Mexican Kingpin Uses Skills He Honed in the Drug War to Tunnel Out of Prison


Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, former head of the notorious Sinaloa cartel, has apparently tunneled his way out of a maximum-security prison in Mexico and is on the lam, according to the Washington Post.

For the past year and a half, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel had been incarcerated inside the Altiplano, a federal facility set amid farmland west of the capital that holds the top captured drug bosses and has been described as the country's most impenetrable prison.

That all changed late Saturday night, when Guzman slipped out of the prison through a rectangular passage in the shower area of his cell that led to a nearly mile-long tunnel running underneath the prison, according to Mexico's national security commissioner, Monte Alejandro Rubido.

The Mexican and American governments touted the capture of Guzman in 2014 as a major blow to the cartel and a victory in the war on drugs, but his latest escape (he also escaped prison in 2001) is just another example of the incredibly sophisticated nature of their adversaries. As I argued last year after producing a video about the "super drug tunnels" underneath the California-Mexico border, the government and the cartels are in a sort of perpetual arms race:

Decades of experience and improvements in technology have honed the Tunnel Task Force's proficiency at detecting and eliminating tunnels, and Garcia's team has all but stamped out amateurish, unskilled smuggling operations. In this challenging environment, the most sophisticated and well-funded operations have cornered the market and see a bigger and better payout at the end of the proverbial, and literal, tunnel. As a result, the team has discovered numerous so-called "super tunnels" over the past five years: deep, multi-million dollar, professionally constructed tunnels boasting elevator shafts, high-powered ventilation, and even electric trains, possibly making them some of California's first ever profitable rail projects.

That Guzman tunneled out of the prison is particularly interesting given the Sinaloa cartel's history of constructing the super tunnels underneath the border. When I interviewed Joe Garcia, head of the DEA's Tunnel Task Force, last year to discuss the government's ongoing efforts to detect and fill up tunnels, he compared early efforts to playing "whack-a-mole" and emphasized that the government had shifted its strategy towards capturing cartel leaders like Guzman. But this shift tended to create destabilizing effects as rival drug lords vied to fill newly created power vacuums, leading to some of the worst bloodshed in Mexico's history.

Watch the video below for more about the tunnels and El Chapo Guzman.

NEXT: Lenders to Greece: Show Us You Mean It

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Drug war has raged for so long, and people are so economically illiterate, that they cannot view this is an economic issue when it clearly is. They took out the top dogs and competitors rushed to fill the void? Who would have thunk it?

    1. The same people who think that gay people won’t be able to obtain wedding cakes absent the gov tailing on freedom of association.

    2. Agreed. This is not a war against dangerous drugs. It’s a war against the black market and human nature.

      These situations always remind me of socialists. They are so stupid, they think they can rewire humanity to operate the way they think best. But in a much smaller scenario, relative to taking over an entire national economy, we find that government can’t even stop people from dealing in drugs. This is only one industry, and they can’t control the black market.

      Human nature will eventually win out. Which is why socialism fails every time it’s tried.

      1. Not just socialism. I don’t know of a government in world history that shut down a black market with interdiction.

        Or any other method besides legalizing the product being marketed.

        1. The Taliban managed to just about wipe out poppy cultivation in Afghanistan before the US invaded. Don’t know of any other examples.


          1. lol you believe that?

          2. Who told you this? This is bullshit.

            1. They were willing to chop heads over it. Previous regimes in Afghanistan preferred to get their cut of the action.


  2. “Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, former head of the notorious Sinaloa cartel, has apparently tunneled his way out of a maximum-security prison in Mexico and is on the lam.”

    He’s probably headed to San Francisco.

  3. the shower area of his cell


    1. During his first prison stint El Chapo had his associates visit him with suitcases full of money that he used to bribe the guards and prison administrators.

      As a result, his cell was a essentially a luxury apartment with the prison guards as his waitstaff. Would not surprise me if the same thing happened here.

      1. Funny and ironic thing about this: El Chapo escaped from prison once before, and back then the other political party had the Mexican presidency, and the current president, back then, had mocked the party for letting El Chapo escape, and said it would never happen under his watch. And here we are….

        I’m not sure if Guzman getting away will be a major political issue, but certainly puts some egg in the Revolutionary Party’s face just because what the president said back when Guzman escaped the first time.

  4. Ha ha ha.

    Well, this’ll just be ammunition for more summary executions of suspected drug traffickers.…..-shooting/

  5. I rather doubt that Se?or Guzman dug the tunnel by himself, or that his confederates managed it without bribing some officials to look the other way during excavation.

    1. That was my thought as well

    2. Given that he was only arrested I think a few months ago, I was wondering how they even managed to dig the tunnel at all in that amount of time. Seems like a conspiracy theory to peculate that he knew he would end up in that prison, had the tunnel built ahead of time, then bribed an official to give him that specific cell (maybe said he liked the view? lol). How, long would it take to build a tunnel that long?

      1. I’m sure he never personally held a shovel. Guards no doubt escourted him out if not the warden. He’s somewhat of a local hero down there.

  6. They should never have allowed him to have that poster of Salma Hayek.

    1. Mexico has laws against cruelty and denying inmates her lovely visage would be inhumane.

    2. Lol

  7. possibly making them some of California’s first ever profitable rail projects

    Funny then, still funny now.

    1. “What? Without eminent domain and government subsidies?”

  8. ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.

    This is not a real person, right? It’s a cartoon character, it has to be.

    1. Maybe, maybe not, but their prisons seem about as secure as something built to hold comic book villains.

      1. El Arkham.

    2. Reminds of Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, the Triad member Leland Yee hoocked up with.

    3. Top supplier to the Chicago market as well as many others. Quite the character.

  9. Let me see… Cheer for a ‘likely’ murderous head of a criminal organization or a confirmed murdering organization.

    May you find freedom in the jungle daring mammal

  10. So if you take the following players:

    The US government and it’s drug war
    The Mexican government and their authorities
    El Chapo

    How do you really tell who is the bad guy here?

  11. I really don’t know much about the Sinaloa cartel.

    I guess you could say I don’t know shit from Sinaloa.

    1. Well played, sir.

  12. some of California’s first ever profitable rail projects

    Ok, that made me laugh out loud.


  13. Hey, I hate the United States as much as the next libertarian, but shouldn’t the title of this piece be Mexican Kingpin Uses Skills He Honed in the Mexican Drug War to Tunnel Out of Mexican Prison? Or is the U.S. the only country on Earth that outlaws drugs?

  14. I like that they used CFL’s in the tunnel


Please to post comments

Comments are closed.