Skip to comments.'El Chapo' is Mexico's most wanted man
Posted on 06/19/2005 11:38:59 AM PDT by SwinneySwitch
BADIRAGUATO, Mexico Gunmen battling to control the drug trade in Nuevo Laredo and other border cities get their orders from a short, middle-aged man hundreds of miles away a fugitive hiding in his native mountains, where people love and fear him as a ruthless Robin Hood.
Notorious cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera has been Mexico's most-wanted man since he escaped from a high-security prison in 2001 and began fighting rival gangs for control of lucrative smuggling routes.
Authorities say Guzmán's push to cut down competitors on the South Texas-Mexico border is populating morgues and creating the chaos that led Mexican President Vicente Fox to deploy soldiers and federal police last week to the streets of Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros.
"We're looking for him. We are on his trail," Mexico's new attorney general, Daniel Cabeza de Vaca Hernández, said recently.
Guzmán, an elusive and myth-shrouded kingpin as notorious and glorified as Al Capone, is the very personification of the dangerous, intractable and shadowy drug trade and the violence it begets violence that has exploded in alarming ways, including a recent cops-on-cops shootout in Nuevo Laredo.
The man behind the myth prefers brunettes to blondes and baseball caps to jewelry, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He likes seafood and is a fan of Mexican singer Vicente Fernández.
And his Sinaloa Cartel, named after the Pacific Coast state where it got its start, is an empire one he directs from plush haciendas and cave hideouts in the Sierra Madre.
The closest the government came to capturing him was in November, when as many as 100 elite army troops stormed a ranch in the mountains north of this village near where Guzmán, 51, was born.
Though his voice could be heard with electronic monitoring, the soldiers missed Chapo by as few as 10 minutes.
Was a corrupt soldier or federal agent on his payroll?
Was Chapo, Spanish for "Shorty," warned by locals who heard the distant thump of approaching military helicopters?
"The only explanation is people told him; among the same people who are supposed to catch him are people helping him," said Fernando Guzmán Perez-Pelaez, a congressman who heads his chamber's National Security Committee.
Guzmán's charge to the top ignited a cartel war that, according to Mexico's attorney general's office, claimed more than 550 lives so far this year, most of them in Sinaloa and the Texas-Mexico border states of Tamaulipas and Chihuahua. Tallies vary among government agencies.
In Tamaulipas, Nuevo Laredo's new police chief was killed by machine-gun fire his first day on the job June 8. Last week, 41 city police officers were jailed after some of them fired on federal agents sent to keep order.
The Fox administration deployed thousands of federal police, state police and military soldiers across the country to crack down on the cartels in what Fox called "The mother of all wars."
Residents are as accustomed to seeing soldiers in combat gear as traffic cops on corners.
The U.S. State Department spotlighted the violence with travel advisories in January and April.
While the deaths have been largely limited to people believed to be involved in the drug trade, fear of the violence, including a rash of unsolved kidnappings, is dramatically changing how the U.S.-Mexico border is seen by tourists and locals alike.
From crossing the border to buy a bottle of tequila, dine, dance or hit the red-light zones not available in the United States, Americans who for years regularly visited Mexico, now fear heading south of the Rio Grande. There is suddenly nothing sleepy about Nuevo Laredo.
Across the river in Laredo, which is traditionally far cleaner, safer and has about half the population of Nuevo Laredo, the death toll creeps into coffee shop conversations and church sermons alike. The consensus: crossing the border is taking a risk.
But the war has simmered there since 2003, with occasional public shootouts and with bodies turning up in car trunks and abandoned sheds, along streets and highways.
Control of Nuevo Laredo is considered vital because it gives drug traffickers access to the busiest commercial crossing on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The free-trade agreement pushed more than 1.3 million northbound trucks through Laredo last year making it a golden gateway to the United States for anyone who can infiltrate legitimate traffic that flows up Interstate 35 and connects the United States and Canada with Latin America.
The region is filled with warehouses, truck lines and a transportation network where the number of northbound truck crossings more than doubled since 1994, making it perhaps the biggest truck stop in the Americas.
More than 40 percent of Mexico's exports pass through the corridor.
Guzmán wants that gold. He doesn't have it yet. But even while evading authorities, he apparently exploits weaknesses in rival cartels whose leaders are now in prison or dead.
Dozens of interviews and hundreds of court documents and government reports paint him as an ambitious, hot-tempered businessman, generous with his wealth but cruel.
