In Corrupt America: El Chapo’s Reign Below and Above the Border

In Corrupt America: El Chapo’s Reign Below and Above the Border

The Tijuana cartel wanted El Chapo dead, for obvious reasons. He was the most wanted man in Mexico, not only by the authorities of several countries, but also by rival drug lords who wanted to usurp him and his one billion dollar drug empire. Their plan was to get the job done at the Jalisco airport in Guadalajara, ending his reign as the “informal CEO” of one of the biggest drug trafficking operations in the entire world — one that supplies huge amounts of cocaine, marijuana and heroin to cities all over the United States. In May of 1993, gunmen zeroed in on a car believed to hold El Chapo and fired, sparking a full-on shoot out of spectacular proportions in the airport parking lot. When the shooting stopped, two of El Chapo’s bodyguards were dead along with five bystanders, including Juan Jesus Posadas, the archbishop of Guadalajara. But not among the dead was El Chapo, who had escaped by crawling along the ground and getting into a taxi. Over the years, the man would get used to making his escape.

Joaquin Guzman Loera, who would later earn the nickname “El Chapo” (Spanish for “Shorty”) because of his short and stalky body, was born in a tiny hamlet called El Tuna, in the Sinaloa mountains of Badiraguato County, Mexico. His place of birth is important because just a short trip away from Badiraguato is the “Golden Triangle,” the secretive intersection of the Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua states where opium and marijuana have been grown for generations under the protection of the mountainous walls that surround it.

Not much is known about Guzman’s early years, but most believe his tie to drugs began early. Considering his location, Guzman’s father probably worked as a gomero, someone who worked out in the fields growing poppies for opium and heroin. Getting involved with the drug trade is basically all this region offers to its residents, but they don’t mind it. “Better to live like a rey [king] for six years than as a guey [ox, or fool] for sixty,” goes a common saying of this mountainous region where the smell of marijuana permeates the air. It is this philosophy that drove Guzman toward success in the cartels, propelling him to the top of the order.

In the 1980s, Guzman began his ascent, rising to become a top lieutenant in Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo’s drug cartel, “The Federation.” Nicknamed “El Padrino,” or the Godfather, Felix Gallardo was the top drug lord in 1980s Mexico. But when the Godfather’s empire collapsed with his arrest in 1989, Guzman stepped out on his own, beginning to construct his own cartel. He started by building elaborate underground tunnels, some even with lighting and air-conditioning, that dug below the border and into the US. He then built an assembly line, packaging cocaine into chili powder cans under the name Comadre, and his business was under way.

But it wasn’t without its hitches. Guzman began feuding with the rival drug cartel in Tijuana that controlled the border into San Diego, ultimately resulting in the failed assassination attempt. With the highly public shock of the archbishop’s death following, the Mexican government was forced into cracking down on drug trafficking. Sixteen days later, Guatemalan soldiers captured Guzman and handed him off to the Mexican police. The drug lord was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Of course, prison would be nothing for El Chapo. Both he and his partner, Hector Palma, dominated there, raping female prison guards and continuing to run their business. Nearly everyone in the prison was paid off by Guzman, ultimately leading to his escape in a laundry van. The official story tells of El Chapo hiding in a laundry cart, but many seem to doubt that (all the security tapes have been wiped). Some believe the warden just let the man walk out.

Since his escape from prison in 2001, Guzman has seen his empire grow. He continues to elude police, even with a $5 million bounty on his head from the US government, the Mexican government and INTERPOL. Few leads spring up, failing to result in any arrests, but sightings are frequent. Two years ago, El Chapo threw a huge party in a remote Mexican village to watch his 18-year-old girlfriend win a local beauty contest. There are even multiple tales of Guzman walking into packed restaurants with body guards, confiscating fellow diners’ cellphones and locking the doors. As repayment, he picks up the tab for the entire restaurant.

With great difficulty surrounding his arrest, many officials have turned their back on trying to capture him (or so they say), focusing instead on knocking off lower-ranking drug cartel members in an effort to curtail the raging drug running and violence in Mexico. After his last capture resulted in disaster, it just doesn’t even seem worth it to some.

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