On the 13th of February 2014 The Mexican Marines and the DEA began the chase of Joaquin Guzmàn Loera, also known as El Chapo (Shorty). Houses were raided in the state of Sinaloa and important members of the Sinaloa Cartel were apprehended. The chase ended on Saturday the 21st of February, when the powerful ‘capo’ was captured in a hotel room in the city of the seaside town of Mazatlán. He was arrested without a single shot being fired.

El Chapo was first arrested in 2001, but escaped a Mexican prison in a laundry cart and spent the next 13 years ‘on the run’. It is presumed that during this time he still managed to run the Sinaloa Cartel.

One of the richest and most wanted men in the world, El Chapo was captured in a beach resort hotel with his wife and only one bodyguard to assure their safekeeping. Big cheers from the international community followed the arrest, suggesting Peña Nieto’s new government might finally put an end to the widespread bloodshed afflicting Mexico.

The glory doesn’t end there- three weeks later, on Sunday 9th of March, Nazario Moreno Gonzáles, leader of the Caballerios Templarios Cartel, whose grip on the state of Michoacán has turned increasingly violent since last year, was also tracked down and killed. This turned out to be the second time Gonzáles has died. In 2010, following a two day run in with the Mexican military, government forces claimed that Gonzáles had been shot. His body was never found. 1

The arrests of El Chapo, Nazario and other key cartel members like El Zeta Cuarenta last July, raises many questions. It seems miraculous that after 13 years of eluding capture, El Chapo is arrested without a fight. How is it possible that he wasn’t caught before? How could the previous administration officially declare Nazario dead without having a body? Most important of all: How are these highly publicised arrests and killings counteracting the terrible violence that afflicts Mexico?

Former PAN (Action National Party) president Felipe Calderón launched a military offensive against the drug cartels from 2006 -2012. The strategy was to target the head of the cartels and thus weaken the organizations. The amount of related deaths in this period is between 60,000 and 150,000. 2 No one has an exact number and this is not taking into account the hundreds of missing persons.

When the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) came back into power, president Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration vowed to change this tactic and focus more on crimes like kidnappings and extortion. Just a year later, El Chapo is being paraded in front of the cameras for the whole world to see. Why is all this money and energy being put into something that has failed so catastrophically in the past?

The answer is clear: Mexico needs to have a friendlier business environment and something needs to be seen to be done about the violence, in order to boost tourism and allow international investment to come into the country.

The Times displayed the headline ‘Saving Mexico’ next to a picture of a grand-looking Peña Nieto last month.3 Despite that the article itself outlined that corruption, drugs and violence remain rife within the country, the cover caused outrage in some sectors of the Mexican population, who believe it suggests Peña Nieto will pull Mexico out of the violence it’s submerged in.

While the government is locking up the ‘bad guys’, in Sinaloa, El Chapo’s hometown, marches have taken place calling for his release. Locals say that the economy in the area is heavily reliant on the The Sinaloa Cartel. Without El Chapo many will find it hard to feed their families. Many locals fear that the arrest of El Chapo will allow other, more brutal cartels to gain foothold in the area, such as the Zeta Cartel. Clearly there is a sense that the government is failing to provide employment opportunities or protection in Sinaloa, and the vacuum is filled by Guzman and his Cartel. People from the mountains, where El Chapo himself is from, live in extreme poverty and say that Guzmán is the only one giving them means to survive.4 Despite The Sinaloa Cartel being responsible for thousands of deaths and disappearances, El Chapo is viewed by many as not only as the best of the bad guys but as a real local hero.

What Peña Nieto’s government is doing echoes previous PRI administrations. When Carlos Salinas de Gortari was in power (1988-1994) kingpin Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo was captured without a shot being fired in a restaurant in the city of Guadalajara. This arrest came at the time when Salinas was pushing for the North American Free Trade Agreement to be signed. Later in jail, Gallardo said he used to have regular lunches with the police commissioner who arrested him5. True or not the party deemed as “The Perfect Dictatorship”6 by novelist Mario Vargas Llosa has had a long reputation of being deeply involved with the drug cartels.7

El Chapo’s arrest comes days after Barrack Obama’s and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Mexico. Also a time when Peña Nieto is putting into place reforms like La Reforma Energética, which will allow outside investment to come into the previously nationally owned oil and energy industry. Of all topics discussed, Ukraine seemed to be at top of Obama’s agenda, even though it has nothing to do with the country´s problems. Key issues like immigration and the drug trade were not openly discussed, although Obama did refer to the sacrifice of Mexican people8 concerning the drug related violence. This indicates an awareness of Mexico’s problems without referencing them directly.

The high profile arrests or killings of prominent cartel members may attempt to send a message about who is in control and make the country investment friendly. However, they do little to alter the reality of many Mexicans living in poverty and fear. As a PRI spokesman said himself “…there is always a new kingpin to replace the last”9 .
In the state of Michoacán violence has escalated to unsustainable levels. In January of this year civilian self-defence groups took up in arms to defend their homes10. Acapulco, known for its glamorous nightlife and beaches, is deemed as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.11Morelos, Mexico City’s neighbouring state recorded 12 murders in only one weekend.12 House robberies, extortion and gender related violence are also nasty side effects of the drug violence. Old PRI tactics of creating smoke screens while the country falls apart are an insult to the population in the face of the amount of loss many have had to endure in recent years. If Peña Nieto and PRI are serious about making real change in Mexico, perhaps it´s time for open discussion about changing drug legislation, perhaps too bold a move for a party that is seen by many to be as much a part of the problem as those they are fighting against.