Without a shot being fired, notorious drug kingpin and international fugitive Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was arrested by Mexican security forces in Mazatlan, Mexico last weekend. The man who lived his life profiting from drug trafficking, human misery, corrupting public officials and undermining the rule of law is now behind bars.
This is a tremendous victory for the citizens of Mexico and the United States. Americans are demanding his extradition. Our friends and neighbors to the south, from all appearances, are moving towards prosecution within their own country. That debate will continue, but we must not lose sight of the most important aspect of this victory; the strong relationship between our nations that was critical to this success.
The joint capture of the world’s most infamous criminal cartel chief represents a seismic shift in U.S.-Mexico relations from the low point in 1985 when American undercover DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was abducted, tortured and bludgeoned to death while working in Mexico. In the decades following Camarena’s death, cross-border relations in the drug war were crippled by mistrust on both sides.
U.S. officials watched in dismay as top Mexican anti-drug officials were arrested for taking payoffs and aiding and abetting the drug lords. Mexican authorities despaired that their U.S. counterparts had little understanding of the terror and fear that ruled their lives under the threats of the mafia bosses. In fact, it is estimated that up to 60,000 Mexicans -- many of them innocent bystanders, honest public officials and courageous journalists -- died from drug-related violence between 2006 and 2012, the peak years in the drug war.
Apprehending Guzman was no easy task. He had evaded arrest for nearly 13 years. I know how difficult the law enforcement effort was because I spent nearly 10 years of my own life endeavoring to apprehend El Chapo. During most of that hunt I served as the national chief of the U. S. Border Patrol, and Deputy Commissioner and Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Guzman’s criminal organization was and is relentless in its ruthless and criminal pursuits. His Sinaloa cartel is believed to be responsible for about 25 percent of all illegal drugs that cross the Mexican border into the United States.
I saw and lived through the evolution and development of trust, confidence, and collaboration between us and our Mexican counterparts. Our two nations have worked long and hard to get to the partnership that we now enjoy. Sharing intelligence, following leads, and working together are now our recognized and expected way of conducting business.