El Chapo’s Escape from Prison: Good for Mexico?

"By translating this unfortunate episode into significant changes in the way the current administration carries out its rule of law and security policies...the Mexican government can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat."

“That risk does not exist” brazenly stated Jesus Murillo Karam, Mexico’s former Attorney General, when quizzed on the possibility of El Chapo Guzman escaping once again from the maximum-security prison where he was incarcerated. At the time of his second arrest in February 2014, Guzman’s 2001 spectacular jailbreak in a laundry cart naturally had everyone asking: “Will he do it again?”

Only 16 months after being apprehended for the second time, the most visible leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, found his way back to freedom. His finely designed escape has been labeled an “egg to the face,” and “the biggest embarrassment” for Mexican authorities, and, particularly, for Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency. Guzman’s 2014 arrest was largely portrayed as “crowning” Peña Nieto’s anti-organized crime efforts, with the president himself stating at the time that another El Chapo prison break “would be more than regrettable; it would be unforgivable.”

Alas, on the evening of July 11, 2015, the Sinaloan drug lord discretely stepped out of his prison cell putting the finishing touches on an elaborate, months-long escape plan. Nothing less than a more powerful encore with a more sophisticated mise-en-scène than the first, the second jailbreak “represents without a doubt an affront to the Mexican state.” An affront, however, that may prove a boon for Mexico, if not for Peña Nieto’s Presidency.

Since this past Saturday’s escape, many in Mexico and around the world have labeled the jailbreak a sign of the administration’s sheer incompetence, and incontestable proof of the entrenched collusion between the Mexican government and the narco-traffickers. While El Chapo’s escape does not shed the most favorable of lights on the current administration, those who have sounded the death knell of Peña Nieto’s security policies and predicted a return of the drug violence may have spoken (and cheered!) a bit too soon. To everyone’s surprise, Guzman’s jailbreak may represent a turning point that benefits Mexico, a country torn by narco-violence for over nine years now.

Since Enrique Peña Nieto assumed the Mexican Presidency in December 2012, the country’s economy has been sluggish, growing at a very slow pace. Furthermore, the security measures of the new administration, focusing on the root causes of drug related violence as opposed to dismantling the cartels, have been slow in yielding results.

Given this rather lackluster performance in two of the most important areas for ordinary Mexicans—the economy and public security—El Chapo’s prison escape should represent more than a mere a wake up call for the government in Los Pinos. By translating this unfortunate episode into significant changes in the way the current administration carries out its rule of law and security policies, including the cooperation with the United States to extradite the narco-traffickers indicted across the northern border, the Mexican government can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

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