New evidence of air travel in Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s escape could add a layer of complexity to an already highly sophisticated jailbreak.
Shortly after emerging from a custom-built, mile-long tunnel out of Mexico’s maximum-security Altiplano prison, Guzmán may have boarded a private plane.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Arely Gómez revealed that of the numerous officials and persons arrested in relation to the escape, one “is a pilot who transported” the Sinaloa cartel boss after he broke out of prison.
Gómez’s admission is reportedly the first time authorities have indicated that Guzmán’s escape could have involved air travel. Authorities uncovered the role of the air transport though intercepts of calls made on public phones.
According to Mexican newspaper Excelsior, once Guzmán exited his tunnel, he boarded a van in Almoloya de Juárez, a town in Mexico state, to a “clandestine runway” in Querétaro state, which borders Mexico state to the north.
Gómez added that 24 people had been arrested, among them 23 state officials, and that 10 civilians had been detained. The attorney general’s office has, according to Gómez, taken 243 statements, conducted 40 inspections, collected 191 pieces of evidence from the tunnel and cell, and received 151 opinions from 105 forensic experts.
“We already have all the mapping of those who participated,” said Gómez. “It will be interesting for you to learn it (since) it is something truly amazing.”
A ‘code red’ — three hours too late
During the 30-minute
delay between when Guzmán disappeared from surveillance cameras
and when prison guards took notice of his absence,officials
played solitaire and ignored six minutes of drilling sounds coming from his cell.
What’s more, it took almost three hours for prison staff to activate a “code red” to lock down the prison, notify the military, and close the nearby airport.
While Guzmán’s flight likely originated from somewhere north of the jail, the fact that he was able to take to the skies at all (and so near the country’s busiest airport in Mexico City) indicates how costly the delay was — or, possibly, how extensive official complicity in his escape was.
A recent survey found that 71.2% of Mexicans have “little” or “no” confidence in their country’s prisons.
Door to door in the Golden Triangle
The hunt for the fugitive drug baron has continued the in the weeks and months since his escape.
Despite reports that Guzmán headed south (and taunts from the social-media accounts purportedly belonging to his sons about his trips abroad), many, including top DEA officials, believe that Guzmán has returned to his native Sinaloa state, and the Mexican government is reportedly continuing its search there.
Residents of Cosalá, a town south of the Sinaloan capital of Culiacan, reported that marines in the area had told locals that, “we are looking for the ‘Don,’ a man of short stature who recently left prison.”
Their inquiries have met with no success, possibly due to the affection many in the region have for Guzmán.
According to reports from local dailies, Mexican marines have carried out operations in 14 communities in what is known as the Golden Triangle, a principle drug-cultivation area where the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Durango converge in the Sierra Madre mountains.
Guzmán escaped from prison in 2001, after a eight-year stint. It took authorities 13 years to track him down, eventually apprehending him in Mazatlan, in Sinaloa state, in 2014.
According to Alejandro Hope, the government is unlikely to catch the fugitive drug lord anytime soon now, either.
In the increasingly unlikely event the Mexican government is able to track down Guzmán and his ilk (“Mexico’s security apparatus is simply not ready to combat organised crime,” a senior Mexican intelligence official said days after the escape) its reputation may not recover from the failures that allowed the escape and the missteps that have followed it.
The disgrace Guzmán has heaped upon the authorities may be to much to undo.
“El Chapo Guzmán has made the Mexican government look ridiculous,” wrote commentator Héctor Aguilar Camín.
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