Drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman Loera, also known as “El Chapo,” was arrested Saturday in the resort city of Mazatlan. Guzman has had a reputation of near mythical status since his prison escape back in January 2001. His drug trafficking cartel is the primary supplier of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine to the United States but, his operations have been said to reach as far as Europe and Asia. Guzman has also landed on Forbes’ 100 list as one of the richest men in the world. His vast drug empire is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar industry and considered to be the most powerful trafficking organization in the world.
The Sinaloa Cartel has been in the midst of a bloody war of rivalry against other gang organizations for control of the drug routes. The war has raged in Mexico’s cities for years, claiming thousands of innocent lives and destroying entire villages and communities. Some locals revere Guzman as a hero, singing songs of his exploits. Stating his presence is what has kept the peace in the city of Mazatlan.
Guzman was born into poverty-stricken Sinaloa, a sovereign state located in the western region of Mexico. Having abandoned his schooling by third grade he began his smuggling career in the late 1980’s under the former drug lord Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo. Quickly making his way up the cartel ranks where he eventually became head of logistics. When Gallardo was arrested 1989 Guzman was already creating his own cartel and aggressively taking over all major drug trade routes. In 1993 Guzman was charged in the U.S for money laundering and racketeering. Three months later Guzman was arrested in Mexico for drug and homicide charges, where he was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Rumors have it his time in prison was more like a resort stay with gourmet meals and amenities, including frequent visits from beautiful women. He spent the next eight years in prison running his cartel through one of his brothers. In 2001 under threat of extradition to the U.S. Guzman escaped prison raising his reputation as a criminal mastermind. Many sources say the inmate escaped using a laundry cart to wheel him out undetected. However, Mexican Investigative Journalist Annabel Hernandez states that Guzman did not escape at all. She states Guzman walked out of the facility escorted by security personal in a police uniform. Hernandez has spent years studying the drug war releasing various articles; including a national best-selling book exposing Mexican government corruption in compliance with local cartels. She states that the Sinaloa Cartel is being protected by the Mexican government and the “war on drugs” in Mexico is more of a back-handed ruse.
After his escape from prison, Guzman vanished. Rumors of his whereabouts placed him in Guatemala, Argentina, Bolivia and even in the U.S. supposedly visiting family. Joint task forces including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Immigration and Customs Services and U.S. Marshals hunted Guzman for 13 years. However, the drug kingpin always alluded capture, staying just a step ahead of authorities. Frustrated, officials placed an impressive five million dollar reward for any information that would lead to Guzman’s arrest.
The notorious drug lord had been rumored to dole out large amounts of cash to keep individuals who noticed him quiet. He has also been rumored to pay off entire restaurants and patron’s tabs to keep his outings secret and perpetuate his reputation as a champion of the Mexican people.
Last week Mexican authorities thought they had finally cornered Guzman in the Sinaloa state capitol, Culiacan. Mexican Marines aided by the U.S. Task Force assigned to track Guzman raided his hide out only to find the kingpin had escaped using secret tunnels that lead to the cities complex underground sewage system. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam stated Guzman had seven such safe house with escape routes sealed by reinforced steel doors. Guzman was tracked to the city of Mazatlan where authorities waited for an opportune moment to strike.
Mexican Marines with the help of DEA agents, U.S. Marshals and Immigration officials ascended on Guzman’s beach front resort early Saturday morning capturing the notorious drug lord along with an unidentified woman, several personal guards and associates. Officials stated they captured the drug kingpin with no shots fired. An impressive feat considering the drug lord’s reputation for taking incredible security measures. Inside authorities seized 97 large guns, 36 handguns, two grenade launchers, a rocket launcher and 43 armored vehicles. Mexican government officials declared the arrest to be a serious blow to the Sinaloa cartel but many locals are skeptical that the capture of Guzman is a positive change in the drug war. A local was quoted as saying, “I pray El Chapo’s capture does not release the devil.” How the cartel will respond to their leader’s capture is unknown. Many fear an escalation in violence as shifts in power may lead to internal strife. Professor George Grayson of William and Mary College says the capture of Joaquin Guzman is a “Thorn in the cartel’s side, but not a dagger.” Grayson, who studies the Mexican cartels says the Sinaloa gang will make a smooth transition in leaders to continue with business as usual.
It is unknown whether Guzman will be extradited to the United States. Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Eduardo Medina Mora was quoted as saying “Its important that Guzman first face the charges against him in Mexico.” It is speculated Guzman will be extradited to prevent another prison escape, which would be a huge embarrassment to the Mexican Government and fuel the belief that Guzman’s capture is more of a ploy than an honest man hunt. An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in drug related confrontations since former President Calderon vowed to put an end to the drug cartels in 2001. Guzman’s capture was met with mixed emotions by the Mexican population, who viewed the drug kingpin as someone who was both man and myth.
By Eric Ohm