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The escape of El Chapo shows once more that the war on drugs has failed spectacularly

Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman pictured after his arrest in 2014 - he has now escaped from a maximum security prison (PA)

You may be shocked and horrified to read that Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman has escaped from jail in Mexico. El Chapo (“Shorty”) is the leading drugs baron in Mexico, the head of the Sinaloa cartel. He counts as one of the world’s most powerful criminal bosses. How on earth did he manage to escape?

The Telegraph has the story:

Guzman was last seen about 9pm Saturday in the shower area of the Altiplano prison, 56 miles (90 kilometres) outside of Mexico City, according to a statement from the National Security Commission. He went to the shower area but after some time was lost by security camera surveillance. Upon checking his cell, authorities found it was empty.

A search operation began immediately in the surrounding area and highways. Flights were also suspended at Toluca airport, near the penitentiary in the state of Mexico.

Monte Alejandro Rubido, national security commissioner, said 18 prison guards will be interrogated by prosecutors.

Guzman was captured in February 2014 after more than a decade on the run. He was listed as 56 years old at the time, though there are varying dates for his birth. He faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the US and was on the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s most-wanted list.

During his time as a fugitive, Guzman transformed himself from a middling Mexican capo into arguably the most powerful drug trafficker in the world. His fortune grew to be estimated at more than $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, which listed him among the “World’s Most Powerful People” and ranked him above the presidents of France and Venezuela.

His Sinaloa Cartel empire still stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia. The cartel has been heavily involved in the bloody drug war that has torn through parts of Mexico for the last decade, taking at least an estimated 100,000 lives. Sinaloa is believed now to control most of the major crossing points for drugs at the US border with Mexico.

Guzman was caught by authorities for the first time in Guatemala in 1993, extradited and sentenced to 20 years in prison in Mexico for murder and drug trafficking. He escaped from another maximum security prison, Puente Grande in western Jalisco state, in 2001 with the help of prison guards. The lore said he escaped in laundry cart, though there were several versions of how he got away.

Guzman was known for his ability to pay off local residents and even authorities who would tip him off to security operations launched for his capture. He finally was tracked down to a modest beachside high-rise in the Pacific Coast resort city of Mazatlan on February 22, 2014, where he had been hiding with his wife and twin daughters. He was taken in the early morning without a shot fired.

Earlier this year, former Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told the Associated Press that sending Guzman to the United States, where he is wanted, would save Mexico a lot of money, but keeping him in Mexico was a question of national sovereignty.

He dismissed concerns that Guzman could escape a second time. That risk ‘does not exist’, Mr Murillo Karam said. He has since been replaced by Arely Gomez as attorney general.

It is, I am sure all readers will agree, quite a story: Mexican law enforcement has now lost Guzman not once but twice; and Guzman and his henchmen are responsible for the deaths of roughly 100,000 people. It would seem fair to conclude that Mexican law enforcement is unable to enforce the law, but that, of course, is exactly the wrong conclusion.

The last time Guzman escaped, he did so with the connivance, nay with the co-operation, of the prison authorities. Guzman and his cartel have the Mexican governement on side. This, at least, is the conclusion of everyone who has researched the matter. The cartels are not at war with the government: they are at war with each other, and Guzman owns the government. (See, for example, the work of Anabel Hernandez) So the last time Guzman moved out of jail, the government knew all about it, and he was only in jail in the first place because it suited him to be there. As for what has happened now, draw your own conclusions.

Those who oppose the legalisation, regulation and taxation of all drugs, usually say that if this were to happen, drug dealers would be able to sell drugs freely, and move about freely without anyone to stop them. Such people, who are of course well meaning, need to grasp that Mexico has very strict anti-drugs legislation, yet El Chapo is able to come and go as he pleases and run his huge business without let or hindrance.

As for fighting a war on drugs, the Mexicans and the United States have fought a war on drugs. They lost. El Chapo won. Time to try a new strategy, I reckon. Before another 100,000 die.