"He is ruthless, for one thing, and very, very bright," said a U.S. law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It is always the cream that rises to the top."
Elusive CEO The 5-foot-6 Guzmán instills fear, commands loyalty and holds near-mythical status in Mexico's so-called Golden Triangle, where the states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua join.
Drug cultivation and trafficking is a culture as well as an economy in the region, woven into society as the Cosa Nostra was in Sicily.
Chapo gains support by donating money for everything from public-works projects to medical bills, although some say he makes "Godfather"-like offers that can't be refused, such as demanding to buy a home or ranchland only to take it by force if turned down.
Locals let him know when outsiders are around a tactic nearly perfected by Pablo Escobar, the now-deceased Colombian cocaine king still considered the most powerful drug boss ever.
Guzmán owns safe houses, warehouses, ranches and residences, and is said to keep moving to avoid detection.
After the failed November raid, angry Mexican soldiers torched his Hummer and pickup and rummaged through personal effects. A computer there contained recent digital photos showing he put on at least 20 pounds and grew a mustache after his prison escape.
Chapo likely changes his appearance regularly and may have undergone plastic surgery, authorities say.
But the vise is tightening. A Guzmán brother, widely seen as a loyal lieutenant, was killed in prison earlier this year, and last week, another was arrested in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa, while at a Chinese restaurant and celebrating his daughter's quinceañera, a customary 15th-birthday bash for girls.
Chapo's son was arrested after police who happened to be traveling behind a BMW sedan saw a man tossed out the passenger-side door while the car was moving. It was unclear why the man, who was alive, was thrown from the car. But for the officers who stopped the BMW, the jettisoned passenger soon would become only the second-most surprising twist of the night.
Posing as the vehicle's occupants and pretending to be in trouble, the officers used a cell phone found in the car and who arrived to help but Chapo's son, Iván Archibaldo Guzmán Salazar, known as "Chapito" (Little Shorty).
Chapito was kept for months in a government safe house in Mexico City.
When he was taken to prison last month by dozens of police vehicles, the motorcade was broadcast by TV news helicopters.
The prime-time parade likely provoked Guzmán, whose organization is structured like a corporation.
The cartel owns and operates marijuana and cocaine fields, labs and processing facilities, the networks that smuggle the drugs into the United States and distribute them.
Guzmán runs cells in Texas, California, Arizona, Illinois and New York, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration profile.
Known for innovation as well as violence, Guzmán pioneered the construction and use of elaborate drug-smuggling tunnels under the border directly to commercial warehouses in California and Arizona.
He's accused of moving tons of cocaine in railroad tanker cars and in trucks carrying counterfeit cans of hot peppers, weighed and packed in the warehouses he used as fronts.
The money is also said to return in bulk, sometimes in small planes loaded with suitcases containing $1 million each.
Though not afraid to go to war, Guzmán is said to prefer building alliances. Even independent smugglers are allowed to work in areas he controls, as long as they pay a tax.
Letting him down can bring brutal consequences, even for close associates. When Enrique Avalos Barriga, once Chapo's top U.S. manager, was called in to answer for a missing load, he feared for his life, though he had not betrayed his boss.
A witness testifying in federal court in San Diego said Avalos used a dog-tag of the drug war: he scrawled his name on a scrap of paper and pushed it up his anus in hopes that if killed and dumped, his body would be identified.
He survived after being kept naked and bloody for an interrogation session that lasted days.
Hometown guy Chapo is divorced and remarried, but said to have a steady stream of mistresses.
He is known to travel with a contingent of bodyguards rivaling those of some heads of state, but totes his own AK-47 assault rifle.
José Antonio Ortega Sánchez, a Mexico City lawyer, recalled waiting, along with a prosecutor, for a jailhouse interview when Chapo was in prison in Guadalajara.
"I had to bathe, I just got finished," Chapo said of a conjugal visit when they finally met at 11 p.m. They spoke until 6 a.m.
"He is a very tough guy," Ortega Sanchez said. "Not sophisticated ... but very, very intelligent."
When you talk with Chapo, you quickly know if you are in trouble, the lawyer said. His rules are simple and direct. If you don't bother him, you won't have problems.
Authorities say he's employed e-mail, Internet chat rooms and more sophisticated technology to close deals and hold meetings once relegated to deserted roadways or cantina backrooms.
To further evade detection while staying in touch with his field forces, he changes satellite phones "like you or I would change underwear," a DEA agent said.
