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Latin American nations ramp up security amid fears that Chapo may flee Mexico

Federal Police near the half-built house where drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán made his escape.

Federal Police near the half-built house where drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán made his escape.  (ap)

Countries throughout Latin America are ramping up security along their borders in the wake of the movie plot-worthy escape of Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán.

While experts say that it is unlikely that Guzmán will leave Mexico, nations from neighboring Guatemala down to Colombia have stepped up their border patrols, tightened their air space and strengthened their anti-narcotics efforts in the event that the Sinaloa cartel chief actually does leave the country as the search for him heats up.

"It seems unlikely that Guzmán would leave Mexico because it is such a risky move," Howard Campbell, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and the author of "Drug War Zone," told Fox News Latino. "If he was going to go somewhere other than Mexico, the two most obvious choices are Guatemala and Colombia."

The Guatemalan National Police announced on Sunday – the day after Guzmán escaped from Mexico's Altiplano prison through a secret tunnel that was bored under his cell – that the country had heightened security along its border with Mexico and distributed information to its officers about Chapo's physical description.

Guatemala's Deputy Interior Minister Elmer Sosa added that the police are also coordinating with the country's armed forces to patrol the three departments that border Mexico and that officials in Guatemala City are working with their Mexican counterparts to facilitate any joint actions in case Guzmán attempts to make a run south.

"We are strengthening not only the borders with Mexico, but with El Salvador, Honduras and Belize — and at blind spots (illegal border crossing)," Sosa said, according to El Universal.  

Authorities in both Honduras and El Salvador have also announced stronger border security measures since Guzmán's escape, with the former committing more resources to monitoring private flights entering the country and the latter stepping security along its borders and points of entry.

Given its close proximity to Mexico, ubiquitous corruption (a recent United Nations report found that a quarter of the money fueling Guatemalan politics comes from criminal organizations) and a dearth of rule of law in many parts of the country, Guatemala on paper would appear to be a perfect place for Guzmán to hole-up and recoup. 

The drug lord, however, has a tainted history with the Central American nation that might give him pause if he plans on fleeing Mexico.

"Guatemala was the country where he was arrested in 1993 and extradited to Mexico so he probably wouldn't want to go back there," Campbell said.

The other country where Guzmán could ostensibly flee is Colombia, where the drug lord has extensive business ties. In 2013 it was reported that the Sinaloa cartel was allegedly buying up a number of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia's (FARC) drug trafficking "franchises" in a move that saw the Mexican organization moving into the production – as well as distribution – of cocaine.

Colombia has a long and storied history of being home to major drug traffickers – i.e. Pablo Escobar, the Ochoa brothers, etc – and a checkered record of keeping them behind bars, but if Guzmán is able to make his way all the way down to the South American nation, he will encounter a drastically different country than the one Escobar inhabited.

Since the start of this century, Colombia has been very successful in tackling violent crime and drug trafficking in the country – in large part by dismantling many of the major organizations behind the cocaine trade – and currently is in protracted peace talks with FARC rebels to reach a peace deal to end to its 50-plus year civil conflict with the government.

Following Guzmán's escape, Colombia's anti-narcotics chief Ricardo Restrepo Londoño said that authorities are looking out for increased activity between Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers.

"We are stepping up our patrolling efforts, anticipating a possible increase in the drug trade activity between Colombian and Mexican traffickers now that this man is out on the streets," Restrepo said, according to El Heraldo.

Just over the weekend, Restrepo added, Colombian authorities confiscated 600 kilograms of cocaine in the Caribbean port of Cartagena that was bound for Mexico.

Guzmán's Sinaloa cartel may have operations throughout Latin America – as well as in the United States, Asia and Australia – but experts say that despite the rumors and the security precautions, the drug lord is most likely not going to leave his home turf.

Since his first escape from prison in 2001, Guzmán is believed to have stayed in Mexico – building up the Sinaloa cartel to the Goliath it is today and avoiding capture through payoffs to local political and law enforcement officials, as well as never living in one place for too long. Guzmán's power and comfort level in Mexico has many experts believing that if he is going to be found – and that's a big question – he will be found somewhere in Mexico.

"He has such a strong network of influence and support in Mexico – as demonstrated by his escape – that he may be safer at home," Shannon O'Neil, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations told FNL.

For complete coverage on Joaquín Guzmán go to The Hunt for El Chapo.

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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