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'El Chapo' case draws Mexico closer to U.S.

MEXICO CITY — Mexico is now letting American agents carry guns on its soil. A special Mexican unit trained by Americans has been rekindled after stalling because of mistrust and a sense of national pride. American agents are working with Mexican soldiers to seize guns, and the two nations just agreed on a plan to tackle the heroin epidemic.

Even before Joaquin Guzman, the infamous drug trafficker known as El Chapo, tunneled out of Mexico's most secure prison over the summer, the Mexican government had begun rebuilding its strained relationship with the United States. But the drug lord's stunning escape shrank that distance even more, creating a sense of shared urgency that had not existed in years.

"It has been complicated in the past," said John Kirby, the State Department spokesman. "But more and more, we're finding common ground and common cause."

Guzman managed to evade one of the largest manhunts in Mexican history for nearly six months before being recaptured on Friday — and even then, he almost escaped again. He managed to slip out of a heavily defended compound as Mexican soldiers barreled in before dawn, ducking into an escape route hidden behind a closet and sneaking into the sewers before he was finally caught, officials said Monday.

But long before Mr. Guzman's embarrassing escapes, the Mexican government had been under pressure to do more against drug violence.

A surge in homicides last year, including the deaths of eight soldiers after a little-known gang fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a government helicopter, made President Enrique Peña Nieto's policy of keeping the Americans at arm's length on security matters much harder to uphold, especially given his plummeting approval ratings.

In particular, the unexplained disappearance of 43 students at a teachers college riled the nation and made international headlines, drawing ire and scrutiny of the president's attempts to switch the conversation toward economics and away from security.

In February 2015, Peña Nieto swapped out his attorney general, who had boasted that Mexico would hold onto Guzman in Mexican prisons for "some 300, 400 years" before consenting to extradite him to the United States. In his place, the president placed a former senator, Arely Gomez. Mexican and American officials said that Peña Nieto had instructed Gomez to fix the relationship with the Americans, and that she had set to work doing just that.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is made to face the press as he is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican soldiers and marines at a federal hangar in Mexico City, Mexico, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced that Guzman had been recaptured six months after escaping from a maximum security prison. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) MXEV203

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is made to face the press as he is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican soldiers and marines at a federal hangar in Mexico City, Mexico, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced that Guzman had been recaptured six months after escaping from a maximum security prison. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) MXEV203

'El Chapo' case draws Mexico closer to U.S. 01/11/16 [Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2016 11:30pm]
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