Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán’s second stint in prison lasted just over 16 months. Captured in Sinaloa in February 2014, El Chapo was the crowning achievement in a “kingpin” strategy that the Mexican government has been pursuing against the cartels.  According to the “kingpin” strategy, taking out the leaders of the cartels is supposed to reduce their effectiveness and erode them to the point of paralysis.

The exact opposite has happened, as the cartels have simply atomized, forming smaller, more discreet groups that are harder to combat (though some of this may simply be a beneficial–to the cartels–byproduct of infighting, the fact remains that the atomized, cellular organization that is increasingly adopted by guerrilla and terrorist organizations is much more resilient than a hierarchical setup, a fact that the cartels appear to be taking advantage of).  Now the strategy, and the political capital that President Peña Nieto has hoped to build up from the capture of El Chapo, La Tuta, and Z42, have received a massive black eye.

At 2052 on Saturday, July 11, video surveillance observed El Chapo entering the shower enclosure in his cell in the Centro Federal de Readaptación Social núm 1, “Altiplano,” the maximum security prison where he was sent following his 2014 arrest.  That was the last he was seen.  Guards entering the cell found a 50cm by 50cm hole in the floor of the shower area, opening on a 10m ladder that led down into a tunnel.  The tunnel led 1.5 kilometers out of the prison to a farming area in the Santa Juanita area, southwest of the prison.

According to Borderland Beat, locals were hired to make the excavation, and said they were paid very well.  The tunnel exit was disguised by building a house over it, which locals report was built in about three months.  Tunnelling is nothing new; the Japanese Army tunnelled like moles, as did the Vietcong and the NVA.  The US/Mexican border is riddled with narco smuggling tunnels.  A very similar prison break, albeit freeing 500 prisoners instead of just one, happened in Kandahar in 2011.  The Kandahar prison breakers even started their tunnel camouflaged by a house, just like the Sinaloan narcos who sprang El Chapo.