Saturday, July 11. 8.52pm. El Altiplano maximum security prison. Special inmate number 3578 approaches the shower area. That part of his cell is out of the range of the security camera, for privacy reasons. He moves nervously. Moments before, he had sat on his bed and then stood up; then sat down again, and stood up once more. He stretches out his pants. He paces the floor rapidly. Then he does so again. Finally, he changes his shoes and returns to the shower room. He squats down. That’s the last time he’s seen on the camera. Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera has fled. One of the world’s most important drug lords has slipped through the tunnel that had been dug under his feet. But that’s not all – the Mexican government has also just suffered its greatest defeat, leaving it humiliated as never before. The country would wake up on Sunday morning with a collective sense of shame.
During that final moment of tension, when everything is in play, he can be seen squaring his shoulders decisively
The recording, which has been released by the National Security Commission, shows the last few minutes the Sinaloa cartel leader spent in prison. His cell, 10 by 10 meters in size, contains cinderblock furniture. There are no personal items. Just a lit-up screen that looks like an iPad, a few bottles of water and little more. Although the authorities insist that Guzmán displayed the normal behavior of an inmate who has been serving a long time, his nervousness catches the attention of the viewer. During that final moment of tension, when he knows that everything is in play, he can be seen squaring his shoulders decisively.
The publication of the recording is part of the Mexican government’s counteroffensive. Thousands of soldiers, politicians and intelligence agents have been mobilized in order to heal the injured pride of a nation. The president’s office has even called on citizens for help. The government has released photos of El Chapo taken when he entered prison in February 2014. Hair shaved, bright eyes and a fresh face, despite his fast-paced 58 years. The video rounds out that portrait. It is the image that will remain in the country’s collective imagination. The last steps of the most-wanted man in Mexico, and arguably on the entire continent. A dark legend whose location is worth $3,750,000 – the largest reward Mexico has ever offered for the capture of a criminal.
The video shows the last steps of the most-wanted man in Mexico, and arguably on the entire continent
Experts say there is little chance of catching him. Guzmán is not likely to repeat the mistake he made in 2014 when, instead of going straight into hiding in the mountains of Sinaloa, the heart of his empire, he decided to visit his wife and twin daughters. Authorities arrested him in that apartment in Mazatlán without firing a shot.
It may take decades to capture him again. The first time El Chapo fled from a maximum security prison in 2001, he spent 13 years in hiding, building his empire. The cartel steamrolled over its rivals and pried open the doors to that privileged business: cocaine trafficking. He submerged Ciudad Juárez in that terrible darkness again. His power was unshakable. Now, he is free again. The last images of him are in black and white. Just like his story.
Translation by Dyane Jean François.