Guzman recapture will not solve Mexico ills

Guzman recapture will not solve Mexico ills
Notorious drug kingpin El Chapo Guzman was recaptured after escaping from prison, but this is unlikely to make his cartel fall apart or suddenly stop drug trafficking.
PHOTO: Reuters

MEXICO CITY - Mexico's president declared "mission accomplished" when drug baron Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was recaptured. Cabinet ministers hugged at the news at a meeting with diplomats, where people spontaneously sang the national anthem.

While President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration has basked in the triumph of returning Guzman to prison, critics and analysts are reminding him that the arrest will not fix the country's security and corruption problems.

Some have compared Pena Nieto's reaction to images of former US president George W. Bush standing under a "mission accomplished" banner when he announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq in May 2003.

"That's why it was not a good decision by Enrique Pena Nieto to announce the capture of the drug trafficker who escaped twice from prison as 'mission accomplished,'" historian Lorenzo Meyer wrote in Reforma newspaper.

Nobody - not even government officials - believes that drug trafficking will suddenly come to a halt, or that Guzman's powerful Sinaloa drug cartel will abruptly fall apart.

And Pena Nieto is still haunted by the unresolved case of 43 students who were abducted by corrupt police and allegedly killed by a drug gang in September 2014.

Pena Nieto acknowledged in his New Year speech on Monday that, despite the arrest of 98 of the country's 122 most wanted criminals, "we still have challenges, but we are confronting them with vision and determination."

While the government says murders have dropped since he took office in December 2012, experts have questioned the data.

"When Pena Nieto's six-year term ends (in 2018), the capture of 'El Chapo' will have done nothing to resolve the problem of drug trafficking and violence will not have come down, and it could increase," said deputy Victor Manuel Sanchez Orozco, of the leftist Citizens Movement.

"The mission has not been accomplished." Other opposition lawmakers said that while the recapture was a success, the government must combat the corruption that likely contributed to Guzman's escape.

Pena Nieto's administration was humiliated when Guzman escaped a maximum-security prison through a tunnel on July 11, just 17 months after marines had arrested him in his native northwestern state of Sinaloa.

The authorities launched a massive manhunt that led to his recapture a week ago in the seaside Sinaloa city of Los Mochis - a triumph that ended up having to share headlines with US actor Sean Penn's bombshell revelation that he met Guzman three months before his capture.

While putting Guzman back behind bars was a major victory, "it merely rectifies something that went wrong," Jose Antonio Crespo, political expert at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, told AFP.

"It will improve his public image... It gives the government a breather," but a likely bump in approval ratings will be short-lived, Crespo said.

Crespo pointed to a poll in El Universal newspaper showing that 77 per cent of Mexicans believe Guzman will escape prison again, which shows that "the distrust in the institutions continues."

Pena Nieto's administration, which had balked at shipping Guzman to the United States before his escape, has now launched extradition proceedings while boosting security at the prison.

Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Washington-based Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Guzman's arrest was "an absolute triumph" for Pena Nieto.

"At the same time, he's just one person. Mexico's problems are not solved by putting one person behind bars," Wilson said.

"They're solved by creating institutions like the police, the judges, the prosecutors that can on a day-to-day basis withstand the pressures of organised crime."

Pena Nieto's administration has taken steps to overhaul the judicial system, and his economic reforms have won international praise, but he will end up with a "mixed legacy" on security issues, Wilson said.

While capturing Guzman is a victory, Wilson said, it is "not the type of thing that changes the trajectory of a presidency."

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