Tunnel Escape

Mexican drug lord escapes via tunnel

In an incredibly well planned and executed project, Mexico's most powerful drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, escaped from a maximum security prison through a 1,5-kilometre tunnel from the shower area of his cell to a house under construction.

The elaborate, ventilated tunnel built allegedly without the detection of authorities allowed Guzman to do what Mexican officials promised would never happen after his re-capture from a previous escape last year – to slip out of the country's most secure penitentiary for the second time.

A manhunt began immediately for Guzman, the head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, which has an international reach and is believed to control most of the major crossing points for drugs at the US border with Mexico. Roads were being heavily patrolled by Federal Police with numerous checkpoints and a Blackhawk helicopter flying overhead. Flights were also suspended at Toluca airport near the penitentiary in the state of Mexico, and civil aviation hangars were being searched. Eighteen employees from various part of the Altiplano prison 90km west of Mexico City were taken in for questioning.

Guzman was last seen in the shower area of his cell, then disappeared from the prison's security camera surveillance network. Upon checking his cell, authorities found it empty and a 50-by-50cm hole under the shower.

It was difficult to believe that such an elaborate structure could have been built without the detection of authorities. The tunnel started in a house under construction in a neighbourhood near the prison and surfaced with amazing accuracy under Guzman’s shower. Guzman descended by ladder into a shaft 10m deep that connected to a tunnel about 1,7m high that was fully ventilated and equipped with a motorcycle on tracks apparently used to move 4 000 tonnes of excavated material.

Guzman is well known for the elaborate tunnels his cartel has built underneath the Mexico-U.S. border to transport cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana, with ventilation, lighting and even railcars to easily move products. The escape route apparently was built over the last year right under authorities' noses into a supposedly escape-proof prison cell. The bold and well-engineered escape also illustrates that simply capturing such a powerful figure without dismantling his financial network is insufficient.

During his first stint 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.

US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement that "we share the government of Mexico's concern regarding the escape of Joaquin Guzman," adding that "the US government stands ready to work with our Mexican partners to provide any assistance that may help support his swift recapture." All the accolades that Mexico has received in their counter-drug efforts will be erased by this one event if Guzman is not recaptured. At the time of publishing this August edition of ProjectPro eNews Guzman was still on the run.

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