El Chapo’s Lesson

The perks of being a world class criminal and why crime may never go away

Few people epitomise the term “drug lord” as well as Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. From the humblest of origins he rose to preside over the largest illicit drug syndicate in Mexico, the Sinaloa cartel. As a result, he has accumulated a net worth in excess of a billion dollars, he has consistently been listed in publications such as Forbes as one of the world’s most influential figures and he has interacted with some of society’s elite including academy award winning actor Sean Penn. Perhaps more impressive than all of this however is that despite facing charges for an array of high-range criminal acts including drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder, Guzman continues to get off lightly in the face of these accusations laid against him by both the Mexican and US governments.

More than twenty cases against Guzman have been overturned or dismissed by his lawyers since 1990, a harsh reality that has been attributed to a combination of procedural errors made by Mexican law enforcement and a lack of evidence brought against him. While there are still ten other charges currently facing Guzman, the rate at which cases against him fall apart suggests he will not be sentenced to anywhere near the 300 years in prison that Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam boldly predicted in a press statement last year.

Guzman is currently serving a prison sentence of twenty years and nine months on three charges for organised crime that he received in 1993. He has already completed a significant portion of this time behind bars despite his two escapes. The first escape occurred in 2001 and again in 2015; both times with the aid of prison guards. Despite what you might think, these jailbreaks did not extend his existing sentence. Breaking out of jail is not considered a criminal offence in Mexico. Consequently, there is no incentive for Guzman to stop trying to escape, a view that he and his son Alfredo appear to share in their respective twitter comments after his latest arrest “whatever happens twice will certainly happen a third time” and “Here we go again through this process”.

Guzman’s influence is seemingly unaffected by his current incarceration. This, combined with the Mexican government’s inability to convict him and another jailbreak on the horizon, some suggest that the best option to bring him to justice may be to extradite him to the US. Although not even the push of the US government to bring him to trial on their soil (where he would face additional drug trafficking charges) is of much concern to Guzman as legal challenges could delay this process by up to 6 years.

If you take all this money, power and the relative invincibility of someone like Guzman or Pablo Escobar and Al Capone before him into account you can see the allure of the elite criminal. These figures are world class deviants who thrive on the wrong side of the law, live the high life and are often romanticised in popular culture. They are not your everyday drug dealers, con artists, robbers or thugs-for-hire but represent what many of these common crooks aspire to be. It is people like Guzman who are (at least partially) responsible for why there will always be crime.

This is because criminals of Guzman’s ilk are a testament to the fact that as long as there is demand for illegal goods and services there will always be money to be made, connections to be forged and respect to be earned by those who are willing to supply them. The risks of getting to the top of this supply chain are great but so are the rewards. As the case of El Chapo has demonstrated, crime can (handsomely) pay off.

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Researcher, writer, wanderer and occasional philosopher with interests both many and varied. I've dedicated my time here to writing about science, technology, war and crime. I hope to further develop my craft and glean some new world insights in this process so constructive feedback is always welcome!

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