Sinaloa drug chief arrested by U.S., Mexican authorities in Mexico

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His cartel’s tentacles now extend as far as Australia thanks to a sophisticated, international distribution system for cocaine and methamphetamines.

Guzman did all that with a $7 million bounty on his head and while evading thousands of law enforcement agents from the U.S. and other countries devoted to his capture. A U.S. federal indictment unsealed in San Diego in 1995 charges Guzman and 22 members of his organization with conspiracy to import over eight tons of cocaine and money laundering. A provisional arrest warrant was issued as a result of the indictment, according to the state department.

He has been indicted by federal authorities in the United States several times since 1996. The charges include allegations that he and others conspired to smuggle “multi-ton quantities” of cocaine into the U.S. and used violence, including murder, kidnapping and torture to keep the smuggling operation running. He’s also accused of conspiring to smuggle heroin into the United States and money laundering.

In 2013, he was named “Public Enemy No. 1” by the Chicago Crime Commission, only the second person to get that distinction after U.S. prohibition-era crime boss Al Capone. Guzman faces a two-count indictment in Chicago charging him with running a drug smuggling conspiracy responsible for smuggling cocaine and heroin into the U.S.

Guzman is still celebrated in folk songs and is said to have enjoyed deep protection from humble villagers in the rugged hills of Sinaloa and Durango where he has hidden from authorities. He is also thought to have contacts inside law enforcement that helped him evade capture, including a near-miss in February 2012 in the southern Baja California resort of Cabo San Lucas just after an international meeting of foreign ministers. He was vacationing in Cabo during a visit by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“There’s no drug-trafficking organization in Mexico with the scope, the savvy, the operational ability, expertise and knowledge as the Sinaloa cartel,” said one former U.S. law enforcement official, who couldn’t be quoted by name for security reasons. “You’ve kind of lined yourself up the New York Yankees of the drug trafficking world.”

An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in drug violence since former President Calderon deployed thousands of soldiers to drug hotspots upon taking office on Dec. 1, 2006. The current government of President Enrique Pena Nieto has stopped tallying drug-related killings separately. Many say his government’s assault ondrug cartels and arrest of kingpins actually fueled the growth of Sinaloa and its major rival, the Zetas, which are now going head-to-heard for lucrative territory.

The two are battling for Nuevo Laredo, a play Guzman lost to the Zetas in 2005, and hitting each other deep inside their respective territories. Sinaloa took over a key Zeta port in Veracruz, while bands of Zetas have attacked their rival deep inside the cartel’s home, western Sinaloa and Jalisco states.

The conflict has led to the gruesome dumping of dozens of bodies by both organizations in their battlegrounds.

Authorities said the battle also weakened the Sinaloa cartel and that key hits on the top leadership in Guzman’s organization had shaken up his inner circle. In the first months of 2012, the Mexican army and federal police arrested a half dozen key Sinaloa people, including two major cocaine suppliers and a man described as the head of Guzman’s security detail.

In April last year, a video made the rounds on the Internet of a man whom U.S. authorities believed was Guzman, possibly indicating a security breach in his inner circle. In 2012, Colombian police seized 116 properties worth $15 million that they say were bought for Guzman, while the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it was placing financial sanctions on a wife and several of his sons.

While his capture may have symbolic importance, many, including Guzman’s cartel partner, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, say it won’t stop the violence or flow of drugs through Mexico to the United States.

“When it comes to the capos, jailed, dead or extradited — their replacements are ready,” Zambada said in an exclusive interview published in Proceso magazine in April 2010.

Guzman’s success and infamy surpassed Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, who was gunned down by police in 1993 after waging a decade-long reign of terror in the South American country, killing hundreds of police, judges, journalists and politicians.

Growing up poor, Guzman was drawn to the money being made by the flow of illegal drugs through his home state of Sinaloa.

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