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Conspiracy theories abound on El Chapo arrest

Why was Mexican drug lord Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzman, who had been on the run for 13 years, taken down now?
Last modified: 23 Feb 2014 04:15

There's no way to know what led to the arrest of the world's most wanted drug smuggler.

Joaquín "El Chapo" or "Shorty" Guzman escaped from prison in 2001 in a laundry truck – he lived among safe houses in Sinaloa state and used tunnels criss-crossing the city of Culiacan to steer clear of the law. Most Mexicans say there's no way he could have been a fugitive of justice for 13 years, without the support of high-ranking officials in government, police and the military.

But why was he taken down now? In Mexico, theories already abound.

One theory suggests that Mexican security forces were aiming to offer him up as a prize for Barack Obama who was here last week for a summit. In the hours before Obama arrived, there were reports Guzman, or his top lieutenant, had been caught in Sinaloa state.

People who believe this story point to an operation in Baja California in 2012, when authorities said they had Chapo surrounded at a vacation spot during a visit to the area by Hillary Clinton.

Then there are those on Twitter and in Mexico who say the timing of his arrest coincides in a suspicious way with incredibly flattering international media coverage for Mexico's president. 

According to this conspiracy theory, Time magazine was bribed for putting President Enrique Peña Nieto on the cover with the headline "Saving Mexico" (Note: This of course is speculation and rumour - but many people here actually believe that), and that this capture makes for even better PR now – "He's actually saving the country from drug lords in Sinaloa and cartels in Michoacan!"

Along those lines there's the theory that after more than a year of saying he had made Mexico safer, Peña Nieto had to actually deliver something that would catch the international media's eye – so the fawning coverage could have a bit of substance.

It's important to note that despite laudatory coverage abroad, the president has approval ratings below 50 percent at home.

Finally, some in Mexico speculate that after 13 years on the run, Chapo was no longer useful to the higher-ups in government and police, who he must have bribed for years to stay free.

It's a new era, they say - marijuana is being legalised in parts of the US and elsewhere and this hillbilly cartel leader wasn't needed anymore.

Multi-billion drug industry

Of course, these are all conspiracy theories and need to be taken with a grain – if not a mountain – of salt.

Still, all of these theories have one thing in common - they all take for granted that the only way Chapo was free for so long is because the government didn't want to arrest him. That he had paid off the right people or that he was useful. That says a lot about Mexicans' mentality, the state of their government, and the every day reality in a country that ranks among the world's most corrupt nations.

Whatever the reason, he's been caught. Many here will cheer the arrest – especially the president and his administration.

But will it put a dent in the billions of dollars worth of drugs that go north to the US every year and the thousands of weapons that come south to Mexico? Unlikely.

Chapo sat atop one of the most sophisticated criminal organisations in the world. There's no shortage of men with decades of experience waiting to take his place.

Will they slip into that role without a fight, or will this spark a bloody feud for power?