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Escape of biggest drug lord in the world is huge blow for Mexican president

What does the escape of Mexican cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman mean for that nation’s drug war? William Brangham speaks to Alfredo Corchado of The Dallas Morning News about the jailbreak and the fallout.

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  • ALFREDO CORCHADO, The Dallas Morning News:

    Alfredo, drug kingpins don't get any bigger than El Chapo. Mexico celebrated when they first caught him. The U.S. wanted to extradite him. So, now he is free, he is on the loose. How big a deal is this? It's a huge deal, especially — I mean, this is the worst nightmare for Enrique Pena Nieto, the Mexican president. It's the worst nightmare for U.S.-Mexico cooperation.

    I have been talking to officials for the last couple of days and they're just — they're still in shock. Even though, when he was arrested, when he was taken to a Mexican prison, they kept warning of this possibility, this very possibility. So I think people on both sides, it's sort of like the air has been sucked out of them.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about the elaborateness of this breakout, how he actually got out.

  • ALFREDO CORCHADO:

    Well, the reports of it — and it's too early to know the whole story, but the reports we're hearing is that the plan started almost immediately after he was arrested.

    It was an escape tunnel very much like the ones he's built throughout the Mexico-Sonora border, elaborate, had air conditioning. It had — there was even a motorcycle rail. You talk to officials and they say there is no way to explain that this was a sole act. How do you dig that much dirt out and not make any noise?

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    And also how did authorities not know this? As you say, this was a — building tunnels was a trademark of the cartel that he used to run. How could they not know a mile-long tunnel was being built into a maximum security prison?

  • ALFREDO CORCHADO:

    At this point, 30 people have been arrested and are being questioned. The real question is, how high does the corruption go?

    I mean, who knew at not just the prison level, but the state government, the federal government — who were the people involved? Again, it's too early to answer those questions, but there is plenty of suspicion, there is plenty of names that are going back and forth. I think we're in for a really tough time for the next few months.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Let's talk a little bit more about those ripple effects between Mexico and the U.S. We have a long relationship trying to fight the drug war between our two countries. What does this do to that relationship?

  • ALFREDO CORCHADO:

    In talking to people today and yesterday, they said this sets back the relationship five, 10 years. I mean, Mexico is not Canada. You don't have that natural sense of cooperation, the level of trust. They have been working very hard at it, especially with — during the Merida Initiative — the Merida Initiative, which is the U.S. way of helping Mexico attack the cartels.

    But it was also a way for both sides to come together to build more intelligence-sharing. And that's one of the big questions today, is how much did the U.S. government, how much did the Mexican government share with the Guzman side as they try — as they were preparing to judge him or to extradite him to the United States? How much does he know? How much more does he know? Who's at risk at this point?

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    The president of Mexico obviously made a big show of this arrest and other actions he'd taken showed he was being tough on the cartels. Now that El Chapo is out, what does this do to his administration and his ability to govern?

  • ALFREDO CORCHADO:

    Well, at the time, this worked very, very nicely with the Mexican narrative, that things were looking up for Mexico, that there were all these economic reforms and that he was tough on cartels.

    Who better to make that point than going after the biggest drug lord in the world, El Chapo Guzman? I think that is really the biggest hit. This is an incredible blow, a humiliation to the Mexican president and an embarrassment to the Mexican president.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Is there any sense, now that El Chapo is on the outside, how quickly he could be back in control and calling shots with the cartel?

  • ALFREDO CORCHADO:

    That's unknown, but it's — there's been a big fight, internal fight within the Sinaloa Cartel.

    It will be interesting to see how that works out. The Mexican government has been saying that the cartels are now down to two, two major cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel, another cartel from Jalisco. It will be interesting to see how — whether he — El Chapo can just come in and take over.

    I think it will still be a big fight. His goal is to try to control the Sinaloa Cartel, but more than a year has gone by.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    All right, Alfredo Corchado of The Dallas Morning News, thank you very much for joining us.

  • ALFREDO CORCHADO:

    Thanks, William.

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