Drug Kingpin “El Chapo” Guzmán Escapes Prison For a Second Time

July 12, 2015
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by Jason M. Breslow Digital Editor

This Feb. 22, 2014 file photo shows Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the head of Mexicoís Sinaloa Cartel, being escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City following his capture in the beach resort town of Mazatlan. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Even before his escape from a maximum security prison in Mexico on Saturday, the drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera had become a legend in the nation’s long and bloody battle against its cartels.

In 2001, Guzmán, the head of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s largest trafficker of cocaine, heroin and marijuana, escaped from prison for the first time in a laundry cart, and he remained on the lam until his capture in February of last year. The Sinaloa cartel has been behind the violence responsible for thousands of deaths in Mexico in recent years, while drugs from its operations are sold throughout the U.S. and as far away as Europe and Africa.

His escape from the Altiplano prison on Saturday, officials said, began through a narrow 20×20 inch opening that was dug from his shower and connected to a tunnel that was approximately one mile long and 33 feet deep. Guzmán’s shower, officials said, was the only place in his cell that did not have security cameras.

Monte Alejandro Rubido, Mexico’s security commissioner, said that Guzmán — known as “El Chapo,” or “Shorty” — was last seen around 8 p.m. The tunnel, Rubido said, was equipped with lighting, ventilation and rails for a motorcycle to ride on.

A massive manhunt is now underway for Guzmán, whose fortune was once estimated by Forbes magazine to stand at more than $1 billion. Roadblocks were quickly established in the area around Altiplano prison, and flights were suspended at the nearby Toluca airport.

Regardless of whether he is recaptured, his escape represents an embarrassing blow to the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has made war against the narcotics trade a central plank of his administration, and whose administration had resisted U.S. requests for Guzmán’s extradition — requests that were made in part due to fears of his escaping from prison again.

For more about El Chapo, tune into FRONTLINE on July 21 for Drug Lord: The Legend of Shorty, a feature documentary about two filmmakers who set out to find and interview him before his capture in 2014. The film premieres both on-air (check local listings here) and online starting at 10 p.m. EST. You can watch a preview below. 

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