Notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been recaptured by the Mexican authorities after escaping from a maximum security prison last year. President Enrique Peña Nieto announced his arrest on Twitter, in a message that translates as: “Mission completed: we have him. I’d like to inform the Mexicans that Joaquin Guzman Loera has been detained.”
Misión cumplida: lo tenemos. Quiero informar a los mexicanos que Joaquín Guzmán Loera ha sido detenido.— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) January 8, 2016
Guzman, who is thought to be 58, had been on the run since July 2015, when he escaped from Altiplano prison, 56 miles west of Mexico City, reportedly via an elaborate tunnel that led directly from beneath the shower in his cell to a building one mile beyond the prison walls. According to the Associated Press, he was apprehended early on Friday following a gun battle with Mexican marines in Los Mochis, a city on the Pacific coast of Sinaloa, his home state.
The Mexican navy said it had followed a tip to a home in Los Mochis, where the marines were fired upon as they staged a pre-dawn raid. Five suspects were reported killed in the ensuing shootout, and six others arrested, including El Chapo. One Mexican marine was wounded, but his injuries were not thought to be life-threatening. The marines seized weapons and hardware at the scene including two armoured vehicles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
Guzman – whose nickname translates as “Shorty”, a reference to his 5’6” stature – is the feared boss of the powerful Sinaloa cartel. He has been imprisoned twice since his first arrest in 1993, and escaped twice: first in 2001, when he broke out of the maximum-security Puente Grande prison in Jalisco state. It was reported that he escaped with the help of guards who hid him in a laundry cart, though that version of events is disputed. He was finally re-arrested in 2014.
His escape last year was a stinging embarrassment for Mr Peña Nieto, who has staked his reputation in part on his uncompromising approach to the drug wars, arresting or killing several of the country’s top cartel bosses since taking office in 2012. His administration had offered a 60m peso reward (£2.3m) for information leading to Guzman’s recapture.
At least 20 prison officials were arrested last year in connection with the escape, including the former head of the Mexican federal prison system and the former director of the Altiplano prison itself. Questions will now be asked as to whether the Mexican prison system can guarantee Guzman’s long-term detention, and whether he should instead be incarcerated and tried by the US, which has indicted him on federal trafficking charges and demanded his extradition.
In 2013, Chicago designated Guzman its Public Enemy Number One, with federal agents saying his organisation supplied most of the drugs sold on the city’s streets, more than 2,000 miles from Sinaloa. Drug trafficking is widely blamed as the underlying cause of Chicago’s epidemic of street violence.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said on Twitter that it was “extremely pleased” at the news of Guzman’s arrest, adding: “We congratulate the [Mexican] Government and salute the bravery involved in his capture.”