SPECIAL REPORT: The Takedown of El Chapo, Conspiracy Theories and the Future of Cartel Sinaloa
By Alicia Neaves NewsWest 9
In February, possibly the most powerful drug lord in history was captured by Mexican marines in Mazatlan, Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman.
Since his escape from jail in 2001, many think its all a hoax, or that the kingpin will escape again.
NewsWest 9 spoke with experts and conspiracy theorists to see what's next for the drug cartel and why many doubts still remain.
When many think of organized crime, they might think of Al Capone, John Gotti, or 'Sammy the Bull' Gravano. According to the former Director of Operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, those guys paled in comparison to El Chapo. Now, many are wondering what's next for the Sinaloa drug cartel and whether it's really El Chapo behind bars.
He's wanted in seven U.S. districts, designated as Chicago's Public Enemy Number One, and on Febrary 22, Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was captured and arrested by Mexican marines in Mazatlan, Mexico.
Some are raising eyebrows, questioning if its really the famous drug lord in jail in Mexico. Filmmaker, Charlie Minn, even made a documentary in attempts to prove the imposter.
"There's always an identity problem in Mexico because the corruption level runs so deep. People question everything. When have you ever seen a news story like this before when you have such a colossal fugitive arrested and people are questioning whether it's really him or not?" Minn said.
In the documentary ¿Es El Chapo?, Minn argues the circumstances of the capture. If it was really El Chapo in Mazatlan, he says, certain factors should have been different.
"Not a single shot was fired during his capture. Why is a billionaire hiding out at an $89 a night condominium in Mazatlan? Where was his massive security team of 300 armed guards? Why hasn't the violence changed since he was arrested? Usually a power vacuum is created when a big cartel leader is taken out. Another cartel will try to come in to take advantage of the situation. That has not happened," Minn said.
We spoke over the phone with former Director of Operations of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michael Braun, who disagrees with these theories.
"They are probably the same people that believe that Elvis is still alive and he's living with Osama Bin Laden," Braun said.
Braun links the El Chapo arrest to a partnership strategy by the U.S. and Mexico, sharing valuable intelligence information within these past few months.
"You don't allow organized crime to flourish for 40 or 50 years and then expect to clean it up overnight. Mexico has made significant advances in the last decade with respect to cleaning up their old prisons and continues to make enormous progress in cleaning up federal law enforcement and their other security forces," Braun said.
El Chapo's arrest was closely followed by the arrests of two more cartel members just last month, Hector Beltran Leyva and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes. Minn, who's accomplished distinctive research on Mexican cartels attributes these arrests to the president.
"Enrique Pena Nieto. The PRI party came in. They've been known to make arrangements with cartels to lower the violence. This is something that has been going on in Mexico for over 70 years when the PRI was in power. The PAN came in, destroyed Mexico. The PRI came back and they try to settle things down," Minn said.
In light of these three big arrests in 2014 alone, Minn questions Mexico's response.
"I'm not quite sure what's going on in Mexico right now. I really do not know what's up. You would think after all these captures that there would be jubilation on the streets. Instead, there's hesitation, skepticism, and people questioning the sincerity of these arrests," Minn said.
He says intelligence sharing that led to locating these other cartel members might source from the kingpin himself.
"A lot of people think that these recent captures is because Chapo is providing information to law enforcement to get goodies in prison. Blankets, cookies, pillows. That's been reported," Minn said.
So what's next for these cartels once the king is dethroned?
Dante Sorianello with midland DEA says, think of the process as a snake.
"If you chop the head off of a snake, that snake still moves, but the snake will grow another head and someone will take charge," Resident Agent in Charge at Midland DEA, Dante Sorianello, said.
As the drug organizations break into smaller, it will leave the organization more vulnerable, opening the door for law enforcement to strike again.
"Some folks will say that attacking the major cartels in Mexico is not going to change much, but they couldn't be more wrong. What is does change is that over time, as was proven in Colombia, as was proven in the United States and in many other places around the world, when you aggressively attack very powerful drug trafficking cartels or trans-national organized crime groups, what you do accomplish is you cause them to break into smaller cells or splinter cells, smaller organizations. Then they become much, much more manageable for law enforcement at that point," Braun said.
As for the drug flow to the Basin, DEA says the flow depends on the scale of the organization.
"If its a local cell, smaller cell, normally it would be dismantled. That cell would not operate anymore. If we're talking a broader perspective, on a large organized crime organization, it will continue to function, just not as efficiently," Sorianello said.
For now, the U.S. is seeking El Chapo's extradition.
Just last week, El Diario de Mexico reported that the court will have to review the El Chapo verdict again and look over the paperwork during a new civil rights trial. This, after alleged violations of his civil rights when arrested in Mazatlan.
Although many think El Chapo's jail escape in 2001 might repeat itself, experts say this time, unlike the last, El Chapo will die behind bars.
"Regardless of how notorious of a trafficker he had become, he had taken on mythological identity for God sakes. He had become an organized crime icon globally. He is no different than any other thug that law enforcement arrests and that is ultimately brought to justice," Braun said.
"If there's any justice in this world, he'd be thrown into an El Paso prison, forced to face Juarez every day through prison bars, forced to read to sign the Bible as the truth read it. He took over the Juarez drug plaza in the last five years. 12,000 people died in Juarez as a result," Minn said.
"Mexico can win as long as Mexico doesn't lose the will to keep up the fight and throw in the towel," Braun said.