The Capture of El Chapo

Mexico’s president announced the arrest of the head of the Sinaloa cartel, who escaped from prison last July.

Eduardo Verdugo / AP

This post was updated on January 8 at 3:36 p.m. ET

Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the Mexican drug lord, has been captured, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced on Twitter.

That translates to “Mission accomplished: We got him. I want to inform Mexicans that Joaquin Guzman Loera has been arrested.”

Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa cartel, escaped from the maximum-security Altiplano Federal Prison prison last July after stepping into a shower and slipping into a tunnel.

Details of his capture have not yet been made public. But his brazen escape in July, just a year after his arrest, embarrassed Mexican authorities and launched a multi-nation manhunt for one of the most notorious drug lords in the world.

Here’s what we said at the time of his escape:

For Guzman—known as “El Chapo” because of his short stature—the escape adds another chapter to an almost mythical life. Born and raised in rural poverty, the 58-year-old rose to become the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, a $3 billion drug trafficking empire that now controls 25 percent of all marijuana, cocaine, and heroin imported into the United States. Mexican authorities initially captured El Chapo in Guatemala in 1993—only to see him escape from prison through a laundry cart eight years later. Despite his complicity in untold death and misery, the escape from authority had turned El Chapo  into an unlikely “Robin Hood” figure, a man whose exploits were portrayed in books, film, and popular music.

The U.S. had requested El Chapo’s extradition days before the drug lord’s escape. Consequently, the escape spawned a cottage industry in conspiracy theories, as Ginger Thompson wrote in The Atlantic last July. According to one of those theories, he was allowed to escape by the government to restore order in the world of Mexican drugs. Here’s more:

They pointed to what’s been happening in his absence. The levels of drug violence in Mexico have begun to surge. An ascendant cartel, known as Jalisco Nueva Generacion (the New Generation Jalisco), has launched breathtaking attacks against security forces and public officials. Led by yet another ruthless killer named Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes, the cartel has set up armed roadblocks to search cars driving into and out of some of the most important cities in central Mexico, in order to keep out its rivals. And when authorities have attempted to stop the organization’s members, they’ve fought back with some serious firepower. A spectacular rocket attack earlier this year downed a military helicopter, and a rampage against Mexican police left 15 officers dead in a day.

Although such theories strain credulity, Thompson wrote, the escape hurt U.S.-Mexican cooperation on counternarcotics efforts.

“I think the relationship has been set back 10 years,” an American agent told her. “If we can’t trust them to keep Chapo in jail,” he wondered, “then how can we trust them on anything?”

This is a developing story and we’ll update it when we learn more.