In Depth

Who is El Chapo and what did he do?

Capture of the drug cartel boss’s son triggers deadly gunfight

The son of jailed drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has escaped arrest after cartel members armed with machine guns overpowered security forces in a bloody ambush in Mexico.

The violence began when Ovidio Guzman Lopez, 28, was discovered by police during a routine patrol in the northwestern city of Culiacan. Mexican TV footage showed the heavily armed gangsters launching a series of attacks on law enforcers, “with cars, bodies and burning barricades strewn in the road”, the BBC reports.

"Up to 50 inmates from the local prison also broke out, fleeing onto the surrounding streets", as cartel gunmen patrolled the city in trucks with mounted machine guns, says The Sun.

Mexico's security minister, Alfonso Durazo, told Reuters that a patrol of about 30 National Guard militarised police came under intense fire from outside a house where Guzman was being held, forcing them to retreat without him for their own safety and "to protect citizens". 

El Chapo's son, who subsequently escaped, is wanted in the US and Mexico over several drug-related charges, says Sky News. He and his brothers are believed to be influential figures in the Sinaloa cartel.

So who is El Chapo?

Guzman - better known as El Chapo, meaning “shorty” - founded the transnational Sinaloa drug cartel, which has been linked with many thousands of deaths. Guzman himself is said to be worth around $1bn (£775m), making him one of Mexico’s richest men. The 62-year-old has made multiple appearances on Forbes magazine’s list of the most powerful people on the planet.

What are his crimes?

El Chapo is considered one of “being the biggest narcotics trafficker in the world”, with charges against him including money laundering, drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder, says The New York Times. His Sinaloa cartel is believed to be responsible for half of all the drugs smuggled into the US from Mexico.

At a trial in New York in February, he was found guilty of ten counts relating to drug-trafficking, including the distribution of cocaine and heroin, illegal firearms possession, and money laundering.

The court heard shocking details about El Chapo’s life, including accusations that he had girls as young as 13 drugged and then raped them.

He “called the youngest of the girls his ‘vitamins’ because he believed that sexual activity with young girls gave him ‘life’”, said a former associate, Colombian drug trafficker Alex Cifuentes.

Cifuentes also claimed that El Chapo paid former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto a $100m (£75m) bribe to end a manhunt for him.

Former bodyguard Isaias Valdez Rios told the court that El Chapo murdered two people in front of him, beating them “completely like rag dolls”, before shooting them in the head and ordering that they be thrown on a fire.

The druglord is believed to be responsible for hundreds more murders.

In July, he was sentenced to a life sentence plus 30 years.

Why was he tried in the US?

Mexico “has certainly tried to bring Guzman to justice before, but he has twice escaped from maximum security prisons in his native country”, says The Washington Post. His 2015 escape “seemed to make Mexican authorities acknowledge that Guzman had the upper hand over their judicial system”, the newspaper adds. Following his recapture in 2016 - after being spotted at a hotel in the seaside town of Los Mochis - the Mexican government sent him to the US to face trial.

“I think they recognised that there was weakness still in the system,” explains Latin American scholar Eric Olson. “It became a situation where the risks of extraditing him became less than the risks of not extraditing him.”

Judge Brian Cogan, who presided over the US trial, thanked the jurors for convicting El Chapo, saying that their dedication was "remarkable and it made me very proud to be an American".


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