Colombia Lends Know-How to Massive El Chapo Manhunt

Mexico City, Mexico (PanAm) – Colombian and Mexican officials have joined forces in a massive manhunt, as they pursue drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” (shorty) Guzmán from a maximum-security prison in Mexico. The South American country has even sent the elite team responsible for the strategy that nabbed Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar Gaviria in December, 1993, to contribute in Guzmán’s recapture.

19 de Febrero 2011; Faro Tlahuac; Funcion LOS DOS ESCOBAR; Festival AMBULANTE. FOTO:Karloz Byrnison

19 de Febrero 2011; Faro Tlahuac; Funcion LOS DOS ESCOBAR; Festival AMBULANTE.
FOTO:Karloz Byrnison

The Colombian mission includes three retired generals and six active police officers from the National Police. Rosso José Serrano and Ismael Trujillo Polanco each acted as head of the police, while Luis Enrique Montenegro served as head of Colombia’s secret police. The three officials led the crackdown on the Medellín, Cali, and Northern Valley cartels.

They designed the strategy that brought down the powerful Rodríguez Orejuela brothers, from the Cali Cartel, and Escobar Gaviria. They killed the man who was then the world’s most powerful drug dealer during a raid almost 22 years ago.

Their goal is now to share the experience of the Colombian police from the 1980s and 1990s. During that time they sought to confront and undermine criminal organizations, deemed as menaces to the state.

On top of the participation of Colombian experts, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the FBI, and Guatemalan authorities are cooperating with the Mexican army to recapture Guzmán.

In Bed with the Mexican Government

Like Pablo “el Patrón” (the boss) Escobar, Guzmán has largely proved that he has enough money to bribe anyone he needs to in order to curry favor.

Guzmán owns a vast network of companies in Mexico and worldwide. According to the US Treasury Department, that includes 95 companies in Mexico, and 288 elsewhere.

Of the 95 companies connected to El Chapo and his Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, 14 of them are also linked to Mexico’s federal government through grants or contracts. That includes gas stations that have contracts with the state-owned oil company Pemex.

The Treasury Department disseminated the information to alert US citizens that they should refrain from engaging in commercial or financial transactions with these companies.

Bounty of Millions for El Chapo

Along with the MEX$60 million (US$3.8 million) reward offered by the Mexican government, the US federal government is offering a reward of up to US$5 million for information leading the capture of Guzmán, a spokesman for the DEA said on Wednesday, July 29.

El Chapo has emerged as the number-one public enemy of US officials, since they report him as the top exporter of illegal drugs to their nation. Guzmán faces dozens of charges for drug trafficking, money laundering, and other felonies in Illinois, New York, Florida, Texas, and California.

Correspondingly, the United States is the Sinaloa Cartel’s biggest market.

The Manhunt Has Begun

On Wednesday, local media reported that the Mexican government, along with US authorities, the Police Community of the Americas (Ameripo), Interpol, and the European Police Office (Europol), were taking part in the search for Guzmán.

Rumors have led investigators to Argentina, following an alert on Tuesday from a woman in the mid-eastern province of La Ríoja, that Guzmán might be hiding in the area.

A local police chief confirmed the report, but he dismissed any chance of the Mexican drug lord actually being in the province.

Suspicions have existed since a 2008 report by Mexican authorities that affirmed Sinaloa Cartel operations in Argentina’s Buenos Aires province, along with the alleged presence of Guzmán’s relatives in the country. So far, however, the report has yet to be corroborated.

Over the last few weeks, DEA and FBI agents have also tracked down Colombian assets and relationships to the Sinaloa Cartel capo.

Authorities directing the manhunt have asked C0lombian officials to hand over any available information about the movements, men, and connections of the Sinaloa Cartel in the country. At any moment, they say, the drug kingpin could resort to them to slip away from authorities.

On July 19, the Guatemalan and Honduran police reported suspicious movements on the border — both by air and land. The Central American security community has thus raised its alert level to prevent Guzmán entering the region, where he has links with local criminal groups.

Written by Sabrina Martín for The PanAm Post.

Translated by Adam Dubove.