Feb 16th, 2019, 03:43 PM

El Chapo: Guilty!

By Cristina Mendoza
El Chapo being escorted by armed military personnel. Image Credit: instagram.com/vsnfrance
Modern-day Pablo Escobar faces life in prison.

Joaquin Guzman Loera, also known as “El Chapo”, was found guilty on all 10 counts of his indictment on February 12, 2019. El Chapo is the kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel which controls approximately 40 to 60 percent of Mexico’s drug market. Described as “one of the world’s most prolific, violent and powerful drug cartels” by the United States Justice Department, the organization has distributed thousands of kilos of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin to the United States and Europe. The verdict marks the end of the 12-week trial, but not the end of the cartel business.

The prosecution presented 56 witness testimonies and mountains of evidence including photos and recordings from wire tap operations. The investigations that were carried out to obtain the evidence were a collaborative effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, and federal prosecutors across the country. Guzman’s attorneys had little to defend him with against the gruesome recounts of countless murders, kidnappings, drugging and raping young girls, and Guzman’s other ruthless tactics to maintain control. In comparison to the 12 weeks of evidence presented by the prosecution, Guzman’s attorneys presented a 30-minute defense case for their client.


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Caricature illustrations from El Chapo's trial. Image Credit: instagram.com/nayelichavezgeller

The 10 counts of Guzman’s indictment include engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds international distribution of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other drugs, and use of firearms. His sentencing hearing has been set for June 25, 2019, however, he faces a mandatory life sentence without parole.

Although not official until his sentencing hearing, it is expected that he will be sent to the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado. ADX is the highest security prison in the country where inmates spend 23 hours inside their concrete cells, are counted seven times a day, and moved around to prevent them from getting too acquainted with their surroundings. Other inmates of ADX include Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers and Theodore J. Kaczynski also known as the Unabomber.

Considered the modern day Mexican version of Colombia’s notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, Guzman’s time as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel has brought in over $14 billion in revenue since it started in the early 2000s. Since then, it has incited terror and violence all over Mexico. His business became so large that it solidified him a spot on Forbes’ list of billionaires and most powerful people from 2009 to 2013. However, unlike Guzman, Escobar was never extradited or tried in an American court of law.

Guzman is no stranger to the judicial system and has become infamous for his escape tactics. Originally arrested in 2014, he escaped through a tunnel built by members of the Cartel that led to his shower in his prison cell. He was later re-arrested by Mexican authorities in 2016 and extradited to a maximum security prison in New York where he has been heavily monitored ever since – his only allowed visitors are his attorneys and his six-year-old twin daughters.

El Chapo's "wanted" poster distributed by the US Justice Department. Image Credit: The Mob Museum 

Despite being locked up, the Cartel’s business has shown no signs of slowing down – Guzman’s sons are now running the Cartel. In fact, there was a 37 percent increase in Mexican heroin production between 2016 and 2017. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the United States spends more than $47 billion every year fighting illegal drugs. However, as long as there is a demand for illegal drugs, the Cartels will find ways to keep them flowing.

“The Sinaloa Cartel is still basically operating with the same power and reach. They continue to be the most powerful drug organization in the world.” –Mike Virgil, former chief of international operations for the US DEA

In addition to violence and illegal drugs, the cartel business is also filled with corruption. Throughout Guzman’s trial, it was revealed that he paid many politicians and government officials bribes to keep his business running smoothly. Among the allegedly paid officials was Mexico’s former president Enrique Peña Nieto for $100 million. Peña Nieto has denied this allegation.

Experts have speculated that Chapo’s arrest and conviction will lead to more violence as other cartels try to gain more power. A study done by the DEA showed a Sinaloa Cartel rival known as the Jalisco New Generation has been one of the world’s fastest-growing drug organizations since 2010. University of Miami expert on Mexico's cartels Bruce Bagley points out, “there’s going to be more bloodshed. Every time there are these transitions…there is a period of adjustment. It’s often quite bloody.”

Guzman’s conviction is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is a victory for the international community for being able to incarcerate one of the world’s most violent and corrupt men. On the other hand, as long as there is a demand for the illegal drugs produced and distributed by the cartels, there will be someone running them.