On the same day that Donald Trump took the oath of office, Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán was brought before a judge in New York. He had been extradited from Mexico the night before: the man who once ran the world’s largest drug-trafficking operation would at last face charges in a US court.
In the 100 days since he was placed in a maximum security facility in New York, a bloody turf war that has left hundreds dead has broken out in Sinaloa, the northern Mexican state where El Chapo’s operations were based; new investigations have begun in the United States; and a growing number of drug traffickers have begun to cooperate with the DEA.
“Bringing a guy like El Chapo here makes a lot of people wonder if they are going to be next, and many of them are approaching the government to cooperate and try to cut a deal, because they think if they can trap somebody like that, they can do the same with everybody, so a lot of narcos are contacting US lawyers,” explains James Hunt, head of the DEA’s New York office.
They are starting to wonder who is going to be next to fall foul of the law
James Hunt, DEA officer
Meanwhile, in Mexico, rumors have begun to spread that Guzmán, aware that all is lost, has begun to spill the beans on former associates, subordinates and rivals in a bid to improve his current conditions: he spends 23 hours locked in a permanently lit, windowless cell, with no radio or television.
Edgar Veytia, the state attorney for the Mexican state of Nayarit who led the investigation that led to El Chapo’s arrest has himself been detained, raising further speculation.
El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel has been locked in a power struggle that has severely weakened it, says Hunt: “They are starting to wonder who is going to be next to fall foul of the law.”
On Sunday, Dámaso López, one of El Chapo’s successors, was arrested in Mexico City. He had been involved in a bitter feud with Guzmán’s sons, as well as with arch rivals the Beltrán Levya cartel, also based in Sinaloa. The death toll in the state in the first two months of 2017 was 230, a figure most experts say will now have doubled. There have been kidnappings of police officers, threats, and even bodies thrown from a plane.
A long list of Colombian cartel bosses are expected to testify against Guzmán
The DEA says that aside from trafficking drugs all over the world, El Chapo is also responsible for thousands of murders, torturing and kidnapping. He faces 17 charges that could leave him behind bars for the rest of his life. In the 100 days he has spent in prison, his defense lawyers say he has begun to suffer mental health problems.
Hunt has no illusions that the capture of El Chapo will do much to diminish drug trafficking into the United States: “Somebody else will occupy the spot: there is too much money there for that not to happen.”
On Friday, El Chapo will appear before a judge in Brooklyn. The date of his trial has yet to be announced, but a long list of Colombian cartel bosses are expected to testify against him.
English version by Nick Lyne.