Although Chapo roams the country and passes himself off as a wealthy farmer, he's considered generally safe from arrest in the vicinity of Badiraguato, a 400-year-old town. He was born in the nearby settlement of La Tuna.
Like many towns in Mexico, homes range from shacks with boards for walls to large spreads with satellite dishes, but Badiraguato appears far cleaner and more affluent than many of similar size. Cobbled streets look new, buildings are freshly painted, the church has a new front door.
When folks speak of Chapo, they lower their voices.
"We do not all think the same. Imagine, he kills people with families," said Kareli, 25, who asked that her last name not be used. "But he shares his money with people, and they take care of him."
When it comes to drug traffickers, the mantra repeated in much of Sinaloa is: If you don't mess with them, they won't mess with you.
The word is that spotters along the only roadway into town watch for outsiders, who are sometimes stopped and questioned.
Federal agents warned that gringo visitors might be mistaken for law-enforcement personnel and tortured.
But a San Antonio Express-News reporter and photographer weren't bothered during a visit, although a man in the center of town appeared to shield his face and quickly placed a call from a pay phone.
Some in the town tried to downplay Badiraguato's reputation for cartel lawlessness, but reminders of it were everywhere.
Cellular phones appeared to be jammed to prevent decoding of the local cellular networks, as a way to hinder communication.
Members of the tiny police force wore black ribbons to mark the death of an assistant chief cut down with machine gun fire in May.
"We do not know who did it or where they are from," officer Domitila Arauja said. "He was born here," she said of the slain officer, "so he should not have had such problems."
In February, a small plane crashed after taking off from an airstrip here. Four dead passengers were relatives of Rafael Caro Quintero, a fallen Sinaloa drug boss implicated in the 1985 torture and murder of undercover DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena.
Chapo's rise, fall, rise Another Sinaloa capo, Hector Luis "El Guero" Palma, nicknamed Blondie, brought Guzmán into the drug business in the 1980s, when Mexican cartels had begun to take over from Colombian cartels disabled by U.S. and allied shutdowns of Caribbean air smuggling routes.
The Colombians turned to Mexican gangs already smuggling marijuana and heroin into the United States.
Starting in transportation, Chapo eventually headed the Sinaloa Cartel and developed a vicious rivalry with the Gulf Cartel, based in Matamoros, and the Tijuana Cartel, operated by the Arellano Felix family.
But Chapo drew world attention more for being the real target of a mistaken identity murder in May 1993 than for any killings he'd sanctioned.
The Arellano Felix group recruited hit men from the Calle Treinta gang, (30th Street) then the largest street gang in San Diego, Calif.
They were led by David Barron Corona, a gangster who proved his guts by saving the life of an Arellano Felix brother during an assassination attempt apparently by Guzmán outside a discotheque in Puerto Vallarta.
After spending several days hunting for Chapo in the vicinity of Guadalajara, where he was believed to be living, the San Diego crew and members of a local gang gave up. But as they prepared to fly to Tijuana, a limousine pulled up to the Guadalajara airport and an important-looking man with apparent bodyguards got out.
The gangsters opened fire, killing the man and six people, then flew to Tijuana on a commercial airliner, where they learned they had killed Catholic Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo.
A lawyer for one of the men said their stomachs sank. They were given money and told to hide in the United States.
But many Mexicans believe it was no mistake the cardinal was in his cassock and had a large cross around his neck when he was shot more than a dozen times.
Guzmán was arrested a month later in Guatemala, where he had fled. He was handed over to Mexico and imprisoned.
His escape in 2001, apparently in a laundry truck, came as Fox launched a crackdown on corruption in federal prisons.
The investigation netted 71 arrests, including the warden and numerous guards.
But the Puente Grande (Big Bridge) prison became the butt of jokes, nicknamed the Puerta Grande (Big Door) prison.
Chapo has been on the run ever since, chased by officers and gangsters.
Mexico's equivalent of the FBI confiscated a handwritten to-do list, written by one of Chapo's imprisoned rivals and passed to an attorney acting as a cartel courier.
There were instructions for a hit man codename "14" to kill one of Chapo's men in Nuevo Laredo.
According to Mexico's attorney general's office, the orders were from jailed Gulf Cartel boss Osiel Cardenas Guillen, whose cowboy boots and bulletproof jacket are on display at Mexico's military headquarters.
Guzmán's brother, who helped run the cartel while Chapo was in prison, was killed Dec. 31 in La Palma, a maximum-security penitentiary in Mexico City.
That prompted another crackdown by Fox, who ordered the prison surrounded by tanks. Hundreds of federal police and soldiers restored order.
The army and police took over all four of the nation's maximum-security penitentiaries, firing prison staff and transferring incarcerated capos. The cartels sent their own message by kidnapping and murdering six Matamoros prison employees as they left work.
The narco saint As the war rages along the border, it is also being carried out in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa, considered home by many cartel members.
And when they fall, they often land on one of three stainless steel tables at the state morgue, which has seen 299 murders chalked up to drug killings so far this year.
"The dead don't scare me, but the living do," said Ariel Antonio Gaxiola, 39, a morgue technician.
Sometimes the bodies of rival cartel members end up side by side.
Lying on a gurney recently was one of the latest shooting victims a bearded man with six bullet holes and no ID. The man's silver dental work and soft hands meant he probably had money, Gaxiola noted.
The bodies end up in graves. Murder sites are often marked by a cross, as is the custom with fatal auto accidents.
A cross design and fresh flowers could be seen on the edge of a residential lawn where an 18-year-old was killed in Culiacán last year. Passersby don't seem to notice the small monument or the handwritten note blurred by rain.
"Papito, your mother and I miss you," it reads.
The teen was shot as he pulled up to an intersection in a pickup. Officials say it was yet another killing tied to the drug war.
Traffickers accept the risk of death or jail in their high-stakes missions. Many put their faith in Jesús Malverde, the so-called "Narco Saint," a criminal who shared his riches with the poor and was hanged by the government in 1909.
His shrine in Culiacán, supposedly across the street from where he died, draws a steady stream of visitors seeking protection in everything from their health to smuggling loads of marijuana.
They talk of his miracles, guidance and power. There are hundreds of candles and photos. Some pray to a black and white bust of a mustached Malverde and wear his likeness around their necks.
Bautizer Vega, 30, says he knows about Malverde's fame as the patron of narcos.
"Some people take it that way," he said quietly. "I take it like he is the saint of the poor people ... This guy was like Robin Hood. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor."
It seems of a piece with a region where the illicit trade is a quick way out of poverty, a way to avoid the hard life of a farmer or rancher.
Tourists can buy belt buckles and T-shirts with "Sinaloa" emblazoned above illustrations of marijuana leaves or AK-47s. And narco-corridos, songs that glorify smugglers, are readily available on compact discs of popular recording artists.
Los Tucanes de Tijuana sing one such ballad, which tells of Chapo's fame.
"My planes and my ranches, they were bought with corn," goes the song. "Chapo, with his power, he bought the bosses, that's why throughout the country, the law never found him."
The song is mainstream enough for the CD to be available on Amazon.com.
Reward on his head As Chapo presides over an empire, he knows that not only his enemies want him dead even a close associate or the stable boy he treated poorly could become a millionaire by turning him in.
The DEA in December announced a $5 million reward for Chapo's capture, thinking the promise of riches would be a time bomb for an eventual betrayal Chapo can't escape.
"When you have a $5 million price on your head, who do you pay to clean your house?" asked Misha Piastro, a DEA spokesman in San Diego, where Guzmán faces a 35-page federal indictment.
The agency set up an e-mail address for Chapo tips and toll-free numbers that can be dialed almost anywhere in Latin America. The calls go to a cellular phone that is carried 24 hours a day by an on-duty agent.
Reports on Chapo seem more like material for a "Where's Waldo" puzzle than a criminal investigation.
He's supposedly been spotted everywhere from at a dance hall in Iowa, to a gas station in South Carolina.
A recent tabloid newspaper report in Nuevo Laredo had Guzmán dining in an upscale restaurant there. He was said to have locked the doors while eating, then picked up the tab for surprised and temporarily imprisoned patrons.
The gesture would seem logistically impossible and too reckless for a survivor like Chapo. The chef and manager of the eatery insist it's an urban legend.
"It didn't happen not at all," the chef said. "This whole thing was started by lies and gossip, maybe by our competitors."
An agent familiar with the hunt for Guzmán said the drug lord himself called the DEA hotline to check its legitimacy.
There are also regular calls from a man with a rapid Sinaloan accent who says he is Chapo's spokesman.
"I need you guys to stop publicizing this crap; Chapo will give you more than that," the agent recalled the man saying of offering a bribe.
One police source in Mexico confided that figuring out Guzmán's location is not the problem it's having the guts to take him down.
Although he declined to give the name of the restaurant, he said Chapo is known to regularly dine in public in Culiacán with his mother.
But if anyone ever succeeds in grabbing him, that person would live out his years spending U.S. reward money while always looking over his shoulder.
In San Antonio Long before the DEA offered its reward, it enlisted the services of Miguel Angel Segoviano, who lived in San Antonio and was an accountant for Guzmán and later a U.S. government witness.
Segoviano, snared by federal agents, was given leniency in exchange for a blueprint of Chapo's organization for a 1996 trial in San Diego where Avalos, the cartel's former U.S. manager, was sentenced to life in prison.
It was Segoviano's job to bring the cartel into the computer age by organizing millions of dollars in paper receipts. He met Chapo through his father, who was a grocer, had a trucking line, and was pulled into the operation when he needed a loan.
His father was later killed, most likely for not repaying a $5 million debt to Guzmán or because Chapo's rivals wanted him dead.
The Justice Department won't discuss Segoviano's whereabouts, but he's likely in a witness-protection program.
The San Antonio investigation involved wiretaps in which DEA agents listened to calls with everyone from criminal associates to Realtors to the San Antonio Police Department.
Segoviano later testified not only to details of how Guzmán's cartel did business but to mundane events a company party, baptisms, cock fights, English classes among the leader and his inner circle.
Dying young Few people will discuss the deaths of family members in recent cartel violence, which apparently reached as far as Dallas.
Richard Geissler knows first hand, after his son's body, which had to be identified with DNA, was pulled from a burning vehicle there in September.
Matthew Frank Geissler, along with another 19-year-old from Laredo, had been shot, according to police.
The father said he'll never know exactly why his son was killed, but that he'd been drawn into the fast life of moving 50-pound loads of marijuana from Nuevo Laredo into the Untied States.
"They took him wherever they killed him and took the SUV to an empty lot and set it on fire by rupturing the gas tank with gunfire," he said. "This was not about money, it was about 'we'll show you.'"
Some speculate the deaths may be tied to the Zetas, a renegade gang of Mexican military deserters who are enforcers for Chapo's rival, the Gulf Cartel.
Regardless of who did it, Geissler's death is tied to the seemingly insatiable demand for cocaine, marijuana and other illegal drugs that are produced in Latin America and sold for huge profits on the streets of the United States.
The DEA estimates that more than 80 percent of the cocaine that ends up in the United States was sneaked across the U.S.-Mexico border. It breeds corruption, addiction, brutal murders and a range of other vices.
A few days before he died, Geissler said his son confessed to him that he'd gotten into trouble running drugs. He wanted to quit the business, escape the life of a drug runner and go to college in Laredo a new life.
It was the money and power glorified in the classic Al Pacino drug trafficker movie, "Scarface," that drew his son, said Geissler, who added that while he warned him to get out of the business he is wracked with guilt.
"My son thought he was walking on water," Geissler said. "And he ran into the devil."
Straight into Laredo, Texas!
El Chapo Ping!
Please FReepmail me if you want on or off this South Texas/Mexico ping list.
I would say something against Guzman, but he's paid me off not to post anything negative about him on this board. Money talks!
"El Chapo"... Wasn't he the villain in "The Three Amigos"? ;-)
"You were thinking of the infamous El Guapo. But have no fear, we will capture the infamours El Chapo too."
And our open borders elites want to join together with this narcocracy to form the "North American Union," and depend on their police and military to defend our "common border".
Well, as long as El Guapo keeps his narcoterrorism south of what used to be the border, those of us who still believe we live in the US of A ought to be alright...right?
Mokroe delo, tjkho.
Protect our borders and coastlines from all foreign invaders!
Be Ever Vigilant!
Minutemen Patriots ~ Bump!
Maybe El Chapo is their El Guapo; we all have our personal El Guapos to face.
In this case, his name is El Chapo and he's a big scary guy that wants to kill them.
nut he hasn't. Didn't you see the thread Thurs or Fri where one of his drug dealers was gunned down in in broad daylight in front of Laredo TX car dealership.
Ha! I thought of that right off...
K = que?
One big happy family? The end of sovereign America, decided upon by traitorous "elites"?
Wait until enough Americans wake up and find out about this "North American Union" and the traitors who are pushing it. I don't think America will take this mess lying down.
"The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,
1. The act of invading; the act of encroaching upon the rights or possessions of another; encroachment; trespass.
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera
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