The Hollow Victory of El Chapo

Having a height of only 5 feet, 6 inches, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman (so named for his short stature), does not look all that intimidating. He was, however, one of the most powerful drug lords in Mexico and the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel until he was captured last month. Some analysts and optimists think that the capture of Guzman, who evaded arrest for years, could signal a new era of success in reducing drug violence in Mexico. While the capture of Guzman is definitely a win for Mexico, the same drug related problems that have plagued the country for years will continue to exist in the future.

El Chapo being apprehended by police in February. Image by ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images.

The first issue that plagues Mexico’s War on Drugs is corruption. Mexico has an abysmal score of 34 out of 100 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which puts it behind countries like China and India. The corruption problem in Mexico is widespread and permeates every aspect of the government, all the way down to the level of local police. In fact, by some estimates, Mexican drug cartels pay the police around $100 million each month to carry out their operations. While the government of President Pena Nieto has been taking steps towards reducing corruption in the country, these actions simply have not been enough to lower the everyday malfeasance down to an acceptable level.  Thus, even though El Chapo has been caught, his arrest ultimately means nothing in the grand scheme of drug violence because of the entrenchment of corruption in Mexico.

Secondly, Mexico does not have a police force that is well-equipped enough to fight the growing strength of the cartels. That means that even if they could manage to get a handle on police corruption, the authorities would be completely incapable of fighting the cartels. The reality is that the drug cartels are essentially small armies, equipped with all the trappings of regular military corps, including machine guns and rocket launchers. The local police forces in Mexican states simply lack both the budget and the equipment to effectively compete with the growing military might of the drug cartels. It seems that the best hopes for Mexican security forces right now are the arrests of leaders like El Chapo rather than wide-scale attacks on drug distributors.

Therefore, while it may be a victory for Mexico and the families of those affected by the Sinaloa Cartel, the capture of El Chapo is a small victory at best. Unless Mexico and Mr. Pena Nieto can seriously revamp and repair the country’s weak police force, the strength of the cartels in Mexico will continue to go unchallenged.


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