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Americas

Mexico arrests powerful drug kingpin 'El Chapo' Guzman

© afp

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-23

In a US-backed raid early on Saturday, Mexican marines captured the country's most powerful drug kingpin in a resort city in his home state of Sinaloa. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman had eluded capture for 13 years.

The arrest is a major victory for President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose administration is striving to tame a surge in drug violence that has killed more than 77,000 people in the past seven years.

The man whose nickname means "shorty" headed Mexico's most powerful drug gang, the Sinaloa cartel, whose empire stretches along the Pacific coast and smuggles drugs to the United States, Europe and Asia.

Hours after his capture, the 56-year-old drug lord was taken to Mexico City's airport, where he was paraded in front of television cameras, wearing a white shirt and jeans and sporting thick black hair and a matching mustache.

He was flanked by two masked marines who held him by the arms and the back of the neck before hauling him inside a federal police helicopter, which flew him to a maximum-security prison.

US Attorney General Eric Holder hailed the arrest as "a landmark achievement, and a victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States".

US offered $5mn reward

The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Guzman, who is accused of being behind much of the drug violence that has plagued Mexico for years.

Mexico's Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said "nobody was hurt" in the arrest, which was the result of months of collaborative work with US law enforcement agencies and led to 13 arrests as well as the seizure of more than 100 weapons.

The authorities had tracked Guzman down in Culiacan, Sinaloa state's largest city, and came close to capturing him between February 13-17 in one of the seven homes he was using.

But Guzman managed to escape through specially built tunnels that were linked to the city's drainage systems as security forces struggled to break down a steel-reinforced door, Murillo Karam said.

Guzman was eventually detained with an unidentified associate in Mazatlan.

A US security official said Mexican forces had acted on intelligence from the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

"We've been actively tracking him for five weeks. Because of that pressure, he fled in the last couple of days [from Culiacan] to Mazatlan," the official told AFP on condition on anonymity.

'Great triumph'

His arrest gives Pena Nieto another reason to celebrate following the capture of the head of the ultra-violent Zetas drug cartel, Miguel Angel Trevino, in July 2013.

Pena Nieto praised his security forces on Twitter, saying, "Congratulations to all".

Raul Benitez Manaut, a security expert and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said it was "the most important drug war capture of the last 10 years, a great triumph for Pena Nieto".

But it remains to be seen whether the arrest will weaken the Sinaloa cartel or reduce the spiralling drug violence in Mexico.

The capture of a cartel leader can lead to internal wars of succession, or encourage rival cartels to attempt a takeover. Guzman made a lot of enemies in turf wars against the Zetas and others.

Analysts say Guzman's top associate, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, could peacefully seize the reins.

Laundry cart escape

Guzman gained legendary status after escaping from a maximum-security prison in a laundry cart in January 2001.

Folk ballads known as "narcocorridos", tributes to drug lords or "capos", sang his praises. His third wife, Emma Coronel, is a former beauty queen, adding to his glamourous image.

Guzman was branded "Public Enemy No. 1" in Chicago, joining American gangster Al Capone as the only criminal ever to get that moniker.

Born into a humble family of farmers in the Sinaloa village of Badiraguato, Guzman reached Forbes magazine's list of the world's most powerful people, standing at number 67, and was once listed as a billionaire.

Mike Vigil, a former DEA chief of international operations, said hiding in the rustic Sinaloa mountains was too much for a man of Guzman's wealth.

"He has to start going down to the city to enjoy the comforts of his wealth. And he does it more and more, and that was his fatal mistake," Vigil told AFP.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

Date created : 2014-02-23

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