El Chapo's Escape Is an Engineering Marvel, Embarrassment for Mexico


Remember in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne had to crawl through miles of shit-covered pipes in order to get to freedom? That might have been good for a fictional framed murderer from Maine, but it would never be good enough for Joaquin Guzmán, whose own escape tunnel is so fucking epic you’d almost want to just let him go if he wasn’t such an awful human being.

Guzmán, also known as El Chapo, is a Mexican drug lord who escaped from prison sometime last Saturday. While that fact alone is very newsworthy—the L.A. Times reports that his escape is an embarrassment for Mexico’s president, whose administration has prided themselves on taking down cartel leaders—it comes with the additional revelation that Guzmán’s escape tunnel was quite a feat of engineering, including oxygen tanks, ventilation, lights, and what the L.A. Times refers to as a “motorcycle contraption” used to remove dirt.

Here’s a description of Guzman’s elaborate path to ill-gotten freedom:

The tunnel that Guzman used to flee was sophisticated. It was nearly a mile long and deep enough for him to stand, authorities said. Its opening was a rectangular hole in the former prisoner’s shower, measuring 20 inches by 20 inches. It then descended 30 feet, ran its length under largely unpopulated land and ended in a somewhat isolated house under construction in the nondescript Santa Juanita neighborhood, surrounded by empty fields.

With that kind of construction, it’s hard to believe that the authorities had no idea that Guzman was plotting an escape; he’s a high-profile tunnel enthusiast, and it must have taken him and his associates a long time to build such a tunnel—likely, months.

The government’s response to how the tunnel was able to be constructed without anyone knowing? According to the L.A. Times, authorities claim that the escape route begins in Guzmán’s shower, the only part of his cell that did not have cameras. Wait, what? I’m never going to advocate for camming the showers of civilians, but this is Mexico’s most high profile criminal—one who’s already escaped high-security prison once before and you’re just going to leave a huge chunk of his cell off-camera? An area big enough that it lets him create an escape hatch in which he can actually stand up? Sure, El Chapo is only five feet (and five inches) tall, but that’s still a lot of gaping wall-hole to miss.

No one is having an easy time believing that Guzman was able to pull all of this off himself, and even fewer people are swallowing the lie that Guzman and his followers spent months and months building a huge tunnel that no one in any position to observe Guzman or search his cell was able to find.

Just one citizen’s opinion of the whole affair:

“There was an enormous act of corruption … and an absolute incompetence” involving prison officials, the intelligence community and law enforcement, said Pablo Monzalvo, a national security researcher at the Ibero-American University in Mexico City.
Undoubtedly, he said, Guzman continued to run his vast cartel operations from inside the prison and now will be able to pick up where he never left off.

Mexico’s President, Enrique Peña Nieto, has called the escape “unfortunate.” When Guzmán was initially captured last February and incarcerated, Peña Nieto confidently stated that there was no way that Guzmán could escape from prison again. And yet, here we are.

More than 30 prison employees (including guards) are currently being questioned.

Writing for The New Yorker, Patrick Radden Keefe points out that, when he interviewed Mexican officials about the possibility of El Chapo escaping back in 2014, the response from authorities suggested that escape wasn’t just physically impossible, but that, if it happened, it would be a blow to the entire country’s credibility, due both to the nature and scope of Guzmán’s crimes (his organization committed thousands of murders) and also due to the fact that such a man escaping would suggest that anything is for sale in Mexico—including freedom for the incontrovertibly guilty.

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