Drug Lord El Chapo captured Friday
Kingpin Joaquín Guzmán apparently fell victim to hubris six months after making elaborate escape from maximum-security prison
Captured cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán appears to have been brought low in part by a yearning to have a biopic made about him, Mexico’s attorney general said on Friday as the country’s most wanted man was paraded in front of the media.
El Chapo has often occupied a larger-than-life place in the national imagination, an anti-hero in his home state of Sinaloa and the head of a criminal empire trafficking cocaine on almost every continent.
According to attorney general Arely Gómez, his narcissism knew no limits and he wanted to take his fame further, to the silver screen in the form of a biopic. It ultimately led to his re-capture on Friday in a tacky hotel in Los Mochis, a town of tomato growers on the Pacific Coast.
Guzmán, who has twice escaped from prison, most recently in July 2015, had started the process of making a biopic on a life in which he went from rags to riches, from dropping out of school and selling oranges in the street to landing on the Forbes list of billionaires. It was as if he wanted his own version of “Narcos”, the popular Netflix series on the life of slain Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar – except while alive and able to influence the casting and script.
He was so serious about a movie that he attempted to contact producers and actresses through intermediaries after escaping, Gómez said Friday night, before his perp walk at the Mexico City airport. Those attempts came to the attention of the authorities, letting them know that he had returned to his old haunts in the rugged Sierra Madre – an area so impenetrable, it has been compared to the Tora Bora caves of Afghanistan.
“He established communication with actors and producers, which formed a new line of investigation,” Gómez said. Investigators, she added, tracked the movements of Chapo’s lawyers and their meetings with potential participants in a biopic.
She didn’t divulge names or any possible actors, however. Nor did she take questions.
Movies about narcotics trafficking and Mexico’s war on drugs have started appearing in Mexican theatres in recent years – with many receiving critical acclaim. The movies arrived after the government cracked down on drug cartels and violence escalated – to the point it has claimed more than 100,000 lives since 2006.
Ironically, a film titled The Great Escape – on El Chapo’s life and most recent vanishing act – was set to open in cinemas on 15 January.
“It will be a series of four pictures that will tell the life story of El Chapo in reverse,” Carlos Olivares, a representative of the film’s distributor, told the newspaper Excélsior. “The first deals with his escape, his human side and the political situation of Mexico.”
Truth proved stranger than fiction, however. And not everyone was buying what the government said about El Chapo’s big plans for a biopic. “Why would a drug lord call attention upon himself when he is hiding? It makes no sense,” said Rodolfo Soriano Nuñez, a sociologist in Mexico City and social observer.
The government, he added, “seem to be unaware of how hard it is to believe them”.
Guzmán’s capture marks a rare piece of good news for the Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose popularity has plummeted to depths not seen in two decades amid the fallout from El Chapo’s escape, allegations of corruption in a property deal involving Peña Nieto’s wife, and his aloof response to the disappearance and presumed murder of 43 student teachers.
“Mission accomplished,” Peña Nieto wrote in a tweet that broke the news. “I would like to inform the Mexican people that Joaquín Guzmán Loera has been captured.”
The capture marks the second time Guzmán has been apprehended in the past three years. Mexican marines captured him in Mazatlán in early 2013 after he had foiled previous attempts by fleeing into a system of underground tunnels.
Guzmán was sent to Altiplano high-security prison, 56 miles outside Mexico City, but in July 2015, he absconded again, squeezing through a hole in his shower floor then fleeing on a modified motorbike through a mile-long tunnel fitted with lights and a ventilation system.
At the time of his escape the capo wore a tracker bracelet and was under round-the-clock surveillance, but cameras inside his cell had two blind spots in the shower and toilet.
CCTV footage released in October showed that guards failed to intervene even though loud hammering was audible from Guzmán’s cell.
The Mexican government offered a reward of 60m pesos ($3.8m) for information leading to the drug lord’s recapture, but the escape was extremely embarrassing for the government. It came less than three weeks after the United States filed a request to extradite Guzmán, and the kingpin’s lawyer told the Guardian last year that his escape wasprompted by fears that he would face trial in the US.
Peña Nieto and federal officials came under heavy criticism for refusing to extradite Guzmán to the United States, despite shortcomings in the Mexican prison system. At least 20 public officials, including the former head of the prison system, were arrested after the escape, though there were no cabinet resignations.