Mexico's El Chapo: From most wanted
kingpin to extradited jailbird
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[January 20, 2017]
By Dave Graham
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Joaquin "El Chapo"
Guzman, Mexico's most notorious kingpin who escaped two maximum-security
jails, shipped countless tonnes of drugs around the world and became one
of the world´s most-wanted fugitives, was extradited to the United
States on Thursday.
Mexico's struggle with drug cartels and its chief adversary, Guzman, was
a tapestry of corruption, violent deaths and billions of dollars in
smuggled contraband - a business that put the kingpin onto the Forbes
world's billionaires list.
But El Chapo, or Shorty, was the drug trade's shining light, an almost
mythical figure whose audacious real-life exploits captured the world's
imagination and turned him into a folk hero for many in Mexico, despite
the thousands of people killed by his brutal Sinaloa cartel.
In January 2016, Guzman was finally caught in his native northwestern
state of Sinaloa. Six months earlier, he had humiliated Mexican
President Enrique Pena Nieto by escaping from prison through a mile-long
tunnel dug straight into his cell.
It was the second time in his career the 59-year-old capo had escaped a
federal Mexican jail and he spent the following months awaiting
extradition to the United States.
Just days after his capture, "Chapo's" larger-than-life reputation was
sealed when U.S. movie star Sean Penn published a lengthy account of an
interview he conducted with the drug lord - a meeting the Mexican
government said was "essential" to his eventual capture a few months
"I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than
anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes,
trucks and boats," Penn said Guzman told him during their discussion at
the drug lord's mountain hideout.
On Thursday, Mexico´s government finally extradited Chapo, on the eve of
Donald Trump´s inauguration as U.S. president, from a prison in Ciudad
Juarez on the U.S. border.
Mexico has been riled by Trump´s vows to build a massive border wall and
force Mexicans to pay for it. But Pena Nieto´s administration has sought
to keep Trump on side, first inviting him down to visit and then
reaching out to his transition team.
Top Mexican officials are set to meet with Trump´s incoming
administration in Washington next week, and the timing of the
extradition appeared to be a gesture to both sides of the U.S. partisan
Guzman's legendary reputation in the Mexican underworld began to take
shape in 2001, when he staged his first jailbreak, bribing guards in a
prison in western Mexico, before going on to dominate drug trafficking
along much of the Rio Grande.
However, many in towns and villages across Mexico remember Guzman better
for his squads of assassins who committed thousands of murders,
kidnappings and decapitations.
Violence crept up in the 2000-2006 rule of president Vicente Fox, and
his National Action Party (PAN) successor Felipe Calderon, staked his
reputation on bringing the cartels to heel.
Instead, the killings spiraled, claiming nearly 70,000 lives under
Calderon while Guzman's fame grew. In February 2013, Chicago dubbed him
its first Public Enemy No.1 since Al Capone.
Guzman's Sinaloa cartel went on smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine,
marijuana, and crystal meth across Mexico's 2,000 mile border with the
United States. Indictments allege Guzman's narcotics were sold from New
England all the way to the Pacific.
Guzman's capture in February 2014 was a big victory for Pena Nieto's
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) - making his flight the
following year all the more embarrassing.
"THE FACE OF CORRUPTION"
Security experts concede the 5 foot 6 inch gangster was exceptional at
what he did, managing to outmaneuver, outfight or outbribe his rivals to
stay at the top of the bloody drug trade for over a decade.
"El Chapo Guzman is the most flagrant, the most brutal, and the starkest
face of the corruption in Mexico," said Anabel Hernandez, author of
'Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers'.
Rising through the ranks of the drug world, Guzman carefully observed
his mentors' tactics, their mistakes and where to forge the alliances
that kept him one step ahead of the law for years.
Mexican soldiers and U.S. agents came close to Guzman on several
occasions but his layers of body guards and spies always tipped him off
before they stormed his safe houses.
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Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a
presentation at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney
General in Mexico City, Mexico January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Edgard
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 twentieth century.
He ascended in the 1980s under the tutelage of Sinaloan kingpin
Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, alias "The Boss of Bosses," who
pioneered cocaine smuggling routes into the United States.
The aspiring capo came to prominence in 1993 when assassins who shot
dead Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas claimed they had
been gunning for Guzman but got the wrong target.
Two weeks later, police arrested him in Guatemala and extradited him
to Mexico. Guzman used money to ease his eight year prison stay,
smuggling in lovers, prostitutes and Viagra, according to accounts
published in the Mexican media.
After escaping, his fame spread to the United States, and Guzman
expanded his turf by sending in squads of assassins with names such
as "Los Negros," "The Ghosts" and "The Zeta Killers."
Agents say Guzman hid near his childhood home in the Sierra Madre
mountains but rumors abounded of him visiting expensive restaurants
with his entourage and paying for all the diners.
In 2007, Guzman married an 18-year-old beauty queen in a village in
Durango state in an ostentatious ceremony.
The archbishop of Durango subsequently caused a media storm when he
said that "everyone, except the authorities," knew Guzman was living
in the state. Guzman's bride gave birth to twins in a Los Angeles
hospital in 2011.
Between 2004 and 2013, his gangs fought in all major Mexican cities
on the U.S. border, turning Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo into some
of the most dangerous places on the planet.
In one attack in Nuevo Laredo in April 2013, 14 bodies were left
mutilated on the street under a note that was signed "El Chapo," and
read "Don't forget that I am your real daddy."
Guzman's Sinaloa cartel often clashed with the Zetas, a gang founded
by former Mexican soldiers that created paramilitary death squads.
The Sinaloans fought fire with fire, arming their troops with
rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.
Guzman also turned on his own allies. He waged one of his bloodiest
campaigns against childhood friend and longtime business partner
Arturo Beltran Leyva, alias "The Beard."
In 2008 hitmen hired by Beltran Leyva murdered Guzman's son Edgar, a
22-year-old university student, outside a shopping mall in Sinaloan
state capital Culiacan. Guzman reportedly left 50,000 flowers at his
son's grave, then returned to war.
When Beltran Leyva was finally shot dead by Mexican marines in 2009,
a head was dumped on his grave.
In the 1990s, Guzman had become infamous for hiding seven tons of
cocaine in cans of chili peppers. In the 2000s, indictments say
Guzman's crew took drugs in tractor trailers to major U.S. cities
including Phoenix, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Forbes put the kingpin's wealth at $1 billion, though investigators
say it is impossible to know exactly how much he was worth. Mexican
prosecutors say Guzman used his money to buy off politicians, police
chiefs, soldiers and judges.
(With reporting by Mexico City bureau; Editing by Simon Gardner)
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