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Sunday, January 17, 2010

U.S., Mexico Hunt Elusive 'El Chapo'

Rival drug kingpin captured.

The Washignton Times

Mexico City - As Mexican authorities make huge strides against some of the nation's most deadly and violent drug cartels, U.S. authorities say there is one senior crime boss they want to put out of business — "El Chapo."

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman — nicknamed "Shorty" in Spanish for his stature — is still Mexico's No. 1 problem, despite President Felipe Calderon's aggressive stance against the drug cartels, which has led to the death of a top crime boss this past month, and Tuesday's capture of cartel czar Teodoro Garcia Simental, known as "El Tio" — "the Uncle" — in the beach town of La Paz, Mexico.

Garcia is said to be responsible for the gruesome killings of more than 300 people, many of whom he disposed of in vats of acid.

However, Guzman, a rival of Garcia and head of Mexico's top Sinoloa cartel, has still eluded authorities in both nations.

Several U.S. law-enforcement officials and Michael Braun, former assistant administrator and chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said in an interview that Guzman's days are numbered. They say he is being trapped into a corner by aggressive joint operations between Mexico and the U.S. and expect his capture soon.

"We're aggressively going after El Chapo," Mr. Braun said. "I'll make a prediction that he'll be captured within 90 days."

Violence in Mexico has escalated to extreme proportions, U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement officials said. Last year, there was an estimated 6,500 drug-related killings, which included nearly 400 beheadings. By the end of December, the border town of Ciudad Juarez held the record for the highest number of killings, with more than 2,500 slayings.

"If the government of Mexico could find 'Shorty,'" said another U.S. law-enforcement official with knowledge of cartel operations in Mexico, "it would go a long way with the U.S. as a solid political statement and commitment. We'll have to wait and see."

Like other cartel members, Guzman is known for his violent crimes, ranging from beheadings to dismemberment and torture. His connections and bribery extend deep into Mexico's federal government, according to numerous U.S. law-enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"Calderon should be congratulated for what he's already done," one of the U.S. officials said. "Still, the question is 'why haven't they captured El Chapo?'" He claimed El Chapo has eluded the net by bribing Mexican federal officials and judges.

DEA spokesman Michael Sanders said that while Guzman is at the top of the agency's list for capture, the DEA is not solely focused on him, but on numerous other drug cartel czars who have plagued Mexico and the U.S. with violence.

"We would love to see him out of business," Mr. Sanders said. "We are pursuing him, but it's not our single focus."

According to a second U.S. official, Tuesday's arrest of Garcia was an example of better and closer cooperation between U.S. and Mexican officials.

"We provided intelligence to Mexico and worked in conjunction with Mexican law enforcement to arrest El Tio," the U.S. official with knowledge of the operation said. "It's what we're doing now with Guzman."

Mr. Braun said Guzman's violence of late has taken on new levels. On Friday, Mexican officials confirmed the death of 36-year-old Hugo Hernandez, who was cut into seven pieces and left in Los Mochis, with a note to members of the Juarez cartel that said, "Happy New Year, because this will be your last."

Mr. Braun, who said he has seen the photo of the victim, said members of the Sinaloa cartel skinned Hernandez's face and stitched it onto a soccer ball.

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