Badiraguato, the capital of El Chapo Guzman's empire, one of the poorest municipalities in Mexico.
By GERARDO REYES
When a woman who recently accompanied Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman during a visit to Culiacan, the capital of the state of Sinaloa, complained of the high temperatures in this area of western Mexico, the drug trafficker jokingly bragged that he could afford an air-conditioning unit for the entire city and the construction of an enormous roof.
Seeing that his cohort, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada liked the idea, Guzman expanded his offer. “Only Culiacan? No way, man, I can pay for a roof over the whole state,” exclaimed Guzman laughing.
Since the mid-1980s, when his name first appeared on the radar of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the drug trafficker speaks of nothing but his business and what he can do or undo with his riches.
“He only talks about his drug business, wherever he is, with whatever person who is present, he talks drugs,” stated Miguel Angel Martinez Martinez, Guzman’s former pilot, in a United States federal court.
At the age of 56, this five-foot-seven-inch man with a thick mustache and peasant drawl constantly spewing vulgarities manages the most powerful drug-trafficking empire in the world—the Sinaloa cartel.
The organization dominates the western hemisphere commerce in cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and amphetamines through multiple methods that include puncturing the most-watched border with more than 120 tunnels.
“El Chapo is the main cartel. The expenses are extraordinary, but he makes at least a billion dollars—possibly more—a year,” says Professor Bruce Bagley of the University of Miami, who is occasionally consulted by Forbes magazine to calculate the drug trafficker’s fortune.“El Chapo es el principal cartel.
“EL CHAPO IS THE MAIN CARTEL. HE MAKES AT LEAST A BILLION DOLLARS—POSSIBLY MORE—A YEAR.”
For more than eight months, Univision Investigates followed the steps of Guzman and his organization in various parts of the world, from his birthplace in Sinaloa, a remote region where few journalists have ventured, to the ports of Spain where his products enter for distribution throughout Europe.
Station reporters interviewed more than 100 people on the business side as well as the law. Fearful at the mere mention of the drug trafficker’s name or to have the courage to denounce him, anti-narcotics agents from the United States and Mexico, former collaborators of the drug trafficker, newspaper reporters, biographers, analysts, and Mexican and Guatemalan officials who have pursued him offered us their informative impressions.
For the first time, the current president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez, recounted the operation that culminated in the capture of Guzman in June 1993, when he was chief of that country’s intelligence service. In addition, we had access to dozens of court documents from the United States and Mexico.
Almost all of those interviewed agreed that Guzman is meticulous--a micro-manager of multi-national crime and violence that never rests. They say he sleeps little, because he must attend business in different time zones, but mostly because he doesn’t want to divulge even the smallest detail of his operation.
Guzman probably has enough money to refrigerate Sinaloa, but what some privately asked is how one of the world’s richest men, according to Forbes, operates his empire from one of Mexico’s poorest cities.
Univision traveled all over Badiraguato, capital of Chapo’s empire. It is a land of poor peasants who live primarily in adobe ranchos with tin roofs, caring for unschooled children and hungry dogs, maintaining a parcel of land planted with their livelihood: marijuana or poppies.
Guzman was one of those children. He was born on April 4, 1957 in La Tuna, some six hours by dirt trails from the municipal center. As it happens in many of these districts, the inhabitants of the town are interrelated, which could account for why in this area they call him "Uncle."
When he wasn’t taking refuge from his father’s beatings at his maternal grandmother’s house, Guzman would plant himself in front of his father, trying to prevent the beating of one of his five brothers. These memories that menace Guzman constantly are ones that he shares with his cohorts when he's drunk, something that has happened often lately.
The young Guzman counted on the silent support of his mother, Consuelo Loera, who lives in La Tuna in a big house full of all of the comforts and amenities. She’s the person he loves and protects most, and perhaps the only one who can change one of his decisions with a word.
In La Tuna they call her Sister Consuelo for her active participation in the Apostolic Church of Faith in Jesus Christ. Just a few yards from her house, El Chapo built a chapel where every Sunday from 10 in the morning till 1 in the afternoon the church followers pray and sing under the auspices of a pastor who lives at the villa.
On her birthday Sister Consuelo invites all the residents of the region to a big alcohol-free party enlivened by popular bands that only play songs in the praise of God.
El Chapo’s father, who has died, cultivated marijuana at his ranch. When the harvest was ready, he’d take the daylong trip toward the commercial center, accompanied by his son Joaquin. He’d spend the money from the sale of the product on liquor and women, so that upon return he never had a cent in his pocket.
Guzman left school in the first grade. Tired of his father’s dissipation, before Guzman was 15, he managed to plant his own marijuana harvest with his cousins, the Beltran Leyvas, who are also from the same region.
Since then, he’s been called El Chapo because of his small stature. It’s a trait that so deeply marked his personality that even today he uses caps with tall crowns and will not allow taller people to be photographed with him.
According to a psychological profile by the Office of the Attorney General of Mexico (PGR), due to his small stature, Guzman is always trying to demonstrate “intellectual superiority and a boundless ambition for power.”
Perhaps these were the characteristics that allowed him to assume the support of his family with his first sales of marijuana, and enter the circle of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, chief drug trafficker at the time, who hired Guzman as chauffeur, according to sources.
El Chapo’s life changed when he was 26. The DEA agent Kike Camarena Salazar died in Mexico at the hands of drug traffickers who brutally tortured him, according to the United States government.
THE LIFE EL CHAPO CHANGED WITH A DEATH AT THE HANDS OF THE DRUG TRAFFICKERS OF KIKE CAMARENA, A DEA AGENT.
Caro Quintero was furious because DEA agent Camarena had coordinated the destruction of one of his most extensive marijuana fields. President Ronald Reagan ordered an international manhunt for the suspects. One of them was Felix Gallardo, Guzman’s boss.
According to Robert Bonner, former director of the DEA in the U.S., El Chapo used this crisis to open pathways in his organization. El Chapo succeeded in taking over drug routes by assassinating his former associates in allegiance with the terrible Hector “El Guero” Palma.
His takeover plans were threatened by the Arellano Felix family, a powerful group of drug traffickers. They controlled Tijuana, the most desirable corridor for passing drugs into the U.S.
In a statement before the Public Ministry of Mexico, Guzman explained that the war had started when the Arellanos killed his best friend, Armando Lopez. “He was like a brother. This was what provoked great resentment in the declarer,” according to the minutes of the hearing of June 9, 1993.
At the same hearing, El Chapo declared that he was the subject of an attack in a street in Guadalajara in 1992, which forced him to leave the city and assume a false identity as Jorge Ramos Perez.
Guzman was unhurt, but he retaliated with a bloody attack at the Christine disco in Puerto Vallarta, where some of the Arellanos were congregating.
By then he had specialized in a key point of trafficking with an efficiency few could surpass: he was responsible for passing drugs from the Colombians to the U.S. in the minimum amount of time possible.
Guzman had sent one of his nephews by the name of Renato to Barranquilla in 1981, where he was lied to by the purveyors and became addicted to drugs, while waiting at the El Golf Hotel for delivery of a shipment of cocaine. A local marijuana exporter rescued him and sent him back to Mexico with a message for Guzman that they should work together.
This time it was Guzman himself who traveled to Barranquilla. He stayed at the traditional El Prado hotel. Although his contact did not want to participate in the cocaine trade, he sent him into the interior, a recommended place to meet with the powerful leaders of the Medellin cartel.
“That’s when he comes in contact with the cartel of Fabio Ochoa, and after meeting Pablo he meets Rodriguez Gacha,” a former drug trafficker from Barranquilla, who preferred not to be identified for security reasons, stated to Univision.
That’s how Guzman, recalls former DEA agent Phil Jordan, “began as a worker for the