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February 23, 2014

Is arrest of Mexican drug lord "a monumental moment in the world's war on drugs"?

The question in the title of this post is drawn from the first sentence of this CNN report headlined "3 reasons why 'El Chapo' arrest matters." Here are excerpts:

The arrest of drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is a monumental moment in the world's war on drugs....  Here are three reasons why the arrest of Guzman — now being held by Mexican authorities and sought for extradition by U.S. authorities — matters so much.

1. His legend

Chicago declared him and his use of the city as a drug-dealing hub as Public Enemy No. 1, joining bygone gangster Al Capone in that distinction.  Perhaps most importantly, El Chapo is synonymous with narco culture and its lurid glorification.  Guzman, 56, is the drug kingpin extraordinaire.

El Chapo, which means "Shorty" in Spanish, inspires American rap songs and a genre of Mexican ballads called narcocorridos.  "All I wanna be is El Chapo, Three billion dollars in pesos" is part of the chorus to a 2012 rap by Gucci Mane.

Maybe the most potent message of El Chapo's arrest is how it undermines his most audacious myth -- that he could never be caught again, unfindable in Mexico's back country.  Guzman had been caught once before by Mexican authorities, in 2001, but he escaped from a high-security Mexican prison. Lore holds that he slipped out of the prison by hiding in a laundry basket....

2. One of the world's most wanted

Guzman's drug operation is believed to have penetrated not just all of the Americas, but Europe, Australia and west Africa as well, according to the West Point report. "The United States remains the most important demand market for Sinaloa Federation products —marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines.  The European Union and Australia, however, have proven attractive due to the economics of price elasticity and their distance from the supply source," according to the report.

But authorities have been mounting pressure on Guzman's Sinaloa cartel in recent months. His lieutenants have been killed or captured by Mexican authorities.  Earlier police operations yielded a trove of intelligence, including cell phone and other data, a U.S. law enforcement official said. That helped Mexican authorities and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents hunting Guzman gain confidence in recent weeks that they could arrest him.

"Although it's a ridiculous phrase, the world's most wanted drug lord is accurate," said Malcom Beith, author of "The Last Narco," which is about Mexico's drug war.  "There's tons of other drug lords around, but I think the Sinaloa cartel, given its growth, given its influence hemispheric and otherwise, I think that puts him on the top."

Phil Jordan, who spent three decades with the DEA and headed the agency's El Paso Intelligence Center, also characterized Guzman in superlatives.  "When you arrest the most powerful man in the Americas and in Mexico, if you talk to any cartel member, they'll say that he's more powerful than Mexican President Pena Nieto," Jordan said.  "This would be a significant blow to the overall operations not only in the Americas, but Chapo Guzman had expanded to Europe.  He was all over the place."...

3. U.S. indictments

Guzman's arrest has re-energized Mexican and U.S. lawmen who spent years tracking his cartel and yet unable to capture him — until now. The United States doesn't want to see Guzman escape again. That's why they are eager to see him extradited to the United States as soon as possible, where he is named in multiple federal drug indictments and has been on the DEA's most-wanted list.

"It is a significant arrest, provided he gets extradited immediately to the United States," Jordan told CNN.  "If he does not get extradited, then he will be allowed to escape within a period of time."  Added one U.S. official: "Now comes the hard part."  That official was referring to Guzman's extradition to the United States.

This CNN story helps me better understand why the arrest of drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is a very big news story and a significant law enforcement achievement. But I doubt many folks look back at the arrest(s) and prosecution(s) of Al Capone as a monumental moment in alcohol Prohibition, and I likewise would be surprised if this recent take-down of El Chapo is deemed monumental in the years to come as a variety of drug lords battle to take over his domain and become the next "world's most wanted drug lord."

I ask the question in the title of this post not to diminish the importance of this recent arrest nor to belittle to considerable efforts of the considerable and important law enforcement effort to capture this very bad guy.  But, like the war on crime or the war on poverty or even the war on terror, I worry that there is never a single "general" (on either side of these wars) whose arrest or death is very likely to significantly alter the enduring battles that seem destined to continue on.

