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What the capture of ‘El Chapo’ means for Mexico’s drug wars

Joaquin Guzman, a.k.a "El Chapo," perhaps the world's most notorious drug lord, was arrested nearly six months after his elaborate escape from a high-security prison in Mexico. Hari Sreenivasan learns more from Alfredo Corchado of Arizona State University about what the capture means for the Mexican government.

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    The words from Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, this afternoon said it all: "Mission accomplished. We have him."

    The him is perhaps the world's most-notorious drug lord, Joaquin Guzman, known as El Chapo, the ringleader of the Sinaloa cartel. He was arrested after a fierce gun battle today, nearly six months after his elaborate escape from a high-security prison.

    We go to Hari Sreenivasan for more.


    I'm joined now by Alfredo Corchado, director of the Borderlands program at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. He has also reported for many years from Mexico for The Dallas Morning News, and is author of "Midnight in Mexico," a book about his experience covering the brutal drug war.

    So, let's start with the basics. What happened? Where was he? How did he get captured?

  • ALFREDO CORCHADO, Arizona State University:

    Well, he was captured this morning right before dawn, intense firefight between the marines and drug traffickers, people close to or guarding Chapo Guzman.

    What we know is that, since last July, the marines, with the help of U.S. intelligence, had been tracking him in several Mexican states, including Sinaloa, where he was captured this morning, the state of Durango, and even Tabasco.

    This — there were two confrontations, from what we know, the first one at a private home and then he was later captured at a motel. Five of his trusted bodyguards were killed, and at least one marine was wounded.


    This is the second time the president of Mexico has gone on national television and said they have got this guy. I mean, this is an important win.


    This is the second time for President Pena Nieto, and the third time that a Mexican president has said that.

    He said, you know, "Mission accomplished," but I think a lot of people will feel that the mission has not been accomplished until Chapo actually faces justice. And the best chance of doing that will be on the U.S. side.

    So, there's a lot of tangling already going on, a lot of debate as to whether he will be extradited this time.


    And let's talk a little bit about that. The United States has asked for extradition. Do you think that that is a greater possibility now?


    I think the timing is — it's much better than last time.

    I think, the first time he was captured, there was a lot of angst, a lot of reticence within the Mexican government. There was the suspicion that you don't want to let the Americans get too close, come in too close.

    But after this huge embarrassment that went worldwide, I think there is a sense that this may be good for Mexican government. This obviously will be good for the U.S. government.

    But keep in mind that Chapo Guzman has a vast army of lawyers. And I'm sure that the — even before he's captured, there was already a fight to — for temporary injunctions that prohibit or that would stop an extradition. It may happen, but I think it's a long, long ways before this happens.


    What involvement was there, if any, by the U.S. in assisting with the capture?


    Well, my sources tell me that the U.S. has been helping the Mexican marines since the capture with intelligence, but, unlike the first time, there were no U.S. agents on the ground assisting the Mexican marines and the federal police.

    So, this is a — was primarily a Mexican operation.


    You know, Chapo Guzman already had almost folklore status, but that prison break and how elaborate it was just six months ago really sealed it.



    And, today, the premiere of the movie "Chapo" is in Mexico City. They're expecting at least four other movies this year. There's talk about a series, or there have been books. It will be interesting to see how people in regions in Mexico, especially Sinaloa, how they will react.

    Will they come out and protest again because of this arrest? Will they let it go? I'm sure there will be — I'm sure there are already songs being written at this moment, as we speak, about Chapo's latest capture.


    Is there some sense that this will be a more significant blow to the drug cartels? In some ways, his capture or his escape seems to be almost representative of the Mexican government's ability to tackle the drug war.


    And the ability to try to create a country with rule of law.

    I think what is interesting about today's capture is that Chapo's main lieutenant known as El Cholo Ivan was also captured. So, that's a huge blow to the Sinaloa cartel.

    But, as we have seen, the Sinaloa cartel, for a long time, has been really under the control of Zambada, Mayo Zambada. So, that — there might be some territorial fights in places like Ciudad Juarez, and Chihuahua, other places, but it's business as usual, as long as you have U.S. demand, I think the drugs will continue to come up north.


    All right, Alfredo Corchado, director of the Borderlands program at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State, thanks so much for joining us.


    Thank you.

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