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Hunting El Chapo

It was the “jailbreak of the millennium.” It was the kind of break out that MacGyver writers dismissed as being far too farfetched to ever be convincing or realistic. In 2015, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán escaped from Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1, a maximum-security prison in Mexico through an underground tunnel system, riding on a motorbike.

So who was El Chapo?

He was the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel and was widely known to be the most powerful drug lord in Mexico, if not the world. He was also considered to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. In fact, the U.S. federal government considered El Chapo to the “the most ruthless, dangerous, and feared man on the planet.”1 Despite his brutality, some citizens of Mexico saw him more as a populist antihero due to his defiance of a corrupt and ineffective federal government. Mexican actress Kate del Castillo once wrote: “Today I believe more in El Chapo Guzmán than I do in the governments that hide truths from me, even if they are powerful. Mr Chapo, wouldn’t it be cool if you started trafficking with the good? Come on Senor, you would be the hero of the heroes.”2 He became a quasi-mythical figure in Mexico and was the subject of numerous ballads.

The tunnel where El Chapo escaped from prison.

Badiraguato, a town of 7,000 in Sinaloa state, is among the poorest municipalities in Mexico.3 Badiraguato, however, with freshly renovated buildings or shiny SUV’s parked on the streets, is a stark difference to the impoverished towns surrounding it. Badiraguto is the heart of drug country and home to the Sinaloa Cartel. The Sinaloa Cartel was once the wealthiest and most powerful of Mexico’s drug empires. They smuggled cocaine, heroin and marijuana from Colombia through Mexico to the United States and had numerous distribution cells throughout the United States. His network criss-crossed America to supply customers; El Chapo supplied more illegal drugs to the United States than anybody else on Earth.4 The success in their drug trafficking can easily be explained. As Hilary Clinton once said, America’s “insatiable demand for illegal drugs” is what drives the clandestine industry.5

El Chapo was able to separate himself from other drug lords because of his ability to evade the law for years. He defied the tacit bargain of life in the drug trade: that the careers are glittering but fleeting and always terminate in prison or in the ground. In fact, when Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar was El Chapo’s age, he had already been dead for more than a decade. El Chapo was once the most wanted man on the globe with a $5 million reward for any information that could lead to his capture. While he may have been captured several times and incarcerated at high-security prisons throughout his drug career, he successfully escaped each time. In 2001, he escaped from Puente Grande prison, allegedly in a laundry cart. “Chapo Guzman has been that mythical narco-ghost,” said David Gaddis, former chief of enforcement operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration. “He became one of those isolated traffickers who seemed to be untouchable.”

He wouldn’t remain untouchable forever, however, and after his 2015 escape, it wouldn’t be long until the FBI was hot on his trail.

In December of 2015, a house in the coastal city of Los Mochis in northern Sinaloa was placed under surveillance after reports of “armed people.” In the early morning hours of the 8th of January, 2016, the house was raided by marines from the Mexican Navy’s Special Forced. After a shootout where five of El Chapo’s guards were killed, he was finally captured. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the capture “a victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States, and a vindication of the rule of law in our countries.”6

It was finally over for the Mexican drug lord.

Come and listen to the rise and fall of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán on Otto Radio with the audiobook “Hunting El Chapo” by Douglas Century and Andrew Hogan.

Footnotes:

  1. CNN News, 19 September, 2011 – “Major Drug Lord Captured”
  2. The New Yorker, 21 March, 2016 – “The Mexican Actress who Dazzles El Chapo”
  3. The Global Post, 28 February, 2013
  4. The Washington Post, 22 February, 2014 – “World’s Top Drug Trafficker Arrested in Mexico”
  5. The New York Time, 15 June, 2012 – “Cocaine Imported”
  6. The Associated Press, 9 January, 2016 – “The Latest: Guzman’s Capture Related to Gun Battle at House”

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