February 23, 2014 at 12:48 PM | Permalink

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Comments

So why was there an "audacious myth -- that he could never be caught again"?

So why has his operation "penetrated all of the Americas", as well as "Europe, Australia and west Africa"?

So why was he considered "the most powerful man in the Americas and in Mexico"?

So why is it feared that "he will be allowed to escape within a period of time"?

The flood of dollars south and the unwillingness of our Drug Warriors to do anything about it.

Posted by: Fred | Feb 23, 2014 1:41:48 PM

El Chapo's power, at its peak, exceeded that of Pablo Escobar. So catching him is, indeed, a big deal.

But there are several other cartels waiting in the wings to pick up from where Sinaloa's power ends. This will not end the drug war. Only courageous reform from Washington will.

Posted by: PDB | Feb 23, 2014 2:27:31 PM

As long as the demand for drugs remains voracious, and as long as the Puritans keep them illegal--the market will be driven by the iron law of supply and demand. Regardless of who his arrested, the cartels will continue to thrive. After all, this is capitalism in its purest form.

Posted by: onlooker 4 | Feb 23, 2014 2:40:38 PM

If Prohibition taught us anything, it is that where there is an insatiable human need, a market will will arise to provide for that need. Better for the government (that is we, the people) to control, regulate, tax, and supervise that market---than have ruthless criminal cartels do so.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Feb 23, 2014 2:45:33 PM

It's simultaneously a Very Big Deal and No Big Deal at all. A big deal in the sense that he's a major figure and responsible for lots of mayhem and misery. No big deal because a) there are many others ready, hydra-like, to take his place and b) odds are the power vacuum will increase, not decrease violence.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Feb 23, 2014 3:05:08 PM

El Chapo was very generous with bribery. On e question during interrogation should be whether he contributed to the campaigns of American politicians, perhaps through legitimate businesses and associates.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 23, 2014 4:02:18 PM

We have a next door neighbor with whom we share a long border that is a Pirate Territory. It is not a responsible civilized nation state governed by a non corrupt governing body and is the inverse- an uncivilized non nation state with no effective law or governance and controlled by pirates. We need to close the border and cease trading until the people in that territory decide to form a government and kill the pirates. Do not go in there or take a boat offshore. Fly over if you must but please flush twice.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Feb 23, 2014 8:20:50 PM

" We need to close the border and cease trading until the people in that territory"

This is pure foolishness - you have no idea the extent to which the US economy - particularly in the border states but really all of it - is intertwined with Mexico. Ironically, it would harm us more than them.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Feb 24, 2014 5:36:15 AM

"We have a next door neighbor with whom we share a long border that is a Pirate Territory. It is not a responsible civilized nation
state governed by a non corrupt governing body and is the inverse- an uncivilized non nation state with no effective law or
governance and controlled by pirates. We need to close the border and cease trading until the people in that territory
decide to form a government and kill the pirates..."--1st

--True, but you oppose capital punishment. Are you writing facetiously?

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 24, 2014 1:00:00 PM

Why do I get the feeling there is an undeniable nexus between drug legalization in major states with the arrest of someone who is financially set up to provide the first LEGAL infrastructure for production and distributed of said legalized drugs?

In other words, the gub'mint has stepped into the fray, much like the US government broke up the prohibition profiteers once 21 trumped 18.

Am I the only one to see this connection?

Posted by: Eric Knight | Feb 24, 2014 1:55:11 PM

PDB --

"El Chapo's power, at its peak, exceeded that of Pablo Escobar. So catching him is, indeed, a big deal. But there are several other cartels waiting in the wings to pick up from where Sinaloa's power ends."

When a gang doing bank robberies gets caught, aren't there other gangs waiting in the wings to keep right on robbing?

When a producer of child pornography gets caught, aren't there other producers waiting in the wings to keep right on churning out the films?

It is quite true that imprisonment has not ended, and will not end, drug trafficking. It is at least equally true that it has not ended robbery, car theft, swindles of all sorts, or the market for CP.

Moral of story: As long a some people want to make a quick buck rather than get a regular job, there is going to be money-motivated crime, and neither imprisonment, the death penalty, rehab, a stern talking to by the judge or anything else will put a stop to it.

And what does that tell us?

That it would be foolish to abandon imprisonment (or, in the right setting, any of those other things) simply because they will never eradicate socially damaging behavior. They will deter some of it, and that is the best civilization has ever been able to expect from criminal law.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 24, 2014 4:02:48 PM

LOL..I just reread my post followed by Bill Otis' post. I better clarify...

I am actually happy that El Chapstick was taken down. My suspicions, however, is that the Mexican government (along with, perhaps, Eric Holder and friends) have always had the ability to take him down the past few years, but they were waiting for the most "politically correct" time to do so. Say what you will, but the infrastructure to create a production and distribution system, albeit illegal, was still substantial and from an efficiency standpoint, a necessary component of moving product from field to cheetos eater.

Had the government taken him down earlier, the distribution methodologies would not have been built as "fundamentally solid." NOW that legalization has occurred in two American states, and will in fact increase over time (most likely), both the US and Mexican governments see the potentially trillion-dollar industry being handed to them on a platter.

I myself loathe drugs (I don't even drink), but when the government controls the distribution, they control WHO gets the spoils. That is why my own suspicion to the timing of the arrest is suspect. This is not a conspiracy theory, rather a real-world assessment to how law enforcement and legal prosecution is conducted in the real world.

Having said that, how will the burgeoning legalization in the US affect both prosecution and defense of criminal and civil actions? I see a transfer from prosecution of drug production, distribution, and possession to that of an exponential increase of actions that are caused by abuse of now-legal drugs (DUI of marijuana, family abuse, etc).

Posted by: Eric Knight | Feb 24, 2014 4:33:57 PM

"...would be surprised if this recent take-down of El Chapo is deemed monumental in the years to come ..."

it's a BIG deal to the DEA because it helps justify those millions if not billions of dollars that have been thrown down the drain for the last 40+ years but in reality means nothing to anyone else because there's always someone else right behind willing and ready to fill the void

Posted by: Reality Bites | Feb 24, 2014 7:12:17 PM

'... people want to make a quick buck rather than get a regular job...'

oh surely an understatement at the very least when we're talking about an international organization with assets of multi-millions of dollars and a criminal sophistication and complexity that would overwhelm even the mighty bill otis I'm sure

Posted by: Reality Bites | Feb 24, 2014 7:21:46 PM

That geographical territory which some fools refer to as a nation state known as Mexico is nothing but a Pirate Territory. Fly over and flush.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Feb 24, 2014 10:53:51 PM

Re: Mexico
Isn't it ironic that they won't officially
execute mass murderers, nor freely deport
fugitive slayers if they face capital punishment?

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 25, 2014 9:21:49 AM

Two excerpts from comments up-thread precisely describe the problem that our Drug Warriors are unwilling to address:

"you have no idea the extent to which the US economy - particularly in the border states but really all of it - is intertwined with Mexico"; and

"we're talking about an international organization with assets of multi-millions of dollars and a criminal sophistication and complexity ..."

Drugs move north and dollars move south. The movement of dollars south is facilitated by the US financial services industry. Just focusing law enforcement efforts on the flow of drugs north without making the same effort to stanch the flow of dollars south does not move us one step closer to lessening the social damage caused by illegal drugs.

In addition to prosecuting and convicting drug dealers, broadly defined, we need to prosecute and convict members of the financial services industry who facilitate the movement of dollars south.

If only 50% of the revelations about the NSA are true, this shouldn't be difficult. Similarly, because of the NSA capabilities, Guzman could have been caught a long time ago.

A verse from Pancho and Lefty sums it up:

"All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him slip away
Out of kindness I suppose"

Posted by: Fred | Feb 25, 2014 10:09:44 AM

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