Mexican authorities may be closing in on fugitive Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán four months after his brazen escape from a maximum-security prison in central Mexico.
According to a report from the Mirror, “intense military operations” are ongoing in Guzmán’s home state of Sinaloa, on Mexico’s north Pacific coast.
Authorities believe, the Mirror reports, that “they are closing the net on the ruthless criminal.”
Mario Lopez, the Sinaloa state governor, confirmed that Mexican military forces were carrying out operations in the mountains of the Sierra Madre, over an area that extends from Jesus Maria, a town north of the state capital of Culiacan, all the way to the state borders with Chihuahua and Durango — a region called the Golden Triangle for its extensive drug cultivation.
“Military personnel from Mexico City are working in the zone,” said Lopez. “You all know who they’re after.”
According to the Mirror as well as local newspapers, Mexican marines have searched and closed off at least 13 communities in the area, efforts that have forced hundreds of people out of their homes.
The break that allowed Mexican authorities to zero in on what they believe is the drug lord’s hideout was an intercept of Guzmán’s phone by US drug-enforcement officials, the Mirror has reported.
A tip from US intelligence led Mexican forces to storm a ranch in the region’s mountains last week. They searched a farm house, finding phones and clothing that are believed to belong to Guzmán, according to the Mirror.
A ‘radical shift’
Phone intercepts appear to be playing an important role in Mexican (and American) efforts to track down Guzmán.
In testimony before the Mexican senate last week, attorney general Arely Gómez said that intercepted phone calls had allowed the government to apprehend the pilot who supposedly transported Guzmán out of Queretaro state, not far from the supposedly high-security prison from which he escaped.
At the time, according to columnist Raymundo Riva Palacio, the Senators in attendance did not press Gómez on the revelation. But as Riva Palacio writes, the information “exposed a radical shift in the investigation,” which until then had appeared to only be focused on the prison itself.
This information has reportedly allowed Mexican authorities map the drug kingpin’s inner circle — a method that Popeye Vasquez, the top hit man for infamous drug baron Pablo Esboar, said investigators would likely use in their hunt for “El Chapo.”
Popeye, however, believed it would take 16 to 18 months to pin down Guzmán.
Guzmán’s Sinaloa safety net
There’s still reason to believe the wily Sinaloa chief will once again avoid capture.
The Sinaloa network is extensive. And its leader receives support from the public.
When Guzmán was arrested in February 2014, Sinaloans poured into the streets to back him. And when his jailbreak was reported in July, many in the state offered their praise for the cartel boss.
Guzmán may also enjoy the loyalty — or commands the obedience — of many local officials. After his escape rumours circulated that federal officials were complicit in the plot. “El Chapo” might also have been trying to curry political favour at the national level, too: Last year, a former DEA official alleged that Guzmán helped finance the campaign of current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
This support network, and his sheer notoriety, may allow Guzmán to slip out of the cordon Mexican security forces appear to have thrown around him.
“He controls the whole region and the communities protect him as well,” Julio “El Tio” Martinez, who works with one of Guzmán’s operators, told TeleSur.
Moreover, in their aggressive pursuit of Guzmán, Mexican officials may drive more Sinaloans into allegiance with the cartel.
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