After a series of trials this past February, the notorious Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was finally sentenced to life in prison with an additional thirty years this past Wednesday. On top of the time he needs to serve, the court ordered the infamous drug lord to pay $12.6 billion in forfeiture. Referred to as the “ruthless bloodthirsty leader of the Sinaloa cartel” by prosecutors, Chapo headed one of the largest narcotic criminal enterprises in the world and earned a fortune in “blood money.” Throughout the trial, El Chapo’s history of escaping from prison weighed heavily on the minds of the prosecutors, and he is likely to serve his time in the super maximum-security prison called the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” in Florence, Colorado.
El Chapo’s Flight and Fight with the Law
The hunt for El Chapo began in the early ‘90s after he was indicted on two separate charges in both Tucson and in San Diego. Guzman first broke out of a federal prison in 2001 by allegedly hiding himself in the bottom of a laundry cart, and ran from authorities for almost thirteen years before being apprehended at a beachfront condominium in Mazatlan, Mexico. His second escape hit headlines after a sophisticated tunnels leading to the shower in his prison cell was discovered.
Considered a folk hero by many in the Sinaloa region, El Chapo was able to dodge authorities until finally being caught in a wiretap operation that undermined the entirety of the Sinaloa cartel’s operations. He finally stood trial this past November in New York, with a mountain of evidence looming over him and all but assuring his impending conviction, which came to fruition in February. Guzman’s attorney Mariel Colon plans on filing for an appeal to the court, but even with an appeal it is very unlikely that El Chapo will appear. That means that if the appeal is not successful, the sentencing will be the very last time the public sees Guzman.
A Small Victory in the Bigger Battle
Although El Chapo’s sentencing is a highly symbolic victory in the fight against drug trafficking and the drug crisis, the reality is that his conviction and sentencing is likely not going to make any difference in the illegal drug trade in the United States and Mexico. The sentencing has made headlines in Mexico, but since El Chapo’s second capture in January 2016 there has been little to no change in the political corruption and drug trade emanating in the country. The same can be said for narcotics trafficking in the U.S.– although the Sinaloa cartel and El Chapo were responsible for bringing in “an ocean of illegal drugs” into the country, the much larger issue of drug abuse and dependency must be addressed.
For many people like El Chapo, trafficking narcotics can be seen as a lucrative business due to the demand for opiates as a result of the opioid epidemic that has swept the nation. Although steps have been taken to prevent the rates overdose from rising, more must be done to prevent overprescription, overuse, and dependence on opioids and opiates. For many people, the cheapest and easiest alternatives to prescription opioids are illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl– and as long as there is a demand for these drugs, there will be parasites like Guzman preying on those suffering from the disease of addiction.