Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s rise and fall from Mexico’s most wanted kingpin to US prisoner
El Chapo, the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, was estimated to be worth $US1 billion. (AP: Eduardo Verdugo)
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is Mexico’s most notorious kingpin.
He shipped tonnes of drugs around the world, escaped two maximum-security jails and had become one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives.
But his heydays are over.
The infamous drug lord is now facing life in prison.
On February 4, jurors began deliberations on 10 charges Guzman faced at a trial that began in November, 2018 in New York.
After nine days considering their verdicts, they found the 61-year-old guilty on all 10 counts and he was led from the federal court in Brooklyn back into custody.
The audacious exploits of El Chapo (meaning Shorty — for his height), captured the world’s imagination and turned him into a folk hero for some in Mexico, despite the thousands of people killed by his brutal Sinaloa cartel.
Beyond putting Guzman’s personal life and drug dealings on public display, the case has also highlighted Mexico’s long-time fight to bring down its chief adversary in the bloody war on drug trafficking.
From a mountain village to international infamy
Guzman was born in La Tuna, a village in the Sierra Madre mountains in Sinaloa state where smugglers have been growing opium and marijuana since the early 20th century.
He was involved in trading drugs from the age of 15, and said it was the only way to survive.
He ascended in the 1980s working with Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, who was also called The Boss of Bosses, and had pioneered cocaine-smuggling routes into the US.
El Chapo came to prominence in 1993 when assassins who shot dead Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas claimed they had actually been aiming at Guzman.
Two weeks later, police arrested him in Guatemala and extradited him to Mexico.
During his eight years in prison, Guzman smuggled in lovers, prostitutes and Viagra, according to accounts published in the Mexican media.
After escaping, Guzman expanded his turf by sending in assassin squads with names such as The Ghosts and The Zeta Killers, in reference to the rival Zetas gang.
Guzman hid near his childhood home, agents said, but rumours abounded of him visiting expensive restaurants and paying for all the diners.
In 2007, Guzman married an 18-year-old beauty queen in an ostentatious ceremony in a village in Durango state.
The state’s archbishop subsequently caused a media storm when he said, “Everyone, except the authorities”, knew Guzman was living there.
Guzman’s bride, Emma Coronel, gave birth to twins in Los Angeles in 2011.
She attended nearly every day of her husband’s trial, at one point donning a red blazer that matched his own.
How was he brought to trial?
In January 2016, after three decades running drugs, Guzman was caught in his native north-western state of Sinaloa.
Six months earlier, he had humiliated Mexico’s then-president, Enrique Pena Nieto, by escaping from prison through a mile-long tunnel dug straight into his cell.
That was the second time he had escaped a Mexican jail.
Just days after his 2016 capture, Guzman’s larger-than-life reputation was sealed when movie star Sean Penn published a lengthy account of a seven-hour interview he conducted with the drug lord.
The Mexican government said it was essential to his capture a few months later.
“I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world,” Penn said Guzman told him at the drug lord’s mountain hideout.
“I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.”
Mexico’s government extradited Guzman in January 2017, a day before Donald Trump took office as US President on vows to tighten border security to halt immigration and drug smuggling.
Public Enemy Number One
Guzman’s legendary reputation in the Mexican underworld began to take shape when he staged his first jailbreak in 2001 by bribing prison guards, before going on to dominate drug trafficking along much of the Rio Grande.
However, many in towns across Mexico remember Guzman better for his squads of hitmen who committed thousands of murders, kidnappings and decapitations.
Violence began to surge in 2006 as the government launched a war on drug trafficking that caused criminal groups to splinter and killings to spiral.
A diamond encrusted pistol grip on a handgun belonging to El Chapo. (AP: US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of NY)
Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel went on smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine, marijuana, and crystal methamphetamine (ice) across Mexico’s border with the US.
In February 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission dubbed him the city’s first Public Enemy Number One since Al Capone.
Elusive kingpin one step ahead of the law
Security experts have conceded the gangster was exceptional at what he did, managing to outmanoeuvre, outfight or outbribe his rivals to stay at the top of the drug trade for more than a decade.
Rising through the ranks of the drug world, Guzman carefully observed his mentors’ tactics and mistakes and forged alliances that kept him one step ahead of the law for years.
Mexican soldiers and US agents came close to Guzman on several occasions but his many body guards and spies always tipped him off before his safe houses were stormed.
In preparing for a raid in 2014, US officers restricted information to a small group for fear of corruption among Mexican law enforcement, DEA agent Victor Vasquez testified in Guzman’s trial.
El Chapo was a folk hero for some but a brutal murderer and drug lord to others. (Reuters: Tomas Bravo)
Waging gang war across Mexico
Between 2004 and 2013, Guzman’s gangs fought in all major Mexican cities on the US border, turning Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo into some of the world’s most dangerous places.
In one such attack, 14 bodies were left mutilated under a note that read: “Don’t forget that I am your real daddy”, and was signed El Chapo.
Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel often clashed with the Zetas, a gang founded by former Mexican soldiers, arming its crew with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.
In 2008, hitmen working for a rival murdered Guzman’s son Edgar, a 22-year-old student. Guzman reportedly left 50,000 flowers at his son’s grave.
In the 1990s, Guzman became infamous for hiding seven tonnes of cocaine in cans of chillies.
In the following decade, his crew took drugs in tractor trailers to major US cities, including Phoenix, Los Angeles and Chicago, indictments said.
Forbes magazine put the kingpin’s wealth at $US1 billion, though investigators said it was impossible to know exactly how much he was worth.