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Mexicans express hope and skepticism about significance of ‘El Chapo’ arrest

February 24, 2014 at 6:19 PM EST
El Chapo
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GWEN IFILL: The arrest over the weekend of the head of one of the world’s most sophisticated narcotics networks proved a major victory for both U.S. and Mexican law enforcement.

But both sides now want to prosecute him.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mexican marines led Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman away in handcuffs on Saturday, thus ending a 13-year hunt for one of the world’s most dangerous men.

JESUS MURILLO KARAM, Attorney General, Mexico (through interpreter): This arrest is the product of an operation that’s been worked on for several months in coordination with all federal government agencies. And the arrest was impeccably achieved.

JEFFREY BROWN: Only two days earlier, Guzman was surrounded by troops at his ex-wife’s home in the western city of Culiacan, capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa. He got away through a trapdoor under the bathtub, and managed to escape through a network of tunnels and the city’s sewer system.

U.S. drug agents and Mexican troops, acting on wiretaps and other information, pursued him 135 miles South, to this luxury condominium in the seaside resort of Mazatlan. There, just before dawn Saturday, they stormed into Guzman’s room and captured him without firing a shot.

In Washington today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney praised the joint effort.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: This is a significant achievement in our shared fight against transnational organized crime, violence, and drug trafficking. The U.S. and Mexico have a strong security partnership and we will continue to support Mexico in its efforts to ensure that cartel leaders are put out of business.

JEFFREY BROWN: Guzman was formally charged Sunday with drug trafficking in Mexico. He faces indictments in the U.S. as well, and federal prosecutors in New York and Chicago already are asking for his extradition.

It’s not the first time behind bars for the 56-year-old Guzman, nicknamed El Chapo, or Shorty. In 2001, he escaped from a high-security Mexican prison before he was halfway through a 20-year sentence for drug trafficking and murder.

Over the years, he built the Sinaloa cartel into Mexico’s most powerful drug operation, wiping out rivals in a reign of brutality that killed tens of thousands of people. In Mexico City this weekend, word of his capture brought both hope and skepticism.

FRANCISCO ALCOCER, (through interpreter): I think that it’s something very good. I think it’s an excellent achievement from this government that is giving us results. I think not just for Mexico, but for many countries, it’s an important arrest.

RAMON TORRES, (through interpreter): It’s very difficult. The cartel is quite organized and has a presence in many states in the country, so it’s difficult to say that just with the capture of El Chapo the cartel will fall apart.

JEFFREY BROWN: Guzman now joins Miguel Angel Trevino, who was head of the Zetas, a rival cartel, and was arrested last summer. Those are major gets for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who had said he’d rebalance the all-out war against cartels with a new emphasis on the economy and education.