After 16 months in maximum-security prison, Mexico’s most notorious drug lord is at large yet again.
An incredible tunnel escape by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, has left the Mexican government scrambling to save face.
This is the second time Guzmán has escaped from prison. After his first escape, in 2001, it took Mexican police 13 years to track him down.
Franc Contreras, a CCTV correspondent in Mexico City, says that the initial recapture of Guzmán was trumpeted as a major advance in the war against drug trafficking. “They held that up as one of the most important arrests in Latin American history,” says Contreras.
“Mexico was going to show the world that it finally got its justice system’s act together,” Contreras continues. “But it’s turning out to be rather embarrassing for the Mexican government.”
It’s not entirely surprising that Guzmán escaped via tunnel. After all, his organization has often used similar tactics to connect hideouts and warehouses on both sides of the US-Mexico border.
This tunnel stands out for its intricacy, however. It was more than a mile long and included air conditioning, electric lights, and a motorcycle on rails. “It was quite an elaborate use of engineering,” says Contreras. “’El Chapo’ now has a new nickname — they’re calling him the Lord of the Tunnels.”
There's no way to know when, or if, the Mexican government will recapture Guzman.
But one thing's certain: Songs are already being written about his latest escape.
The band Rejegos is just one of dozens to quickly pen ballads about Guzman's latest escape. They call the songs "Narcocorridos."
Think old western ballads about Jesse James. But with drug lords instead of cowboys.
"Within a day, there are already dozens of corridos about the escape on YouTube," says author Elijah Wald. In one, "the lyrics are so new that the accordionist is reading it off his smart phone as he plays."
Wald is author of "Narcocorrido: A journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas." He says even before this weekend's break-out, there were plenty of songs about Guzman.
"They really vary," he says. "There are friendship corridos and those basically say he's the greatest man ever, he always takes care of those associated with him, he's the strongest, he's the bravest, he has the biggest guns, he has the most followers, don't mess with him. And then there are corridos specifically about things he's done."
There are songs about his previous escape. Wald says many of the new ones are actually remixes of old tunes. He's celebrated as an outlaw. And to understand why people would celebrate a drug lord, Wald says you need to understand that many in Mexico view the government as worse than Guzman.
They also like the story of Guzman. He's a guy from a small mountain village who dropped out of school as a young boy and became one of the richest men in the world.
"The fact that somebody just like you could become the richest man in the world has a lot of resonance."
In the wake of the escape, Mexico’s government has received harsh criticism — not only for failing to prevent an escape, but also for declining to extradite Guzmán to the United States in 2014.
Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto scrambled to save face by announcing that significant resources would be directed toward recapturing Guzmán.
But Contreras says that many Mexicans don’t have much faith that police will catch Guzmán a third time. “A lot of people here are just kind of shaking their heads, and saying, no — that’s probably not going to happen,” he says.