Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez, aka “Popeye,” was the chief assassin for infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s Medellín cartel.
Vásquez is also one of the few surviving members of the cartel’s upper ranks, which likely gives him a unique perspective on the havoc that the drug war wreaks on countries, their governments, and their people.
According to Popeye, the recent escape of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán — like Pablo Escobar’s flight from justice — has undermined his country’s institutions and the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
And, as Popeye told Mexican news magazine Proceso in August, Guzmán’s ability to flaunt the law enhances the threat he poses to his country’s political class.
From Proceso’s interview:
This month Popeye launched in Colombia his book, “Surviving Pablo Escobar.” He believes that the escape of the Medellin cartel boss in 1992 and that of Guzmán Loera the past July 11 have become matters of state, “because they made laughable” the presidents [César Gaviria of Colombia in 1992 and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico now].
Proceso: You compare the two fugitives?
Popeye: Yes, for their grave political costs. The states remain like banana republics. But in the case of “El Chapo” I think that it is stronger still, for the tunnel, for the corruption, because they didn’t extradite him.
And for that reason I don’t think they will catch him alive. Nor for the government of Mexico is it convenient to catch him alive, because if they extradite him and he talks … he knows a lot.
Later in the interview, when discussing the death of Escobar and his thoughts on Guzmán’s ultimate fate, Vasquez said “… if ‘El Chapo’ doesn’t kill himself [the authorities] have to kill him, because he is a danger for many politicians. The only ones who don’t want him dead are the gringos, for all that he knows.”
Regardless of the Mexican government’s ultimate intentions for Guzmán, his escape has no doubt further tarnished Peña Nieto’s already weak standing on security matters with the Mexican people.
In a Pew poll conducted before Guzmán’s escape, just 35% of Mexicans said that the president was managing the battle against organised crime and drug gangs well, down from 53% in 2014. Only 39% said his administration was making progress against drug traffickers — down from 45% last year.
“I would say that the pessimism among Mexicans is generalized, growing, and it will not go away anytime soon,” Carlos Petersen, an associate for Latin America at Eurasia Group, told Business Insider by email.
“The escape of El Chapo is one event among many that has been affecting the way Mexicans perceive its government, and even how they perceive society.”
For Popeye to call Mexico a “banana republic” — a term referring to politically unstable and highly socially unequal countries dependent on exporting a primary agricultural good or natural resource (i.e. much of Latin America at the turn of the 20th century) — is sure to strike a cord with many in the country.
“I would not think that Mexicans believe the country is a Banana Republic, but I am sure they are convinced that, many times, it is governed like one,” Petersen said.
“For many years the level of trust towards public institutions … has been declining significantly. Thus, Pena Nieto’s popularity is part of a general inconformity about the way politics is working at the federal, state and local level,” Petersen added.
“Most likely, the challenging economic environment, the ongoing violence across the country, and the emergence of new corruption and political scandals, will maintain the inconformity levels high for the foreseeable future.”
Political dissatisfaction, longstanding in Mexico, will surely plague future governments.
But, if another witness to Colombia’s drug war is correct, bad politicians will not be the only challenge facing Mexicans and their country.
“History is repeating itself,” said Sebastian Marroquin, the son of Pablo Escobar who changed his name from Juan Pablo Escobar, in an interview with The Independent.
“In my father’s day, the Mexican drug lords were servants to the Colombians. Now, they’re the ones that wield the power.”
NOW WATCH: Here’s how the world’s most notorious drug lord escaped from his high-security prison cell
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