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El Chapo’s cartel thriving despite drug lord having been behind bars for 5 years

2 min read

The Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has been in prison for five years – but the gang's drug business seems to be thriving more than ever before.

The cartel leader has been imprisoned in a US "supermax" prison since 2017, serving a life sentence after being found guilty of all 10 federal charges he faced.

But according to official US data, security analysts, and some of his lawyers, the business has never been better for his gang despite the "significant victory and milestone" of his arrest.

Cocaine raids in the US jumped from more than 52,000 pounds in 2016 to more than 62,000 pounds the following year.

By 2020, 58,006 pounds of cocaine were seized in the US. As of April, the total for 2021 was 62,324 pounds, leaving authorities to wonder if the chief's capture made any difference at all.

A senior analyst in Mexico for the International Crisis Group, Falko Ernst, said that seeing the arrest or killing of cartel leaders like Guzmán as a blow to those cartels is misleading and leads to bad policies.

He said: "Keeping the US kingpin strategy has incredibly harmed Latin America but especially Mexico.

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"El Chapo's arrest is an illusion that relies on believing you can behead a criminal organization and diminish their operations."

Guzmán's arrest has also failed to reduce the homicide statistics in Mexico as they have steadily jumped from about 10,000 a year in 2014 to 15,000 in 2017.

In 2020, there were almost 20,000 homicides, the highest annual total in Mexican history, according to Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography.

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Firearms were used in more than 80% of homicides.

Criminal organizations in Mexico have proliferated, from 20 in 2000 to more than 200 in 2021, according to a recent report by Lantia Consultores, a consulting firm in Mexico researching organized crime.

That growth is largely due to the fragmentation of larger cartels after the capture or killing of their leaders.

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Michael Schneider, one of Guzmán's lawyers in the US, reportedly chuckled when asked why the drug business was booming even with Guzmán in jail.

"The case of Guzmán in Mexico was relevant to me because he was not properly represented," he said. "Politics were very much linked to his case. It was basically all politics."

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