Before his capture in February 2014, Guzman was the most wanted man in the Western Hemisphere. Born in a small farming community in Badiraguato, Sinaloa state, Guzman spent his childhood shuttling oranges to the market. With his uncle's help, he moved into contraband and later coordinated large shipments of marijuana and finally cocaine, in Sinaloa state and later to the United States. He may have little formal education, but he has a Ph.D. in drug trafficking. Guzman is known as a pioneer in the trade, having essentially leased an airplane hangar in Mexico City's principal airport for years, and led the way in constructing tunnels beneath the US-Mexico border.
El Chapo's career has also been marked by infighting and bloodshed. He split from the core group of Guadalajara-based traffickers in the 1990s and began a bloody fight with the Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization, which ran the lucrative Tijuana trafficking corridor. After an attempt on his life in 1993, Guzman fled to Guatemala, where he was arrested by the authorities and deported back to Mexico. From jail, he continued plying his trade, with his brother, Arturo Guzman Loera, alias "El Pollo," managing the business. His cohorts from Sinaloa, Arturo and Hector Beltran Leyva, regularly brought him suitcases of cash so he could grease the wheels of power inside the prison and continue his opulent lifestyle, including specially prepared meals and conjugal visits from his wife, girlfriends and prostitutes. His friend, ally and relative by marriage, Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias "El Azul," made sure that Guzman's product got to the United States without interference from his rivals.
Guzman escaped prison in 2001, just as authorities were laying the groundwork for his extradition to the United States. He eluded capture for more than a decade by creating a sophisticated security system, allegedly basing himself in isolated, rural areas of Sinaloa and Durango, although some reports had him spending time in Argentina, Guatemala, or even the United States. In September 2011, his wife Emma Coronel reportedly crossed the border into California in order to give birth to twin girls.
Guzman has also created the hemisphere's largest drug cartel with many of those who helped in prison, including Esparragoza and the Beltran Leyva brothers. Guzman has spent a significant amount of time and effort cultivating support among Mexicans, especially in rural areas where contraband and drug trafficking is a way of life. In the past, numerous musicians have celebrated his ability to elude capture and undermine the authorities.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN) have long traded barbs, accusing each other of being beholden to Guzman. The reality is that both may have factions allied to the trafficker, as do parts of the military and police throughout Mexico and other neighboring countries.
Despite his successes, Guzman has not remained unscathed over the years. Guzman's family is deeply involved in trafficking and his battles with his rivals cost him his brother, Arturo, who was killed in prison in 2004 while Guzman carried on a dispute with the Zetas; his son, Edgar Guzman Lopez, who was killed in May 2008 in Culiacan, Sinaloa, amidst Joquin's dispute with his former allies, the Beltran Leyva Organization; his longtime girlfriend from his time in jail, Zulema Hernandez, who was found in the trunk of a car in 2008, strangled to death and with the letter "Z" carved into her body, presumably by rival group the Zetas.
Regardless of these threats, until early 2014 the drug kingpin had repeatedly demonstrated his elusiveness to authorities. In February 2012, Mexican authorities reported that they had come the closest ever to catching Guzman. However, later reports indicated that the operation had never occurred, and that the false information may have been an effort to boost Calderon's popularity in the run-up to the 2012 elections. In February 2013, authorities in Guatemala -- the same country responsible for his jail stint in the 1990s -- reported Guzman's possible death in a shootout, a report that was also found to be false. Later the same year, in November, a Honduran government minister claimed Guzman may have been living in Honduras, although his presence was never proven.
In the early hours of February 22, 2014, Guzman was captured by Mexican Marines in a hotel in the Mexican beach resort city of Mazatlan. At the time of his arrest he was the most wanted criminal on the planet and had a $5 million reward on his head.
- US Department of State Narcotics Rewards Program: Joaquin Guzman Loera
- Interpol Profile
- DEA Fugitives
- Hector de Mauleon, "Atentamente el Chapo," Nexos, 1 August 2010.
- US Department of Justice annoucement of indictment of Sinaloa Cartel (August 2009).
- Laurie Freeman, "State of Siege: Drug Related Violence and Corruption in Mexico,” Washington Office on Latin America, 2006.
- M.J. Stephey, "Joaquin Guzman Loera: Billionaire Drug Lord," Time, 13 March 2009.
- Ricardo Ravelo, "Los Capos: Las narco-rutas de Mexico," (Mexico City, 2005).
- Diego Enrique Osorno, "El Cartel de Sinaloa: Una historia del uso politico del narco," (Mexico City, 2010).
- Malcom Beith, "The Last Narco: Inside the Hunt for El Chapo, the World's Most Wanted Drug Lord," (New York, 2010).