Could Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán be the biggest drug dealer in the world?

The many prison escapes of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán are reminders that the drug trade is not just a colorful background setting for popular American TV shows and movies. It is, in fact, a violent, deadly business populated by men (and even a few women) who kill not only indirectly, through the distribution of their toxic products, but also directly, through hired gunmen who intimidate and murder rivals, government officials, and often, innocent bystanders. Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, the man who became known as “El Chapo” (“Shorty”), certainly looks unassuming: 5’6” tall, middle-aged, average looks. But his unremarkable appearance is deceptive. Guzmán is the kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel, the source of the largest percentage of drugs imported into the United States every year: cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin, all delivered by the ton through elaborate land and air distribution channels.


Guzmán seemed fated for the drug trade. His uncle was one of the original Mexican drug smugglers, and young Joaquín was soon involved in the family business. He rose to prominence in the cartel quickly, as internecine fighting claimed rivals both within the cartel and without. In 2006, violating a pact between cartels, Guzmán ordered an assassination that spurred what has come to be referred to as the Mexican Drug War. This conflict between cartels has resulted in over 60,000 deaths and 12,000 kidnappings. Along the way, Guzmán has become a billionaire and one of the most powerful men in the world.



The law caught up with Guzmán from 1993 to 2001 when he was arrested and imprisoned. But he made himself comfortable in jail, through bribery and intimidation, until his eventual escape (which involved the bribing of 78 people and cost him over $2 million to engineer). Arrested again on February 22, 2015, it wasn’t long before El Chapo made his second escape from a maximum-security prison on July 11. How did he do it? He slipped through a hole under the shower in his cell and escaped through a mile-long tunnel that led to a construction site on the outside.


Following Guzmán’s headline-grabbing escape, headline-grabbing Republican presidential candidate at the time Donald Trump didn’t waste any time tweeting about it. “Mexico’s biggest drug lord escapes from jail. Unbelievable corruption and USA is paying the price. I told you so,” Trump tweeted, alluding to controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants that he made during his presidential campaign launch.

El Chapo allegedly responded to The Donald through what is believed to be the drug lord’s official Twitter account. The profanity-laced tweet read: “Keep f*****g around and I’m going to make you swallow your f*****g words…”

While Trump beefed up his security and said the FBI is investigating the threat, El Chapo was busy on the run and Mexico was offering a $3.8 million reward for information leading to his capture.

On January 8, 2016, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto announced via Twitter that authorities recaptured the drug lord.

In January 2017, the Mexican government extradited Guzmán to the United States to face drug trafficking and other charges. Guzmán appeared in U.S. Federal Court and pleaded not guilty to over a dozen charges. In July 2019, El Chapo was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years, along with ordering him to pay $12.6 billion in restitution.


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