‘El Chapo’ has been locked up for 5 years, but business has never been better for the Sinaloa cartel


MEXICO – It’s been five years since Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was arrested for the last time. He’s been in a US “supermax” prison since 2017, serving a life sentence after being found guilty of all 10 federal charges he faced.

But according to official US data, security analysts, and some of his own lawyers, business has never been better for his cartel.

At the time, US authorities said Guzmán’s arrest was “a significant victory and milestone” in combating violence and drug trafficking. Richard Donoghue, a US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said Guzmán would never again “pour poison into our country, or make millions as innocent lives are lost.”

While El Chapo has been portrayed as a guiding force for the infamous Sinaloa cartel, his organization and other criminal groups don’t seem to miss him.

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán in US police custody.
Guzmán arrives in New York on January 17, 2017. Ted Psahos/ICE via Getty Images

According to official figures, since Guzmán’s arrest, the influx of drugs into the US and the violence in Mexico have never been worse.

In fiscal 2016, much of which Guzmán spent behind bars in Mexico, cocaine busts at the border totaled more than 5,000 pounds. In 2017, when he was extradited to the US, that spiked to more than 9,000 pounds, according to figures released by US Customs and Border Protection.

Cocaine seizures in the US jumped from more than 52,000 pounds in 2016 to more than 62,000 pounds the following year. In 2020, 58,006 pounds of cocaine were seized in the US. As of April, the total for 2021 was 62,324 pounds. (US government fiscal years run from October 1 to September 30.)

In 2015, with Guzmán still at large, 29,000 pounds of meth were recovered in the US. Five years later, seizures in the US had jumped to 117,600 pounds.

So if Guzmán is locked up for 23 hours a day in a 7-foot-by-12-foot soundproof cell but drug busts are at an all-time high, what exactly was the point in arresting him?

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