Despite the absence of Guzman, murders across Mexico have climbed steadily. In 2018, the first full year since Guzman’s extradition, murders rose 33 percent, breaking the record for a second year running, official data showed.
Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman may end up with a life sentence after a U.S. jury found him guilty of running a criminal enterprise but it looks like business as usual for cartels, hinting to the failure of years of the U.S.-led militarized approach known as the "war on drugs."
Guzman, 61, was found guilty on all 10 charges in federal court in New York after an 11-week trial that revealed the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico’s biggest drug gang. While Guzman has been effectively removed from the drug trade, a former associate has taken over the reins of the cartel, one of many gangs that smuggle drugs from Mexico to the United States.
Largely because of that, the trial has not changed the “rules of war” against the drug trade, security analyst Alejandro Hope said, aside from perhaps scaring cartels into exercising more caution after testimony revealed how law enforcement infiltrated Guzman’s networks.
Among the capos still at large in Mexico is Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada here, Guzman's long-time partner who keeps a low profile and is believed to have taken over Sinaloa Cartel operations since Guzman's capture in 2016.
“Beyond the process that’s underway in the courts in New York, we have the firm goal of getting to truth,” she said at a press conference, after being questioned by Valdez’s wife.
However, recently-elected Mexican President Manuel Lopez Obrador is attempting a new approach to Mexico’s drug cartel problem. He has said that more than a decade of war against drug traffickers is officially over, and is exploring a crop substitution for illicit crops, relaxing prohibition and amnesties for low-level drug dealers and farmers.
“There haven’t been any capos arrested, because it’s not our main purpose,” Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, told a recent press conference. “What we’re looking for is safety, to lower the number of daily homicides.”
He has not entirely turned his back on using soldiers to tackle violence stemming from drugs. He also plans to create a new militarized National Guard police force and is sending troops and federal police to help pacify some of the most dangerous districts.
Trial testimony against Guzman drew attention to allegations of corruption and million-dollar bribes doled out to government officials.
The trial also brought to light testimony accusing Guzman’s sons of murdering prominent Mexican journalist Javier Valdez over his coverage of cartel infighting in Guzman’s home turf state, Sinaloa.
Interior Minister Olga Sanchez said the government intended to hold accountable those responsible for plotting the murder.
The government has registered more than 250,000 homicides since Mexico launched an aggressive war on cartels in 2006. A report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service last year estimated 150,000 of those deaths were tied to organized crime.