Many in Mexico were surprised when authorities managed to arrest one of the country’s most notorious drug kingpins after years of trying. That surprise slipped into shock with news that Joaquin Guzman Loera managed to escape from the most secure wing of the country’s most secure prison. The story drew even more consternation because Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto had said it would be “unforgiveable” if Guzman, or El Chapo as he is called, escaped prison again as he did during a previous arrest in 2001.
“It’s unbelievable, but in Mexico, anything can happen,” a man who lives close to the prison told the Washington Post. “They snatched him right out of there.”
Government officials have placed the blame for the Guzman’s escape on prison guards, seven of whom have been arrested in relation to his disappearance. Many Mexicans, however, think there’s more to the story than a few accommodating prison guards. The government’s recent failings on combating and investigating crimes has led many to believe that it isn’t just unable to fight off its powerful drug cartels, but rather that it’s unwilling to do so.
Of 1000 people surveyed by the Mexican newspaper El Universal, 80 percent did not believe the government’s account of Guzman’s escape.
Many have put forth their own ideas about what they believe actually happened. Some have said that Guzman walked out of the front door and others that was never even sent to prison. A lot of the theories point to some level of government collusion with a mob boss.
The government’s release of surveillance footage that shows Guzman slipping through a hole in the floor of his cell and disappearing in a matter of seconds has only added to the public skepticism.
After looking documents she obtained from an ongoing investigation into the matter, Anabel Hernandez, an investigative reporter with the Mexican magazine Proceso, said that the story just doesn’t add up.
Hernandez told CNN that no action was taken despite signs that an escape might be in the works. She said that authorities were aware that Guzman’s people were on the hunt for blueprints of the prison and that prisoners had complained about noise that sounded like construction weeks before the escape.
She also noted that the footage did not include audio. Had it done so, she said the sounds of metal banging against concrete would have been clear along with sirens which she said only turned on about 45 minutes after Guzman slipped away.
“Now these documents show that that wasn’t true, that the government hid the audio of that video because, of course, the audio of that video proves that the government has enough information minutes before the escape and didn’t want to stop El Chapo,” Hernandez said.
Many have expressed shock that the government failed to better monitor Guzman given that one of the top figures in his Sinaloa cartel made a similar escape through a tunnel beneath a different prison just over a year ago.
“The government wants to sell us a tale in which no one knew about the tunnel and he got away,” Carlos Castanos, an opposition legislator Guzman’s home state told the New York Times. “It’s like they think that Mexicans are all kindergartners and they’re going to believe anything they tell them.”
He said the amount of dirt that would have had to have been removed from the mile-long tunnel rendered the possibility of that escape route implausible.
As unlikely as it seems, the tunnel might be the most believable aspect of the story of Guzman’s great escape.
Sinaloa is known for its creation of “supertunnels” which it uses primarily to move drugs and arms across the Mexican-American border. Officials have discovered more than eighty such tunnels over the last 25 years. Some of them include elevators and most are tall enough for an adult to walk through.
Despite this, the government’s story of Guzman’s escape has raised eyebrows.
“No one believes it,” a veteran federal police officer said. “All they do is lie.”
That charge from a federal agent evidences just how pervasive the distrust in the country’s government is — and no wonder. Mexico is thought to be one of the most corrupt and least transparent countries in the world. Searching for answers in such a climate can be life-threatening.
Just last week, Ruben Espinosa Becerril, a photographer for Proceso was murdered in an affluent Mexico City neighborhood along with four women, one of whom was a political activist. Becerril had received death threats while working in Veracruz, one of the country’s most dangerous states. After notifying the Committee to Protect Journalists of the threats, he fled to the capital for safety.
Thirty-four journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most of them covered crime, corruption, and politics.
It’s in such opaque environments that conspiracy theories seem to abound. Perceptions of systemic corruption and a lack of access to information offer fuel to the sort of mistrust that seems to be on the rise in Mexico.
More journalists were killed in the first half of 2015 than all of 2014. Not only that, but a severely botched and long-delayed government investigation into the disappearances of 43 students last September has only added to a sense that the government may have ulterior motives when it comes to properly addressing violence in the country.
The arrest of Guzman was an opportunity for Mexican officials and authorities to prove that they are willing to crack down on crime, regardless of the repercussions. By letting the head of the world’s most powerful drug cartel slip out of it’s grip has cemented for many Mexicans a sense of skepticism in the government.