In the early hours of Friday morning, 8 January 2016, the world’s most wanted man, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, was hiding out in a secluded safe house on the Pacific Coast of his home state of Sinaloa. It had been six months since El Chapo’s stunning escape from a maximum security prison in Central Mexico. Since then Guzman has created headlines around the globe becoming a sort of narco-celebrity like his Colombian counterpart Pablo Escobar, which was further cemented by him meeting up recently for an impromptu interview with Hollywood heavyweight Sean Penn for Rolling Stone magazine! However this January morning looks likely to be El Chapo’s last day of freedom as someone had tipped off the Mexican Marines, a highly competent and incorruptible force that has been used to take down many of Mexico’s top cartel kingpins in recent years. Before dawn on this Friday morning, Mexican marines surrounded Chapo and his men in their hideout in the coastal city of Los Mochis. The drug lord and his bodyguards escaped through a secret tunnel, a favoured method of evasion for the drug lord, crawling through nearly a mile of shit and sewage before emerging on the other side of town and stealing a passing vehicle, but the Marines were hot on his heels and in running gun battles five of Chapo’s men were killed. The drug lord was finally arrested, with many surprised that he wasn’t executed in a shoot-to-kill incident (this could be an indication that El Chapo still has some powerful friends in the Mexican government). The world’s most powerful kingpin was shackled then taken to a local sex motel while the marines waited for backup and photographed him looking dazed in a dirty, smeared vest. He has since been flown back to the Altiplano prison from where he escaped from last year and the United States government have begun extradition proceedings against him, it looks increasingly likely he will spend the rest of his days incarcerated in a Supermax penitentiary from which there is no escape.
The powerful kingpin stands at just 5’6, hence the nickname “Chapo” (which means Shorty). The diminutive Mexican drug lord rose from peasant opium farmer to the most powerful crime boss since the reign of Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar. He pulled off a 2001 escape from a maximum-security prison and while a fugitive from justice battled his Cartel enemies and foes in the Mexican government which led to the brutal Drug War that claimed over 100,000 lives. He is a ruthless and savvy individual who oversees a vast global criminal enterprise despite only receiving a cursory education from Jesuit priests in his impoverished mountain village. He is a scarlet-pimpernel of the criminal underworld renowned for his incredible tunnels, daring escapes and transnational drug empire, fact blending into fiction as he has become one of the most recognisable faces of the 21st century. Hollywood producers were apparently lining up to make a biopic of his life after his second escape from a maximum-security prison in 2015. In this blog I will take a closer look at the career of Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman and the man behind the myth.
Joaquin Guzman Loera was born either on Christmas Day 1954 or 4 April 1957 in an impoverished village called La Tuna de Badiraguato in the harsh mountains of Sinaloa. The village was in the heart of Mexico’s golden triangle, where the vast majority of Mexican opium poppies and marijuana plants are grown. His father, ostensibly a fruit farmer, in reality harvested the opium poppy and marijuana plantations and the young Joaquin helped his father in the fields from a young age. By all accounts he and his father had a difficult, tempestuous relationship with his father dishing out regular beatings. The teenage Chapo was eventually thrown out by his father and branched out on his own running marijuana plantations with other family members. Guzman’s uncle Pedro Avilés Pérez was an important figure in drug-trafficking and when Joaquin was in his early 20’s he went to the city to work in his uncle’s business. The young drug-trafficker gained a reputation as an ambitious and no-nonsense operator. Guzman killed anyone who fooled around with a shipment or even for being late. The higher-ups in the Guadalajara Cartel began to take notice and he was soon running operations on the border between Mexico and the United States. Guzman also became close to boss of bosses Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and was soon working as one of his right-hand men.
The Guadalajara Cartel’s days were numbered after the high-profile murder of undercover DEA agent Kiki Camarena. Mexican godfather Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and many of the top capos were brought down due to the fallout from Camarena’s brutal death. Before he went to jail Felix Gallardo called a conference of the top drug barons and carved up the “plazas”, as the drug territories are known. The Gulf, Juarez, Tijuana and Sinaloa Cartel’s came into being at this meeting. Apart from the Gulf Cartel based on Mexico’s East Coast, the new cartels were all headed by native Sinaloans. El Chapo around this time worked for Amado Carrillo Fuentes, a powerful drug kingpin who was the Capo of the border city of Juarez. He was known as the Lord of the Skies because of his huge fleet of aircraft that he used to deliver huge quantities of cocaine into the United States. Guzman was a middle-ranking player and one of Carrillo Fuentes top lieutenants, responsible for the “plaza” of Sonora a rural state bordering Arizona in the U.S. He soon earned a reputation for himself as a straightforward and savvy operator who would put a bullet in the head of anyone making a mistake, although he was not known to kill someone for the sake of it or for sadistic pleasure like some Cartel Capos. It was around this time that El Chapo started to become noticed for the incredible tunnels he had dug underneath the Mexican-U.S border which he used to smuggle drugs and people into Mexico and guns from America back into the motherland. He also became renowned for audacious methods of smuggling the coke into America, one technique he masterminded was building a massive medieval style catapult and having the cocaine fired into a haulage yard he owned on the U.S side of the border.
The Tijuana Cartel was led by the nephews of imprisoned Don Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, the Arellano-Felix brothers. They numbered seven brothers in total but the two most important and co-leaders of the Cartel were the sadistic and murderous Ramon and the urbane and intelligent Benjamin. The Arellano-Felix brothers ruled Tijuana with an iron fist and controlled the lucrative drug-trafficking routes into California. Although they were fellow Sinaloans it wasn’t long before the brothers fell out with Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman. The diminutive Mexican mobster eyed the brother’s lucrative plaza greedily and planned on taking over their territory. Open war broke out when Ramon Arellano-Felix killed Chapo’s business partner and friend Amado Lopez. Ramon also kidnapped Guzman’s brother-in-law, tortured and killed him which led to a wave of further kidnappings and counter-kidnappings. Ramon warned El Chapo that he was going “to kill his entire family”. Guzman struck back in the summer of 1992 while the brother’s were relaxing on holiday, the Arellano-Felix’s were drinking in a nightclub in Jalisco State when Chapo and his men burst into the club dressed as policeman and started shooting at patrons, Ramon and Benjamin along with several of their brothers narrowly avoided assassination. Six other people in the nightclub weren’t so lucky so that night.
The shooting war between Guzman and Arellano-Felix Cartel led to a very high-profile and innocent casualty, the Archbishop of Guadalajara. The full story has still to emerge to this day. Ramon Arellano-Felix 24 May 1993 and his top sicario’s were said to by lying in ambush at Guadalajara airport after a tip off that El Chapo would be catching a plane that day. Apparently they mistook the Archbishops car for Guzman’s and the poor churchman died in a hail of bullets. Or so the story goes, other theories are that the Archbishop had annoyed powerful people in the Mexican government and they had him killed before passing the blame onto drug gangs. Whatever the case, in a deeply Catholic country like Mexico the outcry was deafening in the wake of the Archbishop’s assassination and the Mexican government needed someone to offer up to the general public and cameras of the media.
That someone would be Joaquin Guzman, he had fled to Guatemala in the wake of the shooting but was soon arrested by Special Forces soldiers who he had bribed earlier to protect him. Guzman learnt a harsh lesson from this episode and one he wouldn’t forget, which was to always bribe the right people. He didn’t have high-level protection from Mexico’s top politicians and this had made him vulnerable to police crackdowns. He wouldn’t ever make the same mistake again. Chapo was paraded in front of the cameras, smiling bashfully with his hat in his hands then dumped into a maximum security prison. Guzman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a myriad of crimes and spent his time in the Puente Grande maximum security prison in Jalisco State. Although this was supposed to be one of Mexico’s toughest jails, corruption was rife and Guzman was soon running the prison as his personal fiefdom. He held drug and alcohol fuelled parties, cinema nights, had prostitutes brought in for him and his men and generally lived like a King while behind bars.
Meanwhile on the outside control of drug-trafficking routes and mutual suspicion between the Sinaloa and Tijuana Cartels continued to sour relations between the rival organisations and Chapo’s amigo’s in the Sinaloa Cartel decided they wanted him by their side in case another gangland conflict erupted. Guzman also began to worry that the United States would attempt to extradite him for drug-trafficking charges as he had continued to oversee his narco-empire from prison. In 2001 rumours began to spread that Guzman would attempt to escape from prison and that he had bribed the government to facilitate his escape. The minister of justice saw fit to visit Puente Grande to dispel the rumours but Guzman executed his escape just several days later. The official story is that El Chapo bribed a couple of prison guards and was smuggled out in a laundry cart. But an alternative, and more likely, account has been presented by respected journalist and author Anabel Hernandez that Joaquin Guzman had bribed the minister of justice and also the minister of interior and had simply walked out the front door during the minister’s visit to Puente Grande disguised as a police officer.
Chapo Guzman had also bribed the local police departments in several Mexican state’s surrounding the prison which gave him a 24 hour head start, he hid in Mexico City, then Guadalajara before making it back to the relative safety of the Sierra Madre Mountains in his native Sinaloa. Despite obviously bribing his way out of jail, Chapo was still being hunted night and day with the help of the DEA and he was said to be devastated when one of his brothers, Arturo a key lieutenant, was picked up in the dragnet to recapture the fugitive drug lord. Safely ensconced in his mountainous Sinaloa territory Guzman held an important summit with the leading lights of the Sinaloa Cartel, including co-leader and close ally Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia , Juan Jose Esparragoza “El Azul” Moreno, and the Beltran-Levya brothers. Up for discussion was the elimination of the troublesome Arellano-Felix brothers, Chapo still had unfinished business with his nemesis Ramon, and the expansion of the Sinaloa Cartel across the country, particularly at the expense of the Juarez and Gulf Cartels. A new and ominous era had dawned on Mexico, the Cartel Wars.
While Chapo was living it up in Puente Grande prison, his partner-in-crime, the Sinaloa Cartel’s financial wizard Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada had fallen afoul of the Arellano-Felix brothers. The hot-headed and impulsive brothers had brought a lot of heat down with their ultra-violent ways and the more low-key, secretive kingpins like El Mayo became increasingly worn down with their high profile and flamboyant methods of doing business. The increasingly unstable Ramon, the head of the Tijuana’s military wing, also accused El Mayo of owing him $20 million dollars from an unpaid cocaine shipment. El Mayo and El Chapo began to “heat up” the Tijuana plaza by sending their gunmen into the territory and also by building huge tunnels for drug-smuggling on what was supposed to be the turf of Arellano-Felix brothers. Ramon Arellano-Felix could not countenance this blatant flouting of his authority and flew down to Sinaloa with his top sicario’s to hunt El Mayo and El Chapo. Ramon and his sicario’s searched for the heads of the Sinaloa Cartel for several days in the city of Mazatlán, but they found themselves isolated on enemy territory. On February 10 2002, Ramon and his men were pulled over by traffic cops working for El Mayo. The cops summarily executed the psychotic cartel kingpin and his men on a Mazatlán city sidewalk, with Ramon managing to kill one of his attackers before dying in a hail of bullets. Ramon’s brother Benjamin, the brains of the operation, was arrested the following month. The Arellano-Felix brothers weren’t finished yet, but with the loss of their two most potent leaders the Sinaloa Cartel had successfully stripped them down to size.
Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman’s ambitions turned next to the crucial border cities of Juarez, directly across the Rio Grande from the Texan city of El Paso and further to the east the city of Nuevo Laredo. The Juarez Cartel had been weakened by the apparent death of Guzman’s former boss Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who was said to have died in 1997 while undergoing a plastic surgery procedure although rumours abound to this day that the Lord of the Skies faked his own death. Guzman ordered the murder of his former mentor’s brother Rodolfo and many top members of the Juarez Cartel defected to sign up with Chapo’s organisation. However the Juarez Cartel remained intact with loyalists following the leadership of another of Amado’s brothers, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes. The Juarez Cartel struck back at Guzman by having his imprisoned brother Arturo murdered in his jail cell, Chapo was said to be devastated by his brother’s demise. El Chapo bided his time for now as a far better opportunity for expansion had arisen in North-Eastern Mexico. The Capo of the Gulf Cartel, Osiel Cardenas, had just been extradited to the Unites States in 2003 after painting a huge target on his own back by threatening two U.S federal agents. The Gulf Cartel was in a state of flux with several contenders looking to seize power in the organisation. Guzman and his top sicarios moved in to take over the drug-trafficking routes in the border state of Tamaulipas. The battle for control was fiercest in the city of Nuevo Laredo as Guzman’s sicario’s battled with Osiel Cardenas’s one-time bodyguards Los Zetas, former Special Forces soldiers he had recruited into his organisation. Hundreds died in the urban guerrilla warfare as the two sides battled each other into a bloody stalemate, in what now can be seen as a precursor to the ultra-violent Cartel war that followed.
Cartel violence really exploded in 2006 with the ascension of Felipe Calderón as the new President of the Mexican Republic. The Mexican state had a corrupt and complicated relationship with the cartels, particularly during the one-party rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which had governed Mexico for the majority of the 20th century. The 81 year long one-party rule of the PRI ended at the dawn of the millennium with the political system reverting to Western-style democracy. The PRI had colluded with and protected the top narco-traffickers while it was still in power, although it could do little to help the kingpins from wrath of the U.S government in the late 1980s when they had murdered DEA agent Kiki Camarena. Despite the dawn of a new era for Mexican politics at the beginning of the 21st century politicians, judges, the military high command and the police top brass continued to accept bribes and payoffs from the Cartels. Felipe Calderón’s National Action Party, a conservative Catholic movement, had narrowly won the elections in 2006. Unlike previous Mexican leaders, Calderón resolved to take a stand against the bloodthirsty Cartels, particularly after a grenade attack on Independence Day revellers in his home state of Michoacán that saw 6 people killed. The Bush Administration was extremely pleased when Calderón declared war on the Cartels soon after taking office.
President Calderón may have expected the might of the state to easily crush the Cartels easily but Mexico was soon descending into a nightmarish vortex of unceasing violence. The corruption of the Mexican State certainly exacerbated the situation as rival police units battled the army and each other on behalf of their narco paymasters while the Cartels fought one another and staged pitched battles with the army. Mexican Army commanders were shocked when highly trained Sinaloa Cartel operatives and sicario’s from the over actively violent Los Zetas engaged army units with conventional military tactics, this wasn’t mere gangbangers that the Mexican Army was facing rather they were well-trained, heavily armed insurgent style forces paid for with the Cartel kingpin’s narco-dollars. The death toll began to climb into the tens of thousands. Kidnapping, extortion and other forms of Mafia style criminality became common place as the Drug War raged across the country. Meanwhile with Chapo Guzman’s sicaro’s having been fought to a stalemate by the Gulf Cartel and its Los Zetas allies in North-East Mexico, the drug lord now turned his attention elsewhere, to the key border city of Juarez.
Chapo’s gunmen soon set up shop in this key city and entry point into the United States. The Sinaloa Cartel also hired local street gangs to battle it out with Juarez Cartel gunmen, Ciudad Juarez would become the most violent city on earth due to Guzman’s ambitions there. Dozens of men at a time were found bound, tortured and shot in the back of the head. Bodies were hung from bridges with narco-mantras, banners emblazoned with threats to their rivals and government officials. Chilling videos were put on YouTube of Cartel hit-men torturing and killing rivals on camera. Thousands of people in Ciudad Juarez were murdered for several years in row as the Cartels battled it out for control. El Chapo’s monopolistic ambitions to expand the Sinaloa Cartel across the country had made him arguably the most powerful drug kingpin in the world by this point but the increased notoriety made him the number one target for American investigators. His organisation was earning tens of billions annually from heroin, cocaine, marijuana and from Chapo’s personal project the methamphetamine trade. Forbes magazine caused an outcry when it named Guzman in its list of wealthiest and most influential billionaire’s but it was a sign of how powerful he had truly become.
Up till now, Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman had fought external gang wars on the territory of his enemies, but the next Cartel conflagration would be played out in his home state of Sinaloa, on the streets of Culiacan, the state capital. Civil war would split the Sinaloa Cartel as El Chapo became weary of his allies, the Beltran-Levya brothers. The Beltran-Levya’s were responsible for corrupting the Mexican government, police departments and army generals but Chapo started making his own connections in the political world to break free of his old cohorts. The reason for Guzman’s weariness and distrust of the Beltran-Levya brothers was because of the behaviour and conduct of Alfredo “the Fire-ant” Beltran-Levya. Alfredo was big, outspoken, and very hot-headed and always just two seconds away from a murderous pique of fury. What was worse in El Chapo’s eyes was that even though he was being hunted night and day, his top lieutenant Alfredo insisted on drawing attention to himself with all the comings and goings at his safe house in a quiet upper-middle-class residential neighbourhood of Culiacan. Word got back to Chapo that the “Fire-ant’s” all night parties were drawing attention from neighbours and heat from law-enforcement. But Guzman didn’t have his old friend killed, instead according to some accounts, El Chapo sold out Alfredo ratting him out to the Army. Apparently Guzman being closely pursued with the help of the Americans, with the Mexican military hot on his trail. He offered up the “Fire-ant” in exchange for his own freedom and also rid himself of a troublesome ally in the process.
The Beltran-Levya brothers immediately suspected that Chapo Guzman had informed the army of their brother’s whereabouts and resolved to take revenge on their former boss. They rebelled against him founding their own cartel and were joined by key Sinaloa Cartel kingpin, Edgar Valdez “La Barbie” Villarreal. Mexico’s newest Cartel hit at El Chapo where it hurt him most, his family. Guzman had several ex-wives, all of whom he was close to and played a part in his organisation. He had also fathered over a dozen children and despite the fact he was ruthless crime boss was said to have dotted on his children, a psychological evaluation from his time in jail revealed that he felt a deep sense of responsibility to his children and ex-wives despite being an extremely anti-social personality. However a protective streak towards his close family members hasn’t stopped Guzman bringing them into his organisation. His sons, brother’s, nephews and cousins all hold important positions in the Sinaloa Cartel. On a spring evening, May 8 2009, his 22-year old son Edgar was walking toward his SUV with his personal entourage when they were ambushed by a hit-squad of Beltran-Levya sicario’s. Edgar and his bodyguards were mowed down with assault rifles and a bazooka fired at one of their SUV’s. The crime scene is among the most brutal I’ve seen from the Drug War, the bodies were barely recognisable with Edgar and his men literally cut to pieces by the assassination squad’s gunfire. Guzman was naturally devastated over his son’s horrible demise but coldly carried on with business, meticulously plotting his revenge against the Beltran-Levya brothers.
The death toll mounted across Sinaloa as the Cartel gun-men battled it out leaving dozens of dead bodies on the streets everyday. The Beltran-Levya organisation allied itself with the Los Zetas Cartel, which had broken off from its old allies in the Gulf Cartel. Battles also raged across Mexico between the sicario’s of the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas. The Zetas, former military soldiers, earned a grisly reputation for massacres, decapitations, atrocities against migrants and a wave of terrifying kidnappings of ordinary Mexican. El Chapo met fire with fire and the Sinaloa Cartel also carried out horrific massacres across the country. While the Drug War raged across Mexico, Joaquin Guzman moved constantly between his ranches and safe-houses spread across Mexico’s “Golden Triangle”, in the mountainous parts of Sinaloa, Durano and Chihuahua States. He remained one step ahead of his cartel enemies and Mexican army pursuers, which was heavily riven with Chapo’s spies and informants ready to tip-off their master when a raid was being planned. A high-ranking churchman in Durango State denounced Chapo Guzman from his pulpit and told his congregation that the drug lord was living in a sumptuous ranch nearby. Several days later the mutilated bodies of two undercover federal agents were discovered near the church, dressed in their peasant disguise. Chapo was sending a message to the government and the church to back off.
The Beltran-Levya rebellion began to fall apart when Cartel leader Arturo was hunted down and killed by 200 Mexican marine’s after an hour-long gun battle at an apartment complex. Arturo had become a hunted man after ordering the death of the Federal police commissioner in Mexico City. His successor, younger brother Carlos, was arrested just a fortnight later in Culiacan which led to many believing that El Chapo had been instrumental in using his Army contacts to engineer the elimination of the Beltran-Levya Cartel leadership. President Calderon’s administration was also accused of collusion with the Sinaloa Cartel, alleged by some to be going after the Sinaloa Cartel’s enemies vigorously while leaving Chapo’s organisation largely intact. The Drug War rumbled on with the depressing rhythm of massacre and counter-massacre but the Sinaloa Cartel were beginning to wear their enemies down. The Beltran-Levya Cartel was the first to splinter, breaking off into a series of mini-cartels after former Guzman lieutenant Edgar Valdez “La Barbie” Villarreal challenged the remaining Beltran-Levya brothers for leadership of the organisation. The last Beltran-Levya brother who was still on the streets, Héctor, was arrested in 2014 while enjoying lunch with a prominent businessman in a small restaurant in Central Mexico. La Barbie has also recently been extradited to the United States and pled guilty to drug-trafficking charges.
While the insanity of the Drug War continued to claim tens of thousands of lives across the country, Chapo Guzman found the time to get married. His bride was a Sinaloa beauty queen, Emma Coronel Aispuro the niece of one of his top lieutenants. Chapo flew into her village in the Sinaloa Mountains hosting a lavish two day bash with his favourite narco-corrido band in tow. Apparently the whole State, including the Army, knew about the nuptials but Guzman had doled out sufficient bribes to marry his betrothed in peace. Emma Coronel soon gave birth to twin daughters, in a Los Angeles hospital so that his girls could claim joint citizenship. In 2011, after U.S Navy Seal’s located and killed Al-Qadea chief and 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden in a compound near Pakistan’s top military academy, El Chapo Guzman earned the dubious distinction of now being the world’s most wanted man. But it wasn’t Chapo who started to feel the heat from the Mexican Army, rather it was his bitter enemies in the Los Zetas Cartel.
Herbito Lazcano, alias Z-3 or “The Executioner”, had risen to the top of the Zetas after the death of Cartel founder Arturo Guzman Decena, aka Z-1. Like his mentor Z-1, Lazcano was a former elite Special Forces soldier who had overseen his Cartel’s expansion across huge swathes of territory earning himself a reputation for extreme acts of brutality and vicious massacre’s against his enemies. However Lazcano’s control of the organisation was beginning to slip as he was challenged for the leadership by the psychotic Miguel Trevino Morales, alias Z-40 who unlike his Zeta superiors had started off as a common criminal on the tough streets of Nuevo Laredo. The 44-year old Cartel kingpin Herbito Lazcano was tracked down by Mexican marines to a small town in the border state of Coahuila. The drug lord and his bodyguard where shot to death by marines while riding in the back of van, obviously the soldiers weren’t taken any chances with the Executioner. His body was taken to a local morgue but Los Zetas gunman stormed the place soon after carrying off the corpse of their deceased leader. His successor Miguel Trevino Morales was captured the following year near the border with Texas in a notable boost for newly elected President Pena Nieto.
The 2012 election of President Enrique Pena Nieto had saw his Institutional Revolutionary Party regain power as the Mexican public were fatigued with President Calderon’s war on the Cartels. Analysts speculated that the ascension of the PRI would mean a gradual winding down of the Drug War and also, due to its past record in office, speculation that the new government would be more likely to do business with the Cartels, particularly with El Chapo. However Pena Nieto’s administration scored some notable successes against the kingpins in its first years in office, capturing or killing many of the most wanted drug lords in Mexico. The Juarez Cartel’s top echelon, already battle-weary from the war with the Sinaloa Cartel, was decapitated by the Mexican Army and marines. Violence eased off in Ciudad Juarez as the remnants agreed to a truce with Chapo Guzman and joined the Sinaloa Cartel. With the elimination or arrest of his fierce enemies, Chapo Guzman confirmed his status as the most powerful crime boss in Mexico (arguably in the world) but it also meant that the hunt for him was stepped up. After all it was largely Guzman’s power-crazy ambitions to control all of Mexico’s drug plaza’s that had led to the Drug War in the first place, with over 100,000 people now estimated to have been killed in the violence and tens of thousands still missing.
Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman after many years on the run finally made a mistake that played right into the hands of his American and Mexican pursuers. Unlike his more low-key and secretive partner-in-crime, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, El Chapo had become tired of flitting from safe house in the remote high sierra. Army operations in the Golden Triangle had also made his life a misery forcing him to move from ranch to ranch every 24 hours. Guzman moved with his beauty queen wife and their twin daughters to the capital Culiacan. They constantly flitted between a networks of sumptuous villa’s in the city, which were connected by an elaborate network of secret tunnels. Mexican marines where soon on his tail after one of his top couriers was arrested and revealed the location of some Chapo’s safe-houses. In February 2014, marines raided several of his properties but at one of the residences a steel door halted their progress which allowed Guzman to escape via a tunnel built under a kingsize bed. He fled with his family to the coastal Mazatlán, Sinaloa’s 2nd city, but the marines stayed hot on his trial with the assistance of the Americans and his safehouses in this city were also raided. Chapo was forced to flee with his entourage to a small beach hotel. On 22 February 2014, marines launched a dawn raid and captured the drug lord without firing a shot, the drug lord was sharing a small room with his baby daughters and wife. After 13 years on the run the world’s most wanted man had finally been captured.
He was quickly transported to the maximum security jail at Altiplano, where he would share a wing with some of his former allies and enemies. No-one had ever successfully escaped from the prison and Mexican officials rejected American pressure to extradite him to the United States to face drug-trafficking charges, stating that he still had crimes to answer for in Mexico. Apparently it had become a matter of pride for the Mexican government that El Chapo pay for the ruinous drug war by facing Mexican justice. But the drug lord was soon putting plans into motion for his escape, bribing high-level government officials and staff at the prison to aid him in his attempt. On Saturday evening, 11 July 2015, at 8.51pm local time, Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman paced up and down his cell at Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1, called Altiplano near Mexico City. The world’s most powerful crime boss had been here since his capture in the coastal city of Mazatlan 16 months earlier. At 8.52pm Chapo disappeared off camera into his shower block, it was one of the only blind-spots in the entire prison. After a whole two hours prison staff became concerned after he did not reappear onscreen and they decided to check his cell. When they entered the shower-block they found a small hatch cut into the floor with ladders leading down into a tunnel. At the bottom was an adapted motorcycle on rails that went underground for 1.5 kilometres to a half built house on the edge of the prison grounds. El Chapo was nowhere to be seen, it was the enigmatic drug-lords 2nd escape from a maximum-security prison in 14 years. Soon after his escape his son released pictures of his father flying away on a light-aircraft.
The fallout from El Chapo’s escape was highly embarrassing for Pena Nieto’s government and for Mexico internationally. Accusations were soon flying that the PRI had jumped into bed with Guzman and facilitated his escape. The American’s were outraged and relations became tense between the two countries considering the United States had demanded his extradition. Many analysts, including respected journalist Anabel Hernandez, stated that the tunnel was an elaborate smokescreen to save the government embarrassment, they believe it more likely that Chapo had simply walked out the front door as he had done in his 2001 escape from Puente Grande. However even if some elements of Pena Nieto’s administration had colluded with Guzman in his 2nd high profile escape, the President realised that the incident had made his country a laughing stock and made his recapture a top priority. Rumours abounded that Chapo had fled to Central America or even another continent but the drug lord had escaped to the only place he felt safe, the remote Sierra Madre Mountains where he had grown up and his mother still lived. Although many deservedly revile the murderous drug kingpin, the peasants of the remote Mountains love El Chapo seeing him as a benefactor and protector. The fact that he’s a drug trafficker is of no concern to them, considering most of the people in the High Sierra harvest opium and marijuana. Mexican intelligence and the DEA were soon tracking him due to his contact with a popular Mexican actress, Kate del Castillo, who had starred in a popular narco soap opera as the wife of a kingpin. It was she who arranged the surreal meeting between El Chapo and Hollywood actor Sean Penn, with the drug lord sending a short interview to Penn to be published in Rolling Stone magazine. There is some disagreement over whether Penn’s high profile visit to Sinaloa directly led to Guzman’s capture but whatever the case his arrest last week in Los Mochis ended his six month’s on the run, the drug lord telling the marine commander who led his re-capture that “his holiday was over”.
The Mexican government are taking no chances this time, although he has been moved back to the same prison he escaped from last year prison authorities are moving him to a different cell every day to prevent another embarrassing incident for the government. His extradition to America looks increasingly likely with Mexican officials admitting that the corruption at the heart of their government could lead to a 3rd escape attempt. However Chapo’s lawyers have deployed stalling measures in court in an attempt to delay his transfer to the United States.
Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar went to extreme lengths to avoid the terrible fate of extradition, killing presidential candidates, blowing up the Supreme Court and bombing a passenger aeroplane. It is likely that El Chapo will do all in his power to avoid spending the rest of his days in Florence ADX supermax penitentiary, where he will be locked down 23 hours a day in a tiny concrete cell with only a small television set for company. Human Rights campaigners have condemned the facilities conditions as being against the constitution and 23 hour lockdown as a “form of torture”. From the Sinaloa Cartel chief’s point-of-view, it would also be literally impossible to escape from such a facility. Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman connections in the government, law-enforcement and the judiciary may not save him this time but the drug lord has a talent for pulling off the impossible and unexpected.
El Chapo is also an extremely egotistical man, even more so recently after his 2nd escape caught the world’s imagination and evidenced by his meetings with soap actresses and Hollywood stars, perhaps the kingpin values his hide more than his freedom. Over the years too Chapo has only been too happy to spill the beans on his allies and enemies whenever caught in a bind, perhaps he will offer up his old pal;s in the Sinaloa Cartel to the DEA in the hope of a more lenient sentence at a medium-security penitentiary. The world is watching Mexico waiting to see what happens next in the saga of Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman.