The escape of the world’s most-wanted drug lord from a maximum-security prison in Mexico isn’t a moment to celebrate and gloat over for most people.
But most people aren’t Donald Trump.
The billionaire real estate developer turned reality TV personality turned Republican presidential candidate has been outspoken in recent days over security issues along the US-Mexico border. In a speech officially launching his campaign last month, Mr. Trump criticized undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “killers.”
“They’re bringing drugs,” Trump added. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Other Republican contenders for the presidential nomination rushed to denounce his comments and distance themselves from his rhetoric, but Trump has since doubled down. This weekend, he used the escape of drug lord Joaquin Guzman – also known as “El Chapo” – to illustrate his fears over drugs and crime flooding unchecked into the United States from Mexico.
In a series of tweets Sunday night and Monday morning, Trump played the “I told you so” card in reference to the prison break, adding that the media should apologize to him.
Guzman’s escape is also a serious moment for the North American war on drugs and US-Mexico relations. Considered by many to be the world’s richest and most powerful drug trafficker, he apparently escaped down a shaft from his prison cell’s shower area late on Saturday night and escaped through a mile-long tunnel.
The escape route was allegedly built over the course of a year right under authorities’ noses and featured ventilation, lighting and a motorcycle used to move dirt.
A widespread manhunt is underway, but as of Monday morning there was no trace of Guzman. The scale and sophistication of the escape have raised suspicions that employees inside the prison knew of the escape plan, and could add to friction between the US and Mexico. America has spent over $1 billion on joint efforts to battle organized crime cartels, as the Mexican government has made efforts to prosecute drug lords in domestic courts and house them in Mexican prisons.
The Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has made the domestic prosecution of drug lords a point of national pride. The president has been criticized in other areas – including over a lackluster economy, spending scandals, and the abduction and murder of 43 college students in September last year – and his successes battling the cartels has been one of a few bright spots in his presidency and a rare instance of fulfilling a campaign promise.
Most of the top leaders of the country’s biggest cartels – like the Zetas, the Beltran Leyva, and the Knights Templar – have been arrested or killed under his administration. Guzman’s arrest in February 2014 was arguably the crowning moment, and as with many of his other big arrests, Peña Nieto declined to extradite him to the US – despite the fact the Sinaloa cartel boss had escaped Mexico’s only other maximum-security prison 13 years earlier.
In an interview after Guzman’s arrest last year, the president said that allowing him to escape again would be “unforgiveable.” His attorney general at the time, Jesús Murillo Karam, said the possibility of another Guzman escape “does not exist."
Extraditions from Mexico to the US peaked at 115 in 2012, the last year of Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderon. There were 66 extraditions last year, according to a May report from the Congressional Research Service.
If Guzman is not recaptured, “all the accolades that Mexico has received in their counter-drug efforts will be erased by this one event,” said Michael S. Vigil, a retired US Drug Enforcement Administration, in an interview with the Associated Press.
Trump’s comments, meanwhile, have been emphatically debunked by a series of fact-checkers from various publications.
A report from the Congressional Research Service concluded that “the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants do not fit in the category that fits Trump’s description: aggravated felons, whose crimes include murder, drug trafficking or illegal trafficking of firearms,” the Washington Post reported.
The American Immigration Council also reported that, based on analysis of data from the FBI, US Census Bureau and other agencies, “immigrants are less likely than the native-born to engage in either violent or nonviolent ‘antisocial’ behaviors.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.