American and Mexican law enforcement officials are elated over Friday’s arrest of drug cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán Loera nearly six months after he escaped from prison (for the second time).
Better known by the moniker El Chapo, Guzmán recently told Rolling Stone that his organization supplies “more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world.”
But even the U.S. government admits that putting Guzmán back behind bars won’t do anything to stop the flow or availability of illegal drugs. That’s the conclusion of a secret federal memo leaked by the hacker group LulzSec.
“The removal of key personnel does not have a discernable [sic]impact on drug flows as determined by seizure rates,” reads the 2010 assessment by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Cartel “operations appear to have built in redundancy and personnel that perform specific duties to limit the damage incurred by the removal of any one person,” the memo says.
Over the period of one year, the agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, analyzed data on drug seizures “to determine if the arrest or death of key personnel had a direct impact on the flow of U.S.-bound drugs.”
“This research indicates that there is no perceptible pattern that correlates either a decrease or increase in drug seizures due to the removal of key [cartel] personnel… There was no change in the seizure rates when a key [cartel] member was arrested or killed.”
That’s not a particularly shocking finding to anyone who has paid attention to the continual widespread availability of illegal substances no matter how many arrests law enforcement make in the war on drugs. But it should give pause to any politicians or journalists who would tout Chapo’s latest arrest as a demonstration of prohibition’s success.
Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel will go on supplying drugs to willing buyers just as it always has.
“By sheer volume alone, drug operations would require more than one individual to coordinate and control the process,” the leaked federal memo notes. “While the continued arrest or death of key [cartel] leadership may have long-term implications as to the control and viability of a specific [cartel], there is no indication it will impact overall drug flows into the United States.”
Worse than being merely ineffective at stopping drugs, busts of cartel leaders often lead to increasingly gruesome levels of violence as lower-level members battle it out to take over the newly-open top spots.
And even if the entire Sinaloa organization were to somehow be wiped out by law enforcement raids, there are several other cartels ready, willing and able to take over its marketshare and supply drugs to those who want to buy them.
As Chapo himself said in a controversial interview with actor Sean Penn, “Drug trafficking does not depend on just one person. It depends on a lot of people… The day I don’t exist, it’s not going to decrease in any way at all.”