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El Chapo: the escape of a mobster

Roberto Saviano, author of "Gomorrah", said that Mexican cartels should be defined as mafia organizations, that can not exist without direct links with politics, entrepreneurs and the judiciary beyond simple bribery and corruption.
(Photo: Yadín Xolapa / EL UNIVERSAL)
Roberto Saviano
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In recent days there have been thousands of comments about Joaquín Guzmán "El Chapo", and his story has echoed in every corner of the planet. Suddenly Mexico is once again in the news. In recent months there were clashes between cartels, leadership changes and dozens of deaths, while drug money continued to flow towards the United States without setbacks.

However, attention had decreased considerably. The people slaughtered by the Islamic State demanded greater attention than the beheadings in the carnage of Mexican drug traffickers.

El Chapo escaped and a thousand hypothesis emerged, among them that he was deeply worried about being extradited to the United States. As I said on Mexican television last year, the government erred in not extraditing him to the United States immediately.

For me it was a risky decision because Mexico had proven to be a "piece of cake" for him, and Mexico's government could not guarantee justice against him.

On this issue, Los Pinos showed weakness. On one hand, refusing to hand over El Chapo to the United States meant defending and preserving the national sovereignty; on the other hand, not extraditing him may have meant the continuity of the links between institutions and crime. Sinaloa and all his friends (businessmen and politicians paid by the cartel) sure appreciated the decision of Enrique Peña Nieto's government not to hand their boss over.

It is not a coincidence that El Chapo escaped when he realized that the possibility of being extradited was closing in. His arrest was very ambiguous: Guzmán almost appeared to have surrendered, and if he did so the reasons to do so were unclear. Some, including myself, saw a message to El Chapo in the statements made by "El Mayo" Zambada in an interview with Julio Scherer a few years earlier. He said that in case of arrest or death of the leaders, their replacements at the Sinaloa cartel were ready to take over, as if he meant to say either we make space for them or they will do it themselves.

However, it is also true that a betrayal of El Chapo seems unlikely, because if his arrest was actually due to disloyalty, the phalanx of the Sinaloa Cartel faithful to him would have gone on a killing spree that would have led to a vendetta and created division, something that has not happened so far because Guzmán remained as the undisputed chief of Sinaloa cartel even behind bars.

It is difficult to imagine an escape like this without the support from prison authorities and police. El Chapo Guzmán is the living proof that calling the Mexican cartels "narcos" is inaccurate, because they are a mafia, structures capable of having rules and hierarchies that do not respond instinctively to gangster mechanisms ("either you pay or you die", "whoever kills keeps the position of the person who died"), but to codes and economic strategies.

Due to this complexity Mexican cartels should be defined as mafia organizations. And mafias can not exist without direct links with politics, entrepreneurs and the judiciary beyond simple bribery and corruption.

A mobster escaped, a man who has changed the history of Mexico and that is changing the history of drug economy. Among others, one of the blackmail strategies used by the Sinaloa cartel in recent years is transferring its money abroad and not keeping it in the country, i.e., the more I am attacked, the more my cartel will take its money to the United States. The less I am attacked, the more my cartel invests in Mexico.

Either way, El Chapo has undoubtedly surpassed the model of Pablo Escobar, because he does not tend to monopoly, neither to replace politicians, a mistake that constituted the beginning of the end of Escobar. Entering politics is ridiculous for a mobster, as it inevitably forces the international community to investigate, while the strength of a mafia organization lies in its secrecy.

When the mafia replaces political power, instead of having an influence on behalf of its own interests, it becomes a power like the others. When Pablo Escobar offered to pay his country's public debt, or when he decided to become a congressman, he entered another dimension.

The mafia does not have political ideas but takes advantage of power to pursue its own interests. Its power is always different from political power and that is precisely its strength, because it can have a thousand allies, right and left, and when they inevitably fall, it will easily find others to replace them.

Mafia can not exist without its relation with politics, but in the territories where it dominates, as in Mexico, politics can not exist without its support.

It is a relation of mutual support that can exist in several ways, such as manipulating a contract or turning a blind eye when it is necessary to look closely.

In this new daring escape of El Chapo many seem to have turned a blind eye. Mexico must find a strategy to combat the mafia that is not just military, but also political and economic. Otherwise, as El Mayo said, when a drug lord dies, his replacements will be ready to substitute him.



About the author:

Roberto Saviano is an Italian writer and journalist that exposed the operation of the Camorra, a Neapolitan mafia-type crime syndicate, in his book "Gomorrah". He is also the author of "ZeroZeroZero", that explores the inner workings of the global cocaine trade.

(Translation into English: Giselle Rodríguez)

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