.

"This hurts him a lot. It is an administration that already has a lot of image problems, with the scandals over the students and the 'white house,' and now this comes along and paints them as an administration with serious problems of inefficiency and corruption," Chabat said.

Just as painful are memories of the cocksure way officials reacted after they captured Guzman in February 2014, some 13 years after the Sinaloa Cartel boss managed to flee from Mexico's only other maximum-security prison.

Pena Nieto said in a televised interview that allowing him to escape again would be "unforgiveable." Jesus Murillo Karam, his attorney general at the time, said the possibility of another Guzman escape "does not exist."

Manuel Ballbe, director of School of Risk Prevention at Spain's Autonomous University of Barcelona, said it was important for the U.S. to push for extraditions.

"International pressure is the check and balance against the state's corrupt powers," Ballbe said.

The bold and well-engineered escape also illustrates that simply capturing such a powerful figure without dismantling his financial network is insufficient, he said.

"Holding a drug lord inside the country does not affect his financial capacity," Ballbe said. "It is very difficult for the state to do something against the size of the bribes that these networks can produce."

U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement that "we share the government of Mexico's concern regarding the escape of Joaquin Guzman," adding that "the U.S. government stands ready to work with our Mexican partners to provide any assistance that may help support his swift recapture."

But Peter Bensinger, a former administrator of the DEA, said he expects that U.S. officials have expressed their anger to their Mexican counterparts.

"He ought to have been housed in an American prison," Bensinger said. "Mexican authorities will come in for tremendous criticism, as they should."

Raul Benitez, a security expert at Mexico's National Autonomous University, said Guzman's second escape is even worse for Pena Nieto than if he had never captured him.

"In the context of the drug war it is the president's worst failure," Benitez said.
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