On February 22nd, the details of the arrest of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán were slow to emerge. The notorious leader of the Sinaloa Federation, the largest and most powerful drug cartel in Mexico, had been on the run from authorities for 13 years.
Word was that he was paying his bodyguards and corrupt police at last $1 million per month to keep his whereabouts secret, and for a long time it worked.
However over the weekend, his luck ran out. Guzmán grew tired of being holed up in his mountain sanctuary and started becoming more lax in his security protocols. Mexican authorities were hot on his tail in the city of Culiacán, but he managed to escape through a series of tunnels under various buildings. Then he fled to the resort area of Mazatlán, where he was captured in a hotel room without a shot being fired, seemingly unaware that the Mexican marines were upon him.
So how did the Mexican military finally find him after all this time? Multiple media reports said the operation was in the works for several weeks, and that the DEA intercepted phone calls from a satellite phone Guzmán used during this time. Unconfirmed reports indicate the number of that satellite phone was derived from the arrest of the son of El Chapo’s partner, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. US officials have also confirmed that American drones were used for surveillance operations in Culiacán: “The US surveillance drone was used for two weeks between mid-January and mid-February to back up a massive operation in the northwestern city of Culiacán, a US government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.”
The key statement in this story—and also the one most likely to stir up controversy—is this: “[The drone] had been deployed in Culiacán to corroborate other intelligence and that Mexico’s military had authorized its use.” As soon as this information was published, Twitter erupted with claims that the use of U.S. drones in Mexico violated that nation’s constitution, and it was also a violation of Mexico’s sovereignty. It turns out that both of these statements are doubtful.
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