Mexico's Arrests Highlight Uncertainty of Change

October 20, 2016

In a country that has been battling extreme drug-related violence in a seemingly endless war, mixed opinions regarding the government’s action parallel the uncertainty that surrounds the country’s future. “El regreso del Chapo,” a narcocorrido sung by El Komander begins with the following idolization of one of Mexico’s most infamous perpetrators, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Lorea:

“No hay chapo que no sea bravo"

Así lo dice el refrán

otra vez se ha comprobado

con el Chapito Guzmán,

que pasó por Puente Grande*

porque iba pa' Culiacán.

* La cárcel de donde escapó Joaquín Guzmán en Jalisco1


“There is no chapo (shorty) that is not brave”

That is how the saying goes

again it has been proven

with the Chapito Guzmán

who passed through Puente Grande*

because he was going to Culiacán.

*The prison in Jalisco from which Joaquín Guzmán escaped

In late February, police forces arrested El Chapo, who was the head of the Sinaloa Cartel. In mid March, the founder of the cartel Knights Templar, Nazario Moreno González, was killed. Other important cartel leaders have been captured or killed over the past few months as vigilante and police forces continue to fight in the drug war.2

Although some may see these arrests as a step in the right direction, others take to the streets protesting the government’s actions. After El Chapo was captured, over 1,000 people marched in protest of his imprisonment. They carried signs with phrases such as, “We love El Chapo and respect him more than any law.”3 This statement resonates with some as reminiscent of the public sentiment expressed toward drug lord Pablo Escobar. Despite the fact that Escobar's cartel violently ruled Medellín, he was seen as a Robin Hood-like figured that provided for the poor in ways that the government did not. Because of this, many mourned his death as a hero who had helped the people of Colombia. Similarly, Mexicans demand the liberation of El Chapo so that he can control violence in Sinaloa. El Chapo provided jobs for some who live in the mountains and his presence prevents rival cartels from attacking residents of Sinaloa.3

Nazario Moreno González was also seen as a protector of the people. The Knights Templar was known for trafficking methamphetamine to the United States. This cartel leader forbade the sale and use of this drug in his territory in Michoacan.2 This action similarly turned Moreno González into a local hero, one who adhered to his own moral code. Once again, his death brings uncertainty as to whether or not the violence situation in Mexico will improve with the absence of these ruling drug lords.

Since El Chapo’s arrest over a month ago, it appears as though the situation in Mexico has seen little change. Cartel leaders can be quickly replaced by those who are second in command, continuing the cycle of trafficking. As shown by the cases of Guzmán and Moreno González, these arrests may be nothing more than symbolic. Many cartel leaders provide for the poor populations of their territories, becoming idols in the eyes of the people. Officials believe that by taking down these idols they may diminish the air of mysticism that surrounds these leaders. However, those who are ignored by the government quickly find a new protector.

About 30 years ago, Pablo Escobar gained popularity for his enrichment of the poor communities of Medellín. Today, El Chapo Guzmán brings protesters to the streets to free their protector and employment supplier. Clearly although times have changed, the cycle has not. Individual leaders of cartels continue to be targeted and continue to be replaced, reflected by the lack of change in drug trafficking and related violence.

Perhaps instead, the government should be focusing on changing policies that pay more attention to the factors that allow drug traffickers to flourish. By providing the impoverished with proper resources and education, these populations may not need to rely on the support of cartel leaders. The government should also fight corruption, at both local and federal levels that leads to police collaboration with cartels. Through giving the people the support and protection that they seek, the government may begin to make strides in reducing violence and trafficking. This will not be achieved simply by targeting individual cartel leaders, but rather must be approached at a larger, more inclusive level.



1) “Los narcocorridos que idolatran al ‘Chapo’ Guzmán.” Infobae América. Infobae. 25 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

2) Fausset, Richard. “In life, Mexican cartel boss was revered as saint.” Los Angeles Times. Tribune Newspaper. 10 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.,0,2313192.story?page=2#axzz2x50EFEBQ

3) Hastings, Deborah. “Hundreds march in Mexico for release of drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.” Daily News. NY Daily News. 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.


About Author(s)

Madeline Townsend's picture
Madeline Townsend
Madeline is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is pursuing a degree in Spanish and Global Studies, with a focus on the Latin American region. She plans to present an honors thesis on visual representations of the internal conflict that occurred in Peru between 1980 and 2000. She also studies Portuguese and Film Studies as minors and works as one of the Panoramas interns.