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Mexico Just Released a 19-Minute Video About El Chapo’s Recapture

The video reveals some previously unseen footage but leaves several questions unanswered about the operation, and contains an embarrassing mistake.

by Jo Tuckman
Jan 28 2016, 12:25am

Imagen vía AP

The Mexican government has released a video laying out the official version of how federal forces tracked down and recaptured drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, six months after he escaped from maximum-security prison.

The 19-minute video — that a source in the attorney general's office said was released on Wednesday as "an exercise in transparency" — provides some previously unseen footage. It also contains contradictions, surprising omissions, and an embarrassing mistake, as well as leaving unanswered a number of questions still hanging over the operations that led to Chapo's arrest three weeks ago.

"It is little more than propaganda," said security expert and former intelligence official Alejandro Hope. "It is trying to send the message that the recapture was the result of a long process, not of luck."

Watch the Mexican government video: Intelligence operations related to the capture of Joaquín Guzmán Loera

Video via PGR

Although titled "Intelligence operations related to the capture of Joaquín Guzmán Loera," the video dedicates more time to the capo's tunnel escape from his cell on July 11 last year than it does to the manhunt launched in his wake.

It provides new details of the methods used to build the tunnel, as well as its special features — such as how motorcycles were adapted to run on rails, and the exact dimensions of the passage. 

The video also features a long list of the things that were later found in Chapo's cell, as well as in the tunnel and the house where it emerged about a mile from the prison.

The objects range from the disposable razor he left in his cell to beer cans in a fridge at the other end of the tunnel. Most have no obvious bearing on the investigation, aside from cigarette butts that the voiceover says led to the identification of El Chapo's brother-in-law as a key person in the escape.

The shorter section on the manhunt itself talks only in general terms about "weeks of operations" in the so-called Golden Triangle region of the Sierra Madre that led to the identification of Chapo's exact location.

Related: Why Chapo's Capture Won't Stop the Flow of Weed, Meth, Cocaine, and Heroin

It does, however, claim that the circle closing around the head of the Sinaloa Cartel prevented him from "returning to the leadership of the criminal organization."

It skirts over the navy operation that almost captured him near the mountain community of Pueblo Nuevo in early October. It does not address the fact that the operation has since been accused of targeting civilians.

Watch the VICE News documentary Displaced in Sinaloa: The Hunt for 'El Chapo':

The video also makes no mention at any point of the involvement of US intelligence and presents the entire process as a completely Mexican operation.

This contrasts with a government statement released in mid-October that credited "the exchange of information with international agencies" for the operation a week earlier that had almost caught El Chapo in the mountains.

The involvement of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA, was also clear the last time Chapo was arrested in February 2014.

One government source said the video was prepared ahead of this week's scheduled appearance of Attorney General Arely Gómez before a congressional committee to answer questions on El Chapo's recapture.

It eliminates the previous importance Gómez gave to the leads she said developed from Chapo's interest in getting a biopic made about his life.

The video also contains no mention of the surveillance of telenovela actress Kate del Castillo who later emerged as the drug lord's key contact for the film project. Nor is there any suggestion that the meeting she brokered between Chapo and actor Sean Penn in early October had any relevance at all, despite earlier official suggestions that it helped to identify his location.

Related: Kate Del Castillo Wanted to Make Tequila With El Chapo

This month's successful operation to recapture the fugitive kingpin in the coastal city of Los Mochis is retold with the help of GoPro footage of a predawn raid on the safehouse where he was staying. The footage had previously been leaked to Mexican media.

The voiceover, meanwhile, says that the house was under surveillance for a month after it was identified as a potential resting place for the capo in the wake of intelligence revealing that he was planning to move to the city. The video says that this information was obtained "towards the end of December," which does not fit with the fact that he was recaptured on January 8.

The slickly-produced video — that includes animation, diagrams, a dramatic score, and a solemn voiceover — also mistakenly states that the operation that led to the capture of Chapo began on January 9. A second version was released hours later with the mistake corrected.

The end of the video provides previously unseen images of El Chapo after his capture during medical tests.

He is also shown sitting at a table in prison uniform apparently while he is being notified of requests to extradite him to the United States.

The video ends with the promise that the government will "continue to work to bring peace and tranquility to all Mexicans and will redouble its efforts to combat organized crime."

Related: 'Chapo' Prison Break Shows Just How Weak Mexico's Government Really Is

Follow Jo Tuckman on Twitter: @jotuckman

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