El Chapo's Capture: A Distraction from the Disaster that is the Drug War and Peña Nieto's Presidency

January 11, 2016 - By Daniel Robelo

The internet is aflame with chatter about the recent recapture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, the world’s most wanted man twice escaped from maximum security prison. The cacophony of commentary and ridiculous coverage about the event miss the real point: El Chapo’s re-arrest is a distraction from the fact that the drug war, like the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto, is a devastating failure that’s destroying Mexico.

First of all, the capture won’t change a damn thing when it comes to the drug trade or drug addiction. It certainly won’t impact the flow of drugs.  In a leaked 2010 memo, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security itself admitted as much, saying “The removal of key personnel does not have a discernable impact on drug flows … While the continued arrest or death of key DTO [drug trafficking organization] leadership may have long-term implications as to the control and viability of a specific DTO, there is no indication it will impact overall drug flows into the United States.”

El Chapo himself said the same in his ludicrous interview with Sean Penn, saying “the day I don't exist, it [drug trafficking] is not going to decrease in any way at all.”

There is always the possibility that violence will actually increase following Chapo’s removal, as lieutenants vie for control or other organizations try to muscle in on the Sinaloa Cartel’s action.

We must also recognize that no one in Mexico believes anything that the Mexican government says about this incident -- or about anything else for that matter. With crisis after crisis, scandal after scandal, human rights violation after violation, the Mexican public has lost all confidence and trust in its state institutions.

And with his triumphalist “mission accomplished” tweet, it’s clear that Peña Nieto and his government want people to be talking about El Chapo and Sean Penn, because it distracts from the real problems in Mexico: the unending violence, crime, corruption and impunity; and the ongoing and historic devaluation of the Mexican peso relative to the dollar, now at 18:1. The widespread belief that this is all political theater concocted to misdirect the public gave rise to some hilarious hashtags on Mexican Tuiter over the weekend, including the epic #NoSeanPenndejos (roughly, “don’t be a jerk”).

Mexican journalists, however, weren’t amused – given the staggering number of their colleagues who have been silenced, intimidated or killed while covering the drug war by criminals both inside and outside the government.

The suspicion with which the Mexican people view their government is so profound that some – like Professor John Ackerman – believe it smacks of a negotiated surrender.

Mexicans are especially dubious and indignant that the government managed to “find” the most powerful drug lord and most wanted man in the universe, but it can’t find 43 college students or any of the 25,000+ other forcibly disappeared people in Mexico.

Of course, it is undeniably a good thing that a mass murderer and major crime boss is now off the streets (again). But make no mistake: El Chapo is a product of the failed drug war that has destroyed an uncountable number of lives. He isn’t the first, and unless we end the drug war farce that created him, he certainly won’t be the last.

Daniel Robelo is the research coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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