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El Chapo’s imprisonment doesn’t slow ‘booming’ US-Mexico drug trade, report says

James Leggate

Mexican drug cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is serving a life-plus-30-years sentence in Colorado, but has his high-profile arrest slowed the market for illegal drugs?

No, according to an article by Luis Gómez Romero in The Conversation.

“El Chapo’s downfall hasn’t reduced the availability, price, use or lethality of currently illegal drugs,” he wrote.

Prosecutors said that Guzman, 62, led the Sinaloa cartel for 25 years. Federal drug data also don’t show any signs of a slow-down following Guzman’s arrest. The percentage of college-age adults using marijuana daily continued to rise before and after Guzman was captured, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Daily marijuana use among teenagers has remained steady. Overdose deaths, caused by prescription opioids and illicit drugs, rose dramatically in 2016 and 2017.

Authorities in New York even found heroin that was branded “El Chapo” during a raid earlier this month.

“Though El Chapo has been the leader and architect, ‘cutting off the head of the snake’ does not always kill the snake,” Michael Balbone, former New York State Homeland Security advisor, told FOX Business last year.

Guzman has said that the cartel’s business didn’t slow down during a previous period he spent behind bars — before he escaped from prison in 2015. He told Sean Penn in an interview that the business would “never end.”

There’s still a high demand for illegal drugs, Gómez Romero wrote. The Sinaloa cartel reportedly distributes drugs in 50 countries, so there’s a large market available to them.

It can also be a very lucrative business. United Nations data cited by Gómez Romero show how the wholesale price for a gram of cocaine more-than-doubles by the time it reaches the U.S. from Mexico, with retail prices being even higher.

As recently as 2012, the DEA estimated the Sinaloa cartel controlled as much as 60 percent of Mexico’s drug trade and had $3 billion in annual earnings.


During Guzman’s sentencing last week, he was ordered to forfeit $12.6 billion, the estimated total of his fortune. But officials haven’t actually been able to find any of that money, according to his attorney, Mariel Colon Miro.

Drug cartels have been moving some of their money into other areas, including semi-legal ones like mining, The Washington Post reported. Gladys McCormick, a professor at Syracuse University and expert on Mexico’s political violence, told the newspaper last week that cartels have taken a note from multinational corporations and moved to horizontal leadership structures.

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