What would possess the leader of a country that has been ground zero in the long-standing bloody war involving competing drug cartels to empathize with the man who led a global criminal enterprise of murder and mayhem?
Given that drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman twice escaped from Mexican prisons with the help of prison guards, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s empathy does raise eyebrows.
Last week, Guzman was sentenced to life behind bars plus 30 years at USP Florence Admax, a supermax lockup in Colorado. It has been dubbed the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”
According to The Independent newspaper of Britain, Mexican President Obrador characterized the sentence handed down in a Brooklyn federal courtroom as “inhumane.” He contended that serving time in a “hostile jail” is “hard” and made life no longer worth living.
It’s interesting that the Mexican leader’s sympathetic tone serves to bolster the drug lord’s complaints about conditions behind bars.
During his sentencing, Guzman said, “I drink unsanitary water, no air or sunlight, and the air pumped in makes my ears and throat hurt. This has been psychological, emotional and mental torture 24 hours a day.”
Only the most na Øve or the most corrupt would be moved by El Chapo’s complaints. He is singularly responsible for countless deaths in the drug wars he waged against other cartels, and for the many lives lost to the scourge of drug addiction.
There can be no sympathy for a man who was as much a terrorist as Osama bin Laden, head of the al-Qaida terror organization and mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. Almost 3,000 people were killed when jetliners commandeered by terrorists slammed into the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
It is, therefore, appropriate that El Chapo will be spending the rest of his life in the supermax prison that is home to the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Terry Nichols, who was convicted of being an accomplice in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
EL CHAPO’S BLOOD MONEY
With the drug lord behind bars, prosecutors are rightly turning their attention to the blood money he amassed during his tenure as the world’s leading pusher.
According to the Observer newspaper of Britain, a 12-page document on forfeiture submitted by prosecutors shows the following: El Chapo’s products in the U.S. were worth $12,666,101,794.
“Forfeiture is part of a sentence,” said Dunkin Levin, the former head of anti-money laundering for the Manhattan district attorney’s office. “If there are assets in the U.S., they can go after those assets.”
Levin told the newspaper that a U.S. law from 1957 provides for any asset partly funded by criminal money to be seized in its entirety.
“The way they did business was very pervasive,” he said.
But Levin suggested that “the vast bulk of assets are likely in Mexico” and the search for them “would be greatly helped by working with the Mexican government.”
However, the existing tensions between the U.S. and Mexico due to the Trump administration’s immigration policies make cooperation an iffy proposition.
Indeed, President Obrador’s empathy for El Chapo could well be prompted by the disdain the government in Mexico City has for President Donald Trump and his administration.
While the court heard mostly about movements of cash by Guzman’s operatives, Levin contended prosecutors could examine other channels. He pointed to “the black market Peso exchange … for example: pre-paid debit cards, so all you have to smuggle is a piece of plastic in your wallet, loaded with millions of dollars.” Or, there are “goods”: A person buys several thousand computers and exports them. The money comes from their sale in Mexico.
But while one of the most-wanted characters in the international drug trade is now in a supermax prison serving a life sentence, there’s still the nagging question: Will El Chapo call on members of his vast criminal enterprise to help him escape?
With the kind of wealth Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico possesses, the impossible certainly becomes possible.
The two maximum-security prison breaks –in 2015 and 2001 – are proof of that old saying, “Everyone has a price; the challenge is to find out what it is and then to be able to pay it.”
We find it inconceivable that El Chapo has decided to live out the rest of his life in silent despair.