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El Chapo, whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera, was one of the most powerful and notorious drug lords in Latin America. As head of the Sinaloa cartel, he was one of the most wanted criminals in the Americas. After he managed to escape from captivity in 2001 and 2015, he was caught again in 2016 and extradited to the United States a year later. In July 2019 he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
El Chapo was born on the La Tuna farm in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. He left school after the third grade and made his living by selling oranges. In 1972 he got into the drug business. He initially hired himself out as a henchman of the two notorious drug lords Amado Carrillo Fuentes and Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo. In those early days, he stood out for successfully coordinating cocaine flights from Colombia.
His criminal career in the Sinaloa cartel began in the early 1980s. El Chapo’s knowledge of the transport and smuggling of cocaine enabled him to establish himself as the cartel’s head of logistics. Entrepreneurial skill coupled with a ruthless approach, including murder, enabled El Chapo to work his way up the ranks of the cartel. The Sinaloa cartel, under his leadership, began digging tunnels under the Mexico-US border to make it easier to smuggle the drugs past authorities.
In the bitter dispute with the rival Tijuana cartel, there were repeated assassination attempts on both sides. To counteract the attacks, El Chapo never stayed in the same place for more than a few days. However, on May 24, 1993, he almost died in an attack that instead claimed the lives of seven other people. In the same year, El Chapo was caught by the Mexican authorities for the first time.
He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, this did not stop his criminal career. From the prison cell, he continued to run his drug business and established himself as the head of the Sinaloa cartel by the late 1990s at the latest. He finally escaped from prison in 2001 by hiding in a laundry cart. Some sources claim he struck an agreement with the then President of Mexico that made his escape possible. He went into hiding in the state of Sinaloa, protected by the heavily armed forces of his cartel.
In the years that followed, El Chapo finally rose to become one of the most powerful drug lords in the world. In addition to smuggling cocaine, the Sinaloa cartel captured large portions of the heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana markets. This greatly increased El Chapo’s money and influence. In 2009, Forbes ranked him 41st among the most powerful people in the world. In 2012, his net worth was estimated at around 850 million euros.
He was arrested again in February 2014 as part of a joint operation by the Mexican military and the US Drug Enforcement Agency. A year later, however, El Chapo managed to escape again in a spectacular way. This was made possible by a 1.5-kilometer tunnel that was dug into the shower of his prison cell. After his escape, he was placed at the head of America’s most wanted criminals. A few months after his escape, he was interviewed by actor Sean Penn for the music magazine Rolling Stone.
However, his life in freedom was not to be long and in January 2016 he was arrested again. In 2017, Mexico extradited him to the United States, where he was tried a year later. As part of this process, the drug lord’s financial situation was also examined in more detail. The current sum of 12 billion euros was mentioned. However, accurate statements about his net worth are difficult to make due to the convoluted nature of the drug business. On July 17, 2019, El Chapo was finally found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you feel trapped. There is always a way out. Never give up.”
“I may not be the president of Mexico, but in Mexico I am the boss.”
“If you take care of me, I’ll take care of you. If you betray me, I’ll kill you.”
– Guzman’s nickname El Chapo means “the short one” in German and refers to his short height.
– From 2009 to 2013 he was included in the Forbes ranking of the most powerful people in the world. His placings were 41, 60, 55 and 67.
– His influence was comparable to that of Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellín cartel, according to the US anti-narcotics agency.
– In 2013, El Chapo was officially declared Public Enemy #1 of the United States.
– He has smuggled more drugs into the United States than any other drug lord. (over 500 tons)