Pablo Escobar’s chief hitman gave an interview yesterday to Univision about Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s legendary prison escape. It’s chilling and fascinating, and offers insight from pretty much the only person alive who knows what it’s like to break out of maximum security prison as the most powerful drug lord on the planet.
Jhon Jairo Velásquez, also known as “Popeye,” was Escobar’s right hand until he turned himself in to Colombian authorities in 1992. Like El Chapo, Velásquez escaped prison, twice, and also through tunnels.
Velásquez spent 22 years in six different prisons in Colombia and says maximum-security prisons like the one El Chapo escaped, El Altiplano, have sensors on the ground precisely to prevent tunnels, so the people in charge of the sensors had to be in collusion with those in charge of the cameras. He tells Univision that this escape would require the complicity of all authorities at the prison and estimates it must have cost El Chapo at least $50 million in bribes. (Unlike El Chapo, who was at Mexico’s highest security prison, Escobar had his prison, La Catedral, custom-built, and the escape tunnels were part of the building’s plan from the beginning.)
“Every minute that goes by is a minute of victory for El Chapo” Velásquez says in the interview. “What is El Chapo doing right now? He is probably very at ease, toasting with some wine or champagne. But he is going to break all previous connections, because everyone is after his family.”
Velázquez predicts El Chapo won’t be free for long—he gives him 18 months at most—and offers advice to Mexican authorities, the DEA and CIA, saying, somewhat surprisingly, that “the most serious problem for a person on the run” is “Wanted” posters. Velázquez says law enforcement should get as many up as possible.
Velázquez also offers advice to El Chapo, telling him to head to the mountains in Guatemala, arm himself and declare an all-out war on the Mexican government in order to force them to come to an agreement with him, and rule out extradition—one thing powerful drug lords, like Escobar and El Chapo, actually fear.