Born in Badiraguato, Mexico, Joaquín Guzmán Loera entered the drug trade as a teenager. Nicknamed “El Chapo,” he founded the Sinaloa cartel in 1989, over time building it into an immensely profitable global drug-trafficking operation. Known for his violent actions and powerful influence, Guzmán has successfully orchestrated daring escapes from maximum-security prisons in his home country. One such escape came in July 2015, although he was recaptured the following January in the Mexican city of Los Mochis.
El Chapo – Rise to Power
By the late 1970s, Guzmán had proven his value in the narcotics business and begun working with another rising young dealer named Héctor Luis Palma Salazar. Guzmán oversaw the movement of drugs from his home district of Sinaloa, a crucial drug trafficking area on the western end of Mexico where narcotics flowed north to coastal cities and into the United States.
By his late 20s, the quiet but savvy Guzmán, whose 5’6″ frame had earned him the nickname, “El Chapo” (“Shorty”), was supervising logistics for another drug kingpin, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, founder of the Guadalajara cartel. Guzmán kept a low profile, but when his boss was eventually arrested for the 1985 murder of an American Drug Enforcement Agency agent, he quickly emerged as one of the new faces of the Mexican drug world.
El Chapo The Drug Kingpin
Inheriting some of his former boss’s territory, Guzmán founded his own cartel, known as Sinaloa, in 1989. By the early 1990s, Guzmán was on the radar of the DEA and FBI and considered one of Mexico’s most powerful and dangerous drug traffickers.
As the power of the Colombian drug cartels like Medellin and Cali began to wane, Sinaloa was among the Mexican organizations filling the void. Under Guzmán’s direction, it took control of the cocaine trade extending from South America to the United States.
Part of the success stemmed from Sinaloa’s creative smuggling methods, most notably a series of air-conditioned tunnels that ran under the Mexican-U.S. border. Another method involved hiding cocaine powder inside fire extinguishers and cans that were labeled “chili peppers.”
“What Al Capone was to beer and whiskey during Prohibition, Guzmán is to narcotics,” said Art Bilek, executive vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission. “Of the two, Guzmán is by far the greater threat . . .And he has more power and financial capability than Capone ever dreamed of.”
In addition to cocaine, Sinaloa trafficked heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the U.S. and beyond. Eventually, the cartel’s tentacles touched five continents and grew to be the biggest drug operation in the world.
Guzmán coupled that success with serious muscle. He established gangs with names such as “Los Chachos,” “Los Texas,” “Los Lobos” and “Los Negros” to protect his empire. Over the years, Guzmán’s men have been accused of committing more than 1,000 murders throughout Mexico, the casualties including both incompetent henchmen and rival bosses.
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