Fugitive drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo,” is living in the Mexican state of Durango, a U.S. anti-drug official told the press, in what could be a calculated move to increase the pressure on Mexico's government to apprehend the Sinaloa Cartel leader.

A unidentified official from the U.S. government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told newswire EFE that Guzman is living in "rough terrain" in the mountains of the west Mexican state. The kingpin escaped prison in a laundry basket more than a decade ago, and since then has managed to evade every attempt to recapture him.

There have been reports for some years that Guzman was living in the Sierra Madre mountains. In 2007 he reportedly took over a village in the area in order to hold his own wedding, and in 2009 the archbishop of Durango said publicly that Guzman lived in the municipality of Guanacevi. "Everybody knows this, except the authorities," he stated.

What is different about the latest allegations is that this time U.S. government representatives are the ones claiming to know where Guzman is hiding. This could be an attempt to put pressure on the Mexican authorities, embarrassing them into gathering their forces to catch the cartel boss.

The government has often been accused of sheltering the Sinaloa Cartel and choosing instead to concentrate their efforts on pursuing rival criminal groups. While this is not proven, a lack of will on the part of the authorities, and the outright corruption of some sectors of the security forces, are certainly a factor in Guzman remaining at liberty.

The Sinaloa leader's decade on the run has been made possible by several other factors. A key ingredient is his ability to win grassroots backing from some sections of the population, who collaborate in keeping his hideout secret. Guzman could not remain hidden without the support of a large number of ordinary people who see themselves as owing support to him, not the government, despite the large rewards on his head. The EFE report quotes the same anonymous U.S. agent as saying that Guzman knows all the people around his mountain hideout, and that “if there is any movement of anyone, they know.” This kind of early warning system, allowing him to hear in advance about anything which might herald a security forces raid, is crucial in allowing him to remain at large.

One element in winning this support is Guzman's careful cultivation of his public image. He presents himself as a Robin Hood-style outlaw figure, working on the side of the common man and against the authorities. This reputation is bolstered by stunts such as his widely-reported trips to restaurants, where he allegedly greets each fellow diner personally, and pays everyone's bill afterwards.

His long flight from justice is the subject of various “narco corridos,” popular folk-style songs about drug traffickers. One of these, released last year, celebrates his life in hiding, and says he is helped by the army; "I like being on my ranch, the soldiers take care of me, and also of my fields."

Guzman's ability to command the respect and even affection of segments of the population is not unique among large-scale criminals in Mexico, where drug syndicates often have, or at least claim to have, strong ties to the regions where they developed. One example of this is the Familia Michoacana, which plays on regionalist sentiment in Michoacan in order to drum up local support.

More prosaically, Guzman’s ability to evade recapture for so long is due in large part to his billion dollar fortune, which allows him to buy off both members of the population and local law-enforcement bodies.

Guzman’s story invites comparison to that of an earlier fugitive drug lord - Colombia’s Pablo Escobar. The Medellin Cartel leader likewise enjoyed a measure of grassroots support in his native part of the country, along with the complicity of some local authorities that were intimidated or bribed into helping him. What ended the game for Escobar, who was shot dead by police in 1993, was the combination of two things: the determination of U.S. authorities to bring him down, and the aid they were given by his enemies, funded by rival organization the Cali Cartel.

Guzman already has one of these factors securely in place - lots of his rivals want him dead, from the Juarez Cartel to the Zetas. The U.S. has for many years been seeking his extradition, offering a five million dollar reward for his capture, but the DEA's latest comments could signal a new commitment to push Mexican authorities into finally capturing Guzman.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...