The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) believes Mexico's fugitive drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is likely hiding out in his home state of Sinaloa, as it offers him the best chance to avoid detection -- and return to power atop the Sinaloa Cartel.
DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg told EFE that Sinaloa "is where [El Chapo] would feel safest," since "he has his family and his contacts there." However, a DEA spokesperson said the US government has no concrete evidence Guzman is still in Mexico, reported EFE.
Still, Rosenberg is right to point out that Chapo -- who was born in the Sinaloan mountain town of La Tuna and began his criminal career planting poppy and marijuana crops in the surrounding area as a teenager -- would feel most comfortable either operating or seeking refuge in Sinaloa. What's more, the behavior of other high-level criminal operators wanted by authorities also supports Rosenberg's theory.
Many of Chapo's contemporaries in the region have chosen to stick close to their home territory when pursued by authorities, rather than fleeing abroad. In 2013, former Zetas leader Miguel Treviño, alias "Z-40," was captured in Nuevo Laredo, his long-time base of operations. Likewise, in 2010 Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, alias "Mono Jojoy," a central figure in the drug trafficking operations of Colombian guerrilla group the FARC, was killed in a guerrilla stronghold in Colombia's Meta department.
A more recent parallel is Dario Antonio Usuga, alias "Otoniel," head of the Urabeños drug trafficking organization and currently Colombia's most wanted criminal. Despite significant efforts and resources deployed by the Colombian government, the former EPL guerrilla is believed to be operating out of his home base of Uraba in northwest Colombia.
Taking refuge in Sinaloa would also provide El Chapo with the best opportunity to reclaim his position as the head the Sinaloa Cartel. A number of Sinaloa Cartel operatives are suspected of residing in Sinaloa, including cartel heavyweight Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias "El Mayo," and it is where El Chapo could have the most control over drug trafficking operations.
SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile
Nonetheless, El Chapo may yet present a unique case. Due to the extensive criminal networks Guzman built throughout Latin America on his way to becoming arguably the most prolific drug trafficker of all time, he may find other countries in the region -- most likely those comprising Central America's Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala) -- as a more attractive landing spot.
Chapo Planning Narco-Meeting?
Meanwhile, former DEA agent Hector Berrellez has also made headlines for his recent remarks about what Chapo could be planning since his dramatic jailbreak in early July. Berrellez told Mexican news outlet Reporte Indigo that he believes Chapo will meet with his former boss and legendary Mexican crime figure Rafael Caro Quintero, who is also suspected of hiding out in Sinaloa.
"To me, they are going to meet; that is, if they haven't already met up," Berrellez told Reporte Indigo.
According to Berrellez, Guzman worked as a "sicario," or hired killer, for the now-defunct Guadalajara Cartel, which Caro Quintero co-founded. On orders from Caro Quintero, Guzman participated in the murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena in 1985, Berrellez claimed.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Chapo
Caro Quintero was imprisoned in 1989 for drug trafficking, murder, and his role in the killing of Camarena. However, the kingpin was never sent to face justice in the United States, and US-Mexico relations surrounding extradition have been strained ever since. In many ways, the controversy over El Chapo's extradition -- which began as soon as he was captured in February 2014 -- is a result of the legal proceedings that took place decades ago regarding Camarena's case.
Caro Quintero's early release from prison in 2013 on a technicality was heavily criticized by the United States, and further strained relations between the two countries.
More Conspiracy Theories
While past and current DEA officials have been hypothesizing about Chapo's whereabouts, the Mexican public remains skeptical about the government's version of how the drug lord escaped from prison.
One popular theory states El Chapo fled prison after being tipped off about an impending extradition order to the United States. This theory was recently given further credence when El Chapo's lawyer stated the drug lord escaped when he did because he feared extradition. However, this seems unlikely given that experts believe the tunnel Chapo used to escape took months to build.
Other theories accuse the Mexican government of releasing Chapo as part of a pre-arranged deal or in order to negotiate with other Mexican drug lords. Berrellez also claimed El Chapo enjoyed protection from the Mexican government, pointing out that authorities failed to seize any of his assets during the 16 months they had him in custody.
No matter the validity of these theories, they speak to the profound distrust Mexicans have of their government, and even recapturing El Chapo might not be enough to win it back.