His spectacular escape in July made him become the most famous drug Kingpin and he now shares a spot with Pablo Escobar in the Hall of Fame of drug lords. If he was widely known on the American continent as Mexico’s most wanted man and brutal gangster, he only became really famous around the world for his escape and recapture in 2015 and 2016. But who is “El chapo” and what does his recapture mean for Mexico?
Joaquin Guzman Loera was born in 1954, in a small village in the Mexican province of Sinaloa. Since the beginning he was confronted to the drug business. His parents were farmers but his father was also growing opium poppy and marijuana. It was a violent man and made him drop out of school early to help support the family. Tired by his father’s mismanagement, Joaquin started to grow his own marijuana, at the age of 15, to sell it and support his family. It is around this time he earned his nickname “El Chapo”, which means “shorty” in Mexican slang, as he is only 1.68m. Eventually he was kicked out by his father and went to live with his grandfather for a time, until he moved to a bigger city at around 20. There he joined organized crime, thanks to his uncle who was a drug lord himself.
He joined the Guadalajara cartel and was quickly appreciated for his serious and pragmatic approach on business. For example, when a shipment was late, he would kill the smuggler himself, making people extremely precocious and loyal. Thanks to his good work he quickly climbed steps and eventually started to work directly for the cartel’s head. During a few crisis with Columbia or the USA, he gained more and more power and eventually created his own cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel. He always tried new methods to increase the profit of his drug business and became richer and richer. He was arrested a first time in 1993, after a shootout with a rival gang costed the live of the Cardinal and Archbishop of Guadalajara Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo. He was sentenced to 20years of imprisonment but his cartel still continued to work. He regularly got suitcases full of money that permitted him to live a good life in prison by bribing the guards. In 2001 he escaped with the help of 78 people, some of which were working for the prison and are sitting in prison for it now.
He spend the next years with drug wars and other criminal activities, despite being Mexico’s most wanted man. Him not getting caught for so long, which got the respect of many other drug lords, was mostly possibly trough bribing high ranked officials. Either his location was unknown or he was warned in time so he could escape. One time the Mexican army thought about attacking his location from the air but they changed their mind, because he would probably have warned that planes where coming as soon as they took off and also because they had proof that he was in the possession of surface-to-air missiles that would have taken down the plane. This being just one example of many that shows the amount of power and resources he had. But in 2014 the Mexican and American authorities and military finally caught him in a Hotel when he was visiting his family. He was brought into a high security prison.
In July 2015 he made it into the newspapers by escaping again. His men outside the prison had built a professional tunnel with construction material, lights and big enough to have a person ride a motorcycle in it (the motorcycle being used to transport Guzman out of the 1.5km long tunnel). It is clear that building such a tunnel was only made possible by the cooperation of Mexican authorities and the police is investigating to find out whose help Guzman got.
Now on January 8th 2016 he was caught again. After a rather brutal shootout between the Mexican army and his gunman, he was arrested and send to the same prison which he escaped from in July. A few US senators immediately made an extradition demand, which some of their Mexican coolegues agree to and some don’t.
Only the future will tell us what will happen to “El Chapo” Guzman and his home country. Will Mexico be able to keep him behind bars, fight corruption and win the war against drugs? Eventually they will. The whole apparatus of state will have to roll up their sleeves and it will take a lot of time, energy and money, but they will. Guzman was only capable to gain so much power and influence because the Mexican state was weak and a lack of social service and justice made it easy for him to hire people. They got a certain kind of justice and social aid from him. Now Mexico has to prevent someone else from taking Guzman’s place and that’s only possible if the environment in Mexico stops being favourable for organized crime. Unfortunately fighting the drug lords who sell the drugs is not enough. They would be out of money and power, if no one would buy their drugs. Most of the drugs go to the USA and therefore they have to take their part in the war against drugs in their own country, instead of putting the fault in other people’s hands. If places like Wall Street would be a cocaine free zones, people like Guzman would have a harder time selling their drugs. So to fight the cartels, the countries where the drugs go to have to work on themselves as hard as the countries where the drugs come from. Capturing Guzman and keeping him behind bars the first step into a new future for Mexico and the world.