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Why can't the army find 'El Chapo'?

My friend Adam Isacson over at the Washington Office on Latin America has a recent blog posting here comparing deaths of soldiers and federal police in Mexico and Colombia.

He started with a story published by El Universal on Monday that said 398 Mexican soldiers, marines and federal police have been killed since December 2006 when President Calderon came to office.

Then he found this document from the Colombian Defense Ministry that shows that in roughly the same period 1,901 Colombian soldiers and police died fighting illegal armed groups.

So, Colombian soldiers and police are fighting _ and dying _ at a faster pace than in Mexico. For anyone living in Mexico, that comes as little surprise. The Mexican army doesn’t engage the bad guys often, not like the Mexican marines. 

That is why one sees repeated public statements that Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, head of the nation’s most powerful cartel, is living in the mountains outside of Durango, in northern Mexico, and the army doesn’t send units to take a look. Even the archbishop of Durango has said everyone knows where El Chapo is.

Earlier this month, Televisa quoted an unnamed DEA official about Guzman’s whereabouts. He told the network ‘El Chapo’ lives in hiding “just like Osama Bin Laden” near Durango. 

"He lives in very difficult terrain in the mountains and knows all the people, and if there is any movement by someone he’ll know,” the agent told Televisa. 

Granted, the Pentagon hasn't been able to find Bin Laden either. But by most accounts, they certainly are looking for him. He may not see the drones overhead, but they are there.

It’s not just me who ponders Mexican army inaction in Durango. Look at this blog posting from Walter McKay, a former Canadian police officer who went on to get his Ph.D. and has been in Mexico for many years advising on better police training and standards. McKay goes further than to cite military inaction. He suggests that it is complicity.

Below is an excerpt from his blog posting on March 17, but one word of explanation. When Walter uses the much larger figure below for police deaths at the hands of organized crime, he is referring to all levels of police, municipal, state and federal. The figures above are just for the much less common killings of federal police. On the local and state level, police are getting mowed down left and right.

Of the security forces deployed in Calderon’s war it is the military, who are supposedly the ones on the front lines of this war but, oddly enough, have the fewest casualties (at 224) far less than the police, who are also combating the narcos, and have the higher death count (at 2521). But, it is the 37000+ civilians who have been slain, as well as the towns and families, who bear the brunt of the government's failed policies. One family in particular has been, and continues to be, the targets of unknown assassins, as 3 more members of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz's family were gunned down the other day. Marisela was the woman activist who was murdered in front of the office of the governor of Chihuahua where she had camped for many months to protest the release of her daughter’s killer, and whose brother was gunned down days later and the family business burned to the ground. This family is the public face of the strife that confronts Mexico, the embodiment of the horrors afflicting Juarez, and a stark example of the absolute ineffectiveness of the government to protect its citizens, either from criminals or rogue elements of the security forces in its employ.

What was once a whisper is now being openly stated, that the Mexican army is the biggest drug gang in the country. And, with the correlation of violence increasing wherever it is deployed, with no sign of abating, it seems to be not too far-fetched to think such thoughts.



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sean hanny

amigo Señor Grabman, everybody on the streets of Mexico calls Guzman El Chapo...sorry, but this is true...as do the newspapers...as do the books...these Columbian rebels turned "political" only to fund themselves, the FARC joined with the narcos, a convenient marriage...I question the motives of these "political insurgents"...these "couple of gangesters" in Mexico have an "army", that's for sure...

Richard Grabman

The "illegal armed groups" in Colombia are not the same as the gangsters in Mexico. The Colombian groups include political insurgents — i.e., armies — hardly the same thing as a couple of gangsters (however well armed and/or organized). Secondly Joaquin Guzmán has never been known as "El Chapo", but as "Chapo".

sean hanny

you are forgiven, John Randolph!..te perdonamos...but your point is well taken

John Randolph

I goofed. Guzman escaped in 2001. Please don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

John Randolph

Hi Tim,

Let's extrapolate this a little further. Calderon is "elected" president. Chapo Guzman is arrested and escaped custody during Calderon's watch. Calderon escalates the war on drugs. The Mexican Army is suspected of being on the take. Is there any chance of a there being a connection between Calderon, the army, and Chapo Guzman?
Oh, then there is the US who is helping to fund an unwinnable war on drugs. That very war has in effect killed almost 40,000 people in Mexico, and at least two recent US agents.

Is there any possibility of the US being another dot in that connection?
The US really loves Mexican oil, trade, NAFTA, and Mexican business investments. How many US industries would suffer financial losses if the US stopped fighting the war on drugs and ended drug prohibition?

Mexican citizens who cannot be protected from narco-violence in their own country should be granted US Temporary Protective Status (TPS). El Salvadorans have it, why not Mexico? Maybe Obama will wait until a couple hundred thousand more Mexican and US citizens are killed before he would do that?

Or is the elite who run our government to afraid to offend its Mexican trading partners?

For TPS see:


Since the Mexican government can not and will not protect its own citizens, I encourage every one of them to do a peaceful protest against both the US and Mexican governments.

Line up by the hundreds of thousands at every Port of Entry on our border. Apply for US asylum. The same goes for the millions of Mexican undocumented in the US. Hit every ICE office on the map. The greed and corruption of both governments have not only created a situation where you the undocumented are forced to come here, they have now created a situation where you can not return home safely.

Peacefully overwhelm, inundate, and shut down the system and border that put you and all of the average US taxpayers in this spot.

Yes, US taxpayers have been scammed and have been victims of this greed for decades too. Who loses their jobs and funds the undocumented crowding our hospitals and schools? Who also has been bamboozled into blaming illegal aliens and not the rich?

Hit them on the world stage, and hit them where it hurts most: humiliation and money out of their pockets.

Peacefully force the US government not only to clean up its own act, but also force the Mexican government clean up its act too.

To those doubting US taxpayers: Don’ worry. Undocumented Mexicans will not come here if the Mexican government is forced to pay its citizens a living wage and provide a safe place for the good people of Mexico to raise their families.

If we all do not do something radically peaceful, this merry-go-round will never stop. We have to put them in a position to do the right thing.



Someone posted a comment on your friend's blog, stating that the figure of 398 in the El Universal only refers to "federal" forces, and that a "different category is the number of police alone -- municipal, state and federal -- which the paper quotes the Secretaria de Seguridad Publica as saying recently was 2,096 during the Calderon period." You might want to check El Universal to make sure.

sean hanny

it would take an estimated 100,000 troops to snare El Chapo and even then nothing is assured...can the governemt count on 100K troops?...those mountains are impenetrable and every person, animal and plant keep an eye out for anything that'd upset the arrangment they have with El Chapo...also, the navy is new to the narco war, but soon, they too will be corrupted...military and jurisprudence complicity is assumed, this is no news...the DEA is way behind, they are not doing their job, either...Los Señores del Narco is a fascinating book if you want a timeline of the past 30 years of this crazy, ill advised "war on drugs"

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This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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