El Chapo Has Been Jailed for Life, But Is Mexico Better Off?

Latin America

A US federal court has sentenced former Sinaloa Cartel capo Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera to life in prison, but in the drug lord’s absence, any semblance of criminal order in Mexico is gone while brutal violence has stormed back.

Joaquín Guzmán Loera, more commonly known as “El Chapo,” will spend the rest of his natural life behind bars after Judge Brian Cogan handed down a sentence of life in federal prison plus an additional 30 years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced July 17.

Guzmán Loera’s February 2019 conviction on all 10 counts covered in the federal indictment against him, including drug trafficking charges and leading an ongoing criminal enterprise, came with a mandatory minimum sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Over the course of the three-month trial, prosecutors detailed how the drug lord’s Sinaloa Cartel relied on pervasive corruption to move more than 1.2 million kilograms of cocaine, among other drugs, into the United States, used ruthless violence to build its drug trafficking empire, and allegedly amassed billions of dollars in profits in the process.

Authorities are demanding the former kingpin forfeit more than $12 billion in assets. However, they have yet to find even a dime of Guzmán Loera’s suspected fortune.

SEE ALSO: Profile of Joaquin Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo”

From the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, El Chapo will likely be sent to a maximum security prison in Colorado known as ADX Florence, the United States’ most secure prison that is nicknamed the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”

Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman called the proceedings a “show trial” in comments to reporters following the sentencing. The defense plans to appeal the ruling, according to reports from inside the courtroom.

“Since the government will send me to a jail where my name will never be heard again, I take this opportunity to say there was no justice here,” Guzmán Loera reportedly said as part of a 15-minute statement to Judge Cogan.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, told reporters that the “long road that lead Chapo Guzmán from the mountains of Sinaloa to the courthouse behind us today was paved by death, drugs and destruction. But it ended today with justice.”

InSight Crime Analysis

This life sentence comes as no surprise. Often characterized as the “trial of the century,” the former Sinaloa Cartel capo was the “ultimate target” for authorities both in the United States and Mexico, who see his conviction as a victory in the futile “war on drugs.”

However, even with Guzmán Loera locked away, the elusive drug war wages on and the Sinaloa Cartel continues to share Mexico’s top criminal spot with the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG).

This may be “the end of one of the world’s most important criminal leaders, but this is not the end of his [criminal] organization,” said Amalia Pulido Gómez, a post-doctoral fellow at the College of Mexico in Mexico City. 

Indeed, another capo from the cartel’s old guard who’s yet to spend even a single day in prison, Ismael Zambada García, alias “El Mayo,” continues to evade authorities while running the organization’s day-to-day operations and managing El Chapo’s sons, known as “Los Chapitos.”

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

But in El Chapo’s absence, Mexico is more violent and its criminal landscape more fragmented than ever before. The homicide rate broke records in 2017 and again in 2018, and it’s on pace to reach unprecedented levels once more by the end of 2019.

Just last year, a five-day clash over control of oil theft left more than 50 dead in central Mexico. Earlier this year, cartel violence left another 30 dead in a two-day battle over control of trafficking routes along the US-Mexico border.

All of that said, “kingpins [like El Chapo] have to be brought down,” according to security analyst Jaime López.

“El Chapo’s imprisonment in the United States is a net positive for Mexico,” López told InSight Crime. “Impunity would have created all the wrong kinds of incentives [for other criminals].”

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