It appears the capture of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán is worthy of the highest news coverage these days. Speculations, exaggerations, and trivial facts about El Chapo abound. Apparently, the world wants to know if he was interested in producing an autobiographical film and who will star in the Hollywood production. They want to know what brand of cell phone he preferred, how many kids he really has, and if he was romantically involved with a famous Mexican actress.
The coverage raises the image of this famous drug trafficker to mythical proportions. And it makes it difficult for the average observer to separate fact from fiction.
But there are matters of deeper significance to address, and careful biblical analysis is needed to forge an accurate opinion on what all this means. As a Mexican pastor, I want to contribute to the discussion as one living in a country and city (Ciudad Juarez) that are the scene of what’s been called the “war on drugs.”
Scripture Describes El Chapo
First, we must recognize the famous “Chapo Guzmán” is a brutal and bloodthirsty criminal. He loves power and wealth and is ready to order the murder of hundreds—perhaps thousands—to secure a position of greater power and financial profit. This man should never be viewed lightly. Thousands in Mexico and other countries of the Americas have suffered the consequences of his criminal fervor. El Chapo is neither hero nor benefactor; he doesn’t deserve to be dignified in a film, nor to see his exploits enshrined in a popular song. He should be punished for his crimes and stopped from doing further evil. And while even a man like El Chapo has access to God’s grace and an opportunity to repent from his sins, it’s important we form judgments on people based on what Scripture says.
It’s easy to express opinions about the “phenomenon” of El Chapo. Why do men like him exist? What’s driving major drug lords? Is it governments? Poverty? The biblical answer is that El Chapo is a product of a fallen world. He’s an example of what Paul warned Timothy would characterize men in the last days:
But know this: There will be terrible times in the last days. For men will be lovers of themselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; having a form of godliness but denying its power; from such turn away. (2 Tim. 3:1–5)
The Heart of Narcoterrorism
A fallen world produces fierce and ruthless men who generate all kinds of violence, corruption, abuse, and injustice. We should be careful not to interpret their existence as a result of nationality or race, or of social, educational, or economic status. Man’s problem is ultimately himself, not his environment or circumstances. The heart of the problem, then, is the problem of the heart.
When sin is encouraged rather than stopped, we encounter what we now see happening in countries like Mexico, where organized crime dares to challenge the government and society. If the government established by God (Rom. 13:3–4) doesn’t effectively combat evil, then crime and violence multiply. Jesus teaches us sin is always lurking in the hearts of men, willing to emerge in the worst way (Matt. 15:19). Every country in the world shows evidence of this, but in Latin America government failures have helped evil flourish to regrettable proportions.
As news like this surfaces, it’s important to consider the effect of drug traffic crime on a whole nation. Look at Mexico. Even though organized crime only represents about 0.3 percent of the Mexican population, that is enough to destabilize the whole governmental apparatus, similar to the way a small percentage of religious extremists can terrorize a whole region. This is why the operation of drug cartels has been labeled “narcoterrorism,” bringing more violence to a nation where poverty, ignorance, and injustice already abound. We should respond to the news of El Chapo’s capture by remembering the widespread suffering and oppression his operations have inflicted. Our compassion should lead us to pray for his victims and for the nations who live in his wake.
The Real War on Drugs
Even though governments seem to be making little progress in the fight against drug trafficking, during the last eight years the Mexican government has been involved in a bloody war against the cartels. An estimated 140,000 have been killed (most of them cartel members) and tens of thousands of criminals have been arrested. But this war strategy, also promoted and supported by U.S. government, has proven ineffective.
Mexico is paying a high price for being the next-door neighbor to the largest consumer of illegal drugs in the world. On March 25, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confessed that America’s “insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade” and that America bears “shared responsibility” for the drug-fueled violence sweeping Mexico. Why is the war on drugs so ineffective? Because unless there’s a significant reduction in demand for illegal drugs (from an estimated 26 million American drug users), the capture or death of one drug trafficker will only mean he’s replaced by another, who could be more violent and voracious than his predecessor.
The Real Solution
Every illegal drug consumer needs to know that every dollar he or she spends on drugs contributes to the continuation and growth of drug cartel violence. Buying marijuana helps men like El Chapo. In response, governments are leaning toward the legalization of drugs. The hope is that eliminating its criminality will diminish the violence associated with its illegal trade. The solution proposed is to facilitate the access to drugs, apparently surrendering in the battle to reduce consumption.
In the final analysis, the only effective war on drug trafficking is one that transforms the heart of the consumer. A change of heart is required for one to abandon the selfishness and pleasure drugs produce and to be transformed into a lover of God and people. And only the gospel has that power.
The capture of El Chapo Guzmán should not produce amazement in us that people like him exist. Rather, it should encourage us afresh to proclaim that there’s a solution to the problem—and that it’s only found in the life-altering power of Jesus Christ.