What Will El Chapo’s Arrest Mean?

 El Chapo Guzman arrested

The day after  Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera’s February 22 arrest, the photo of Mexican Marines escorting the world’s most wanted drug lord was splashed across newspapers and websites from Australia to France to Turkey. The “impeccable operation” was a full-fledged media coup for Enrique Peña Nieto’s 15-month-old presidency. In a departure from its usual stories, “The Other Side of the Peso—Mexican Success Stories” looks at the arrest of the most powerful criminal alive today.     

Previous "last photo" of El Chapo

Previous “last photo” of El Chapo

El Chapo “Shorty” Guzmán, 56, got his nickname for his 5’6” height. The son of a Badiraguato, Sinaloa farmer, reputedly in the drug business, went to work early on for Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo, godfather of the modern-day Mexican cartels. After Félix Gallardo’s 1989 arrest, the Sinaloa Cartel emerged with Guzmán as one of its leaders.

Currently number 67 on Forbes’ list of The Most Powerful People in the World, Guzmán has made the list every year since 2009. His wealth is estimated at a billion dollars. He’s the first person to be named Chicago’s Public Enemy No. 1 since Al Capone. The Sinaloa Cartel reportedly supplies 80% of the drugs in Chicago. This is particularly significant since Chicago serves as a distribution hub for the entire Midwest. According to Forbes, the Sinaloa cartel “is responsible for an estimated 25% of all illegal drugs that enter the U.S. via Mexico.” The cartel’s alleged top hit man was arrested in Amsterdam’s airport in January, not surprising since the cartel operates in 54 countries.

Over the years, stories and rumors about Guzmán have abounded. His 2001 prison escape was in a laundry cart–or not. It’s said that, like Sinaloa Cartel co-founder Ismael Zambada (El Mayo) García, Guzmán had plastic surgery to alter his appearance. Some people believe the arrest was a farce and the real El Chapo remains free.

Like earlier cartels, the Sinaloans have continued to value family ties and a less confrontational style. Newer cartels like the Zetas and the Caballeros Templarios, Knights Templar, have been quicker to resort to extreme violence. for the newcomers, who you’re related to counts less than what you do. The Sinaloa Cartel has a strong infrastructure that will survive Guzmán’s arrest and a successor, Zambada, waiting in the wings. In the days since Guzmán’s arrest, his sons have openly tweeted that the cartel will go on. Changes are, of course, inevitable with or without El Chapo’s presence.

Culiacán marchers (www.aztecanoticias.com.mx)

Culiacán marchers (www.aztecanoticias.com.mx)

The day after his arrest, the governor of Nuevo León proclaimed a high alert for the state, including Monterrey, in case there were violent repercussions. On Wednesday, there were marches and protests in Sinaloa demanding El Chapo’s freedom. The largest, in the capital of Culiacán, was estimated by various news sources at anywhere from several hundred to 1800 marchers.    

They took over the largest thoroughfare in the city and paraded to the main square, wearing white and carrying signs saying, “We want El Chapo freed,” “Chapo, Culiacán supports you,” and, in English, “We Love Chapo,” as bands played traditional Sinaloan songs. Video news reports showed large numbers of commuters caught in traffic filming the march on cell phones. Participants told of El Chapo’s aid to the poor and the victims of Hurricane Manuel last September. Police finally used tear gas to break up the impromptu dance party and drag racing that had developed as the crowd milled in the plaza in front of the city’s cathedral.  By the next day authorities were accusing El Chapo’s relatives of organizing the march.

La reina del surMeanwhile, Sergio Torres Félix, mayor of Culiacán told the media that members of a national hotelier organization had proposed that the city should create tours of the houses owned by El Chapo and the tunnels connecting them. Torres opined that state tourism authorities should consider the idea of what the local newspaper, Noreste, termed narcoturismo.

While the idea might seem ludicrous to Americans—and to plenty of Mexicans—there is already a thriving narcocultura that glorifies the life of the drug lords and their associates. One of the most popular works in the narcoliteratura genre, La Reina del Sur (The Queen of the South), by Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte, was made into a highly successful narconovela with Mexican star, Kate del Castillo, and the most expensive soap opera budget ever. From the traditional corridos, or ballads, narcocorridos have emerged to chronical the adventures of the drug life. If you want to find out more, visit NPR, although the 2011 article isn’t as up-to-date as the information on Narcoculture.com.

What will the arrest of El Chapo mean? My predictions:

  • The full impact won’t be known for several years. A number of other Sinaloa Cartle members have been arrested in recent weeks, and authorities are still cataloging confiscated items, including 43 vehicles found among the 7 former safe-houses in Culiacán.
  • It won’t end the Sinaloa Cartel or dent the demand for, or availability of, illegal drugs in the United States, although prices could temporarily rise.
  • It will shake up the Sinaloa power structure and the balance of power between Mexican cartels.
  • The shake-ups will increase violence in Mexico.
  • Depending on how the Sinaloa Cartel emerges, the economy of the state could take a noticeable hit within the next few years.
  • My final prediction (with condolences to the U.S. Department of Justice and Homeland Security): Like Americans, Mexicans are proud of their country. Out of nationalist pride, Mexico will not extradite El Chapo, at least not during Peña Nieto’s administration.

If you want to read more, one of the best articles to date, “Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán: the rise and fall of Mexico’s drug lord,” was published yesterday by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).





  1. Patricia says:

    Hola, Leslie,
    I’m in Mexico now, reading your blog about the cartels – very interesting.
    There’s a new, imposing restaurant y hotel on the outskirts of the town here, supposedly owned by a major drug lord. Right next door is a funeral parlor, owned by the brother. It’s said that the cartels are welcome to stay in the hotel and eat in the restaurant, but are not allowed into the town – or they will become patrons of the business next door… I wonder if that’s true.

    • Leslie Patiño says:

      Hi Patricia,

      Stories like yours have become all too common in the last decade. What’s true and what isn’t becomes hard to pin down. No wonder that, after a while, Mexicans get jaded about what the government and media put out.

Speak Your Mind