Unless you’ve been living under a surprisingly well-excavated tunnel, you’ve probably heard by now kingpin Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, has been captured. Again. This time, it happened after a nearly six-month manhunt that led authorities to Guzmán at the end of a sewage pipe in Los Mochis, Sinaloa.
For an overview, CNN tells the tale of the capture of “the most wanted, the most dangerous drug lord.”
Before tribute piñatas and interest in his fashion choices hit the mainstream, a perfect storm — tinged by correspondence with actor Sean Penn and a suspicious taco order— led authorities to Guzmán. The New York Times breaks it down:
[A]uthorities had swept through 18 of his homes and properties in his native lands. Days on end in the inhospitable mountains, where even a billionaire like Mr. Guzmán was forced to rough it, left him yearning for a bit of comfort.
In early January, he arrived in the coastal city of Los Mochis, in Sinaloa, at a home where the authorities had trailed one of the chief tunnel diggers from his escape. Construction crews had been hard at work on the house for weeks. Telephone intercepts indicated that someone big was about to arrive.
The final bit of evidence was a food order, Mexican officials said.
Just two blocks away, a big order of tacos was picked up after midnight on Jan. 8 by a man driving a white van, like the one believed to be driven by Mr. Guzmán’s associates, witnesses said.
Hours later, at 4:30 a.m., the marines stormed the compound, meeting a knot of doors and fierce resistance from gunmen. Like many of Mr. Guzmán’s homes, this one was equipped with elaborate escape hatches: a decoy beneath the refrigerator, and another behind a closet mirror, which he used to flee as the battle raged.
Hours later, on a highway heading out of town, the authorities finally got Mr. Guzmán, arguably the most powerful drug dealer in the history of the trade, for the third time since 1993.
Penn spoke about his meeting with El Chapo and his widely criticized article about the drug lord with “60 Minutes” on Sunday. Penn says the get-together happened in early October, before the capture was set in motion:
“I think the policy of the war on drugs, which so deeply affects all of our lives, seems not to change. It seems to be so unmovable. And it occurs to me that often, because we want to simplify the problem, and we want to look at a black hat and put our resources into focusing on the bad guy and … and I understand that. I absolutely understand justice and the rule of law. And so I do what I call experiential journalism. I don’t have to be the one that reports on the alleged murders or the amount of narcotics that are brought in. I go and I spend time in the company of another human being, which everyone is. And I make an observation and try to parallel that, try to balance that with the focus that we– that I believe we– we tend to put too much emphasis on.”
You can find the “60 Minutes” interview transcript with the actor here.
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While we mull over the journalistic merits of the NYT and Sean Penn, we might also call into question the equanimous certainty with which the news media announce El Chapo's various captures.
Why did El Peñejo, Mexico's fake president, tweet proudly "mission accomplished" to announce the alleged capture of his most generous campaign contributor? How is it that the mugshots from his various captures show three different El Chapos? How many people in El Chapo's income bracket have even one mugshot?
The breathless way in which this capture has been reported evokes the melodramatic style of CSI, NCIS, or Los ricos también lloran: of course, because the story makes sense only with that same suspension of disbelief that makes soap operas work. Let's stop clutching the pearls and start following the money.
Movie stars, secret tunnels, and drug lords makes for exciting reading and probably, writing. It is important to note that none of this seems to have any effect on the quantity of drugs available in the United States. Unless you talk about how absolutely ineffectual all of this is in reducing drug abuse, you are complicit in the whole expensive and destructive charade that is U.S. drug policy.