One tunnel led him to freedom, and another to his recapture six months later. “El Chapo,” Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín Guzmán, was flushed from his hideout yesterday in Los Mochis and fled through the city’s sewer system, but was caught shortly after.
Attorney General Arely Gómez revealed at a press conference last night that intelligence work, surveillance and vanity all played a role in putting the druglord back behind bars since his escape from prison — through a tunnel — last July 11.
She explained they almost had him last October when he was located at a ranch in Pueblo Nuevo, Durango. But he fled from the home where had been hiding in the company of two women and a girl.
Federal forces held their fire for fear of wounding Guzmán’s companions, the Attorney General said.
Mexico’s most-wanted man remained in the area, known as the Golden Triangle for its drug production, but authorities were watching people close to him. One of those, a man who has made the cartel famous for its elaborate cross-border, drug-smuggling tunnels, was doing some work on various houses in Sinaloa and Sonora.
Guzmán, it appeared, was planning a move.
One of the houses where the cartel’s tunnel expert had been seen, located in a high-end district in Los Mochis, was put under surveillance. A month later, on Wednesday, the watching paid off.
There was new and unusual activity at the home and a vehicle arrived in the early-morning hours. “Clues gathered in the field and intelligence work made it certain that the criminal was inside the house,” said Gómez.
Early Friday, federal forces launched an operation on the home, drawing gunfire from high-caliber weapons. In the shoot-out that followed, five cartel gunmen died and six were arrested.
As for El Chapo, he was gone. Inside the house was access to a tunnel leading to the city’s sewer system. Guzmán had gone underground once again, along with his chief lieutenant and security boss, Jorge Iván “El Cholo” Gastélum Avila.
They didn’t go far. Elements of the Navy had discovered the escape route and were giving chase. Realizing they were being followed, the two fugitives surfaced through a manhole 100 meters from the house, stole a nearby car and headed for the Los Mochis-Navojoa highway.
Security forces intercepted the stolen Ford Focus and the flight was over. “Goddamn feds, they’ve got us!” declared Guzmán on being captured.
The two were taken to a nearby hotel while their captors waited for reinforcements. They were later flown from Los Mochis to Mexico City, and then transported to El Altiplano, the maximum-security prison from which Guzmán had escaped.
An important factor in the investigation was the cartel boss’s plan to make a film about himself, Gómez told last night’s press conference. Contact between representatives of Guzmán and producers and actresses opened a new line of investigation, she said, and helped pinpoint his whereabouts.
Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told reporters that the capture demonstrated that no criminal is beyond the reach of Mexican authorities.
Neither official made any comment regarding Guzmán’s extradition to the U.S., which that country had requested not long before his escape last July.