On the 22nd of February 2014 dozens of soldiers and police descended on a luxury condominium in Mazatlán, Mexico, and finally managed to capture the legendary, but elusive, drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, more commonly known as “El Chapo” (Shorty). Eluding capture for an incredible 13 years, El Chapo´s legend grew into almost mythical proportions – a legend that will undoubtedly remain even as he is put behind bars in his 5* prison.
His tale is your archetypal rags-to-riches story: born to a poor family in a rural, mountain village in Mexico, he followed his father´s footsteps at a young age into the region´s main industry – growing and smuggling marijuana and opium.
It wasn’t long until he hooked up with the drug lord, and his soon-to-be partner in crime, Héctor “El Güero” Palma by overseeing drug shipments to the US-Mexican border. Gúzman quickly gained a reputation for being a fearless and ruthless trafficker that enabled him to swiftly move up through the ranks: it is said that if any of his drug shipments arrived late he would simply shoot the responsible smuggler in the head rather than listen to excuses.
With the arrest of his business partner Felix Gallardo (the founder of the Guadalajara Cartel) in 1989, Gúzman went on to found the Sinaloa Cartel with Palma and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a cartel which is considered by the U.S. Intelligence Community to be “the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world” and which was responsible for importing and distributing an estimated 200 tons of cocaine in the United States alone between 1990 and 2008.
Through the Sinaloa Cartel, El Chapo consolidated his power to become one of the most powerful drug traffickers in the world, bribing or killing anybody that stood in his way. He was known for his meticulous style and his flair for creative drug smuggling: disguising cocaine shipments through an array of phony businesses from soap to chicken wire, as well as being responsible for the construction of a network of elaborate tunnels along the US-Mexican border (at least 62 that we know of), complete with hydraulic lifts and electric rail cars.
At around the same time a bitter power struggle between the Sinaloa and the Tijuana cartels emerged, resulting in countless bloody assassination attempts on both sides and a whole lot of dead bodies. The war eventually led to Gúzman´s arrest in 1993, after a case of mistaken identity in a botched assassination attempt led to 20 gunmen opening fire on a car with the Cardinal and Archbishop of Guadalajara inside (oops) – resulting in public outrage a huge manhunt.
Nevertheless, El Chapo continued to control the Sinaloa Cartel from his not-so maximum security prison, in which he lived like a king and then escaped from in 2001 by hiding in a laundry basket. During this time, the Sinaloa Cartel grew even more powerful: expanding its operations into estimated 50 countries across Latin America, Europe and Africa. He was soon to be featured on Forbes´ “Richest Billionaires” and “The Most Powerful People in the World” lists. He was also named “Public Enemy No. 1” by the Chicago Crime Commission – the first individual to gain the title since Al Capone.
His life on the run soon became the stuff of legends as he evaded every attempted capture by the police and used his vast wealth to bribe whole communities for their silence on his whereabouts. Legend has it that when he entered restaurants his security guards would confiscate all the diners´ phones before El Chapo entered, cordially greeted everyone one-by-one, before sitting down to eat a feast and then picking up the bill for everyone.
Regardless of the big fanfare over his arrest, it is unlikely to change anything: he´ll still live like a king in jail in Mexico and the Sinaloa Cartel continues its operations unabated under its No. 2: “El Mayo”. We shall just have to wait and see what inventive tactic he uses to escape prison this time!