In this photo Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo lies in his car next to his chauffeur, Pedro Perez Hernandez.
By CASTO OCANDO & MARÍA ANTONIETA COLLINS
Until early 1993, El Chapo Guzman’s life developed around the turnover of drugs, using a framework of business fronts, illegitimate contract signers, and governmental contacts, all with with a single objective: to keep a low profile in the Mexican drug-trafficking world while accumulating the power necessary to become independent.
One of his operational centers was the city of Guadalajara. There he controlled various properties and businesses, among them the market La Tapatia, a store that sold groceries and agricultural supplies, which served as a front to launder earnings from the sale of cocaine. Uno de sus centros de operaciones era la ciudad de Guadalajara.
At the time, El Chapo was not yet considered a transcendental figure within the competitive hierarchy of the Mexican drug lords. Yet, despite his low public profile, El Chapo was very visible to his business rivals, such as the Arellano Felix brothers.
The quarrels between El Chapo and the Arellano Felix brothers escalated since the end of May 1992, during a fight over control of drug routes. At the end of that month, a car bomb sent by the brothers exploded on one of El Chapo’s properties in Culiacan. Five months later, El Chapo miraculously survived another attempt on the streets of Guadalajara.
THE CULMINATING MOMENT CAME ON MAY 24, 1993, AT THE GUADALAJARA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.
The retaliation came almost immediately. El Chapo ordered a fierce attack against the Arellano Felix brothers while they were at a disco in Puerto Vallarta on November 8, 1992. The brothers were able to escape unharmed through air-conditioning vents. But a deadly war had been declared.
The culminating moment came on May 24, 1993, at the Guadalajara International Airport. El Chapo planned to travel that day to expand political relationships and search for higher levels of protection.
Unbeknownst to him, El Chapo was being closely followed by a team of paid assassins hired by the Arellano Felix brothers, who had traveled to Guadalajara to personally conduct investigations.
Whether or not it was a coincident, after weeks of pursuing, the Tijuana bosses and their hired assassins had decided to leave the city that same day. Suddenly, at 3:45 in the afternoon, the percussive rattle of AK-47 machine guns in the parking lot set off a panic among airport pedestrians.
Moments before, El Chapo had arrived at the terminal driving a green armored Buick, surrounded by bodyguards, to depart on an Aeromexico flight. After parking his car at the terminal entrance, El Chapo was surprised by the sound of gunfire.
“Run, run, there are people with guns!” shouted one of his bodyguards, Antonio Mendoza Cruz. Instinctively, El Chapo dropped to the floor and began to quickly crawl toward the interior of the airport, fleeing the hail of bullets, protected by Mendoza Cruz.
At that moment, a sequence of events occurred that catapulted the status of the boss of Sinaloa. A short distance from El Chapo’s armored car was parked a white car with a distinguished passenger: Monsignor Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, Cardinal of Guadalajara and a powerful figure in the Mexican Catholic Church.
When he heard the shots, the cardinal tried to exit the car but was instantly surrounded by two assassins. Without mincing words, one of the gunmen discharged a burst of bullets into the body of Cardinal Posadas. Another assassin shot the chauffeur, Pedro Perez Hernandez, at point-blank range.
During the attack, two occupants of El Chapo’s car were also shot. El Chapo was able to escape unharmed, running toward the baggage conveyor belts. When they reached the landing strip, El Chapo and his bodyguards ran into the open field, taking advantage of the confusion.
The assassination of Cardinal Posadas reached headlined front pages. It launched the figure of Guzman Loera into fame, turning him into the most wanted man in Mexico. His face, until then unknown by the public, began to appear daily on television and in newspapers across the country.
The assassination threw into relief the existence of the huge drug trafficking cartels in Mexico, something that until then had not existed in the collective consciousness of Mexicans, affirmed investigator Hector Moreno Valencia.
“It is after the assassination of Cardinal Posadas that authorities begin to tell us there are big drug lords, and that one of them is named Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias El Chapo Guzman,” he stated.
El Popeye and Antonio Mendoza, two rival assassins who confronted each other at the Guadalajara airport.
Amid generalized shock, the government of Carlos Salinas de Gortari ordered a massive manhunt. The government offered five million dollars for information leading to the arrest of those held responsible: El Chapo Guzman, his associate El Guero Palma, and brothers Ramon and Benjamin Arellano Felix.
Based on the testimony of one of the assassins implicated in the shootout, the Attorney General of Mexico, Jorge Carpizo, concluded that the killers had confused Cardinal Posadas with El Chapo Guzman.
The official version was backed up by a report written five months later by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA): “The Arellano Felix brothers, based in Tijuana, attempted to assassinate Joaquin Guzman at the Guadalajara Airport. Instead, they mistakenly killed the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo.”
THE OFFICIAL VERSION WAS THAT THE TIJUANA CARTEL KILLERS HAD CONFUSED THE CARDINAL WITH EL CHAPO.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, shouted to high heaven when they heard the official version. The assassination of this important figure was not the product “of wayward shots or crossfire,” claimed Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez. “It was intentional, it was perfectly direct, as stated by forensics, and it has been written as well,” he pointed out.
The Catholic cleric developed a controversial hypothesis: the assassination had not been accidental but rather the product of a political conspiracy to silence the critical actions of the Catholic cardinal.
The lawyer for the ecclesiastical court, Jose Antonio Ortega, asserts that multiple pieces of evidence point in that direction. Among them, he mentions conversations Posadas had at high levels of the Mexican government to warn about important political connections with cartels in Colombia and Peru.
Investigator Moreno Valencia points to another suspicious item—the ease with which El Chapo Guzman escaped the scene of the crime.El investigador Moreno Valencia apunta a otro elemento de sospecha: la facilidad con que el Chapo Guzmán escapó de la escena del crimen.
After fleeing the shootout, El Chapo took refuge in the neighborhood of Bugambilias, some 20 minutes from the airport. From there he moved with escorts to Tonala, on the outskirts of Guadalajara where he owned a ranch.
When the search for El Chapo Guzman began, there was no record of his actual face, and the so-called portraits of him were far from his real image.
That same afternoon El Chapo left by land for the Mexican capital, arriving at three in the morning the next day. He remained for almost ten days at the Hotel Flamingo, south of the capital, until obtaining a false passport under the name of Jorge Ramos to travel to the Guatemalan border.
In the midst of public persecution, El Chapo put into practice what he knew best: paying for police and political protection. He finally left for Guatemala on June 4, accompanied by his girlfriend, Maria del Rocio del Villar Becerra and various bodyguards.
His plan was to cross Guatemalan territory and reach El Salvador. But his days of freedom were numbered.Su plan era atravesar territorio guatemalteco y llegar a El Salvador.