Unfortunately, money is power – and it definitely takes power to escape from a maximum security prison.
The escape of drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera from an Altiplano facility has sparked a wave of commentary on Guzmán, who is considered to be the most powerful drug trafficker in the world.
Guzmán is recognized as a top leader of the Sinaloa cartel, a multi-billion dollar, transnational business that is credited for the trafficking of 25 percent of all illegal drugs that enter the U.S. through Mexico; in the city of Chicago alone that number rises to 80 percent. “El Chapo” has been repeatedly recognized by Forbes as one of the world’s richest and most powerful people.
This is the second time Guzmán has escaped from prison since 2001, when he slipped out of the Puente Grande prison in Jalisco in a dirty-laundry cart after eight years in custody. It took thirteen years for the cartel leader to be found and captured again.
The re-awakened presence of “El Chapo”and his twisted, Robin Hood image highlights two distinct narratives on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. For the U.S., Guzmán is the summation of the general Mexican immigrant. For Mexico, countrywide poverty and corruption issues arise once more when Guzmán is placed on a perception spectrum somewhere between a terrorizer and a sort of Robin Hood.
“When will people, and the media, start to apologize to me for my statement, “Mexico is sending….”, which turned out to be true? El Chapo,” wrote Donald Trump on Twitter on July 13.
Trump is defining an entire country composed of 31 states and a population of 126 million people on a very small sector that actively terrorizes the citizens of Mexico.
More so than participating in the active erasure of violence against the Mexican people, Trump, especially as a man with a bid for the presidency, if failing to acknowledge the presence of a relationship between the U.S. and the Sinaloa cartel.
“Mexico’s biggest drug lord escapes from jail. Unbelievable corruption and USA is paying the price. I told you so,” he had tweeted.
This relationship includes a history of a partnership between the cartel and the DEA, the laundering of drug money by U.S. banks and failed operations that allowed roughly 2,000 weapons to be smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border in the hands of criminals.
In 2014, El Universal reported that the U.S. government allowed the Sinaloa drug cartel to operate without consequence from 2000 to 2012 in exchange for information on rival cartels. This allowed for billions of dollars worth of illegal drugs to be smuggled into the U.S., drug violence to increase in Mexico and the immunity of notorious cartel leaders.
The Mexican newspaper investigated court documents which found that DEA officers met with Sinaloa officials more than fifty times. The negotiations led to offers by the DEA to have charges against Sinaloa members dropped in the U.S., among other agreements, a tactic that has also been used in Colombia, Cambodia, Thailand and Afghanistan.
Correlation does not mean causation, but Trump must acknowledge and think critically of the complicity in the drug war that stems from the U.S. and its relationship with the Sinaloa cartel. The more involved the DEA was, the more powerful and influential the cartel became.
When Trump brands himself as the voice of the American “silent majority,” this is alarming when it comes to the presence, representation and safety of Mexican-Americans.
What Trump and those who share these views, in believing that “El Chapo” is a pure, foolproof representation of a demonized Mexico, fail to acknowledge is the violence that Guzmán and the Sinaloa cartel have inflicted upon Mexico for years.
The billion-dollar wealth and power of Guzmán and the cartel grant them numerous opportunities to infiltrate the local, state and federal police, business and politics in Mexico – leaving little room for justice and representation for the Mexican people. Although the cartel does not take part in visible, large-scale civilian-targeted violence, as has been carried out by rival cartels, innocent lives are taken far too often as a result of the drug war.
Now enters the idea of a twisted, Robin Hood-esque person: Guzmán has received support from many for his ability to create jobs and opportunity for impoverished Mexican communities – something the Mexican government has failed to do.
When poverty, desperation and a lack of opportunity combine, recruits into drug trafficking organizations are the result.
In Sinaloa’s capital of Culiacan, Guzmán and the cartel are thought of as a sort of governmental presence. One that keeps order in maintaining a community in which the poor receives aid and community projects, including paved roads, are funded.
But his Robin Hood-like reputation dissolves at the viciousness of the the drug war in Mexico.
The rise of the cartel threw the Mexican people even more deeply into a ruthless and bloody drug war, in which more than at least 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence and more than 26,000 have gone missing from 2006 to 2012.
These connections between the U.S. and drug cartels, corruption in the Mexican government and violent bloodshed must reach those who praise the power of Guzmán and demonize Mexico in its entirety – perpetuating the idea that the Mexican victims of this drug war do not deserve justice.
The actions of one man do not define a nation. The people of the United States must challenge themselves to look beyond the one-dimensional views of Mexico that are force fed to us at our dinner tables, blare on talk radio and trend on Twitter. It is only in this way that the complexity of the drug empire can be broken down, solutions can be reached and the violence can end.