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Mexico's New Drug War Challenge

A cartel leader’s arrest doesn’t mean narco runners are on the run
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines at a hangar in Mexico City on Feb. 22
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines at a hangar in Mexico City on Feb. 22Photograph by Eduardo Verdugo/AP Photo

For Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and arguably the world’s most notorious drug lord, is as momentous as the killing of Osama bin Laden was for President Obama. By nabbing “Shorty,” Peña Nieto has both made his country safer and improved his political standing.

Bin Laden’s death marked not the end of al-Qaeda but its evolution into a more dispersed and no less deadly threat. Guzman’s arrest likewise highlights a shift in Mexico’s criminal landscape from big cartels to smaller and more violent drug-running groups that also practice extortion and kidnapping. The fight against these groups will be arduous and door-to-door. It’s a Mexican fight, which is why it would be a mistake to move Guzman to the U.S., where he faces multiple federal indictments. Denying Mexico the chance to show it can hold such criminals to account could undermine Peña Nieto’s credibility.