Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera’s escape through a hole in the shower from the maximum security Altiplano prison outside Mexico City in July was more than a major embarrassment for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration. The elaborate escape through a roughly 1-mile tunnel also offered a stark demonstration that the world’s top drug lord wields so much power that Mexican authorities are incapable of stopping him.
Though Guzmán’s name is well-known, it can be difficult to conceptualize the power of the slippery figure who has escaped from maximum security jails twice. Here’s one map that makes clear just how massive Guzmán’s operation is.
This map is taken from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s most recent intelligence report, published in July, outlining the areas of U.S. influence of Mexico’s largest drug cartels. The orange and light-orange chunks covering nearly the entire map, including Alaska and Hawaii, represent the areas of the United States where Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel is the dominant Mexican cartel controlling the illegal trade.
Estimates of the size of the U.S. drug market vary and are generally unreliable, but the RAND Corporation estimated that Mexican marijuana accounted for between 40 to 67 percent of all the weed smoked in the United States in 2008. Today, that figure has almost certainly declined with the legalization of medical or recreational marijuana in several states, but Mexican cartels remain an important distributor in the United States.
At the same time, Mexican cartels -- most prominently Sinaloa -- have since the 1990s also come to dominate cocaine distribution to the U.S. from South America, and play an increasingly prominent role in heroin distribution as well. A 2014 New Yorker article estimated that Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel brought in as much as half of the illegal drugs imported to the United States.
Some 19.8 million Americans smoked weed in 2013, while 1.5 million used cocaine and another 681,000 used heroin, according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. A sizable group of them purchased a Sinaloa cartel product.
“‘El Chapo’ Guzmán is without a doubt one of, if not the most, dangerous men in the world,” a DEA spokesman told The Huffington Post. “He’s responsible for the death of thousands of Mexican citizens and all the violence that goes along with drug trafficking.”
Mexican authorities say Guzmán is currently hiding somewhere in the mountains of the states of Sinaloa or Durango, but he shook off efforts by the Mexican military to recapture him last month. The DEA has issued a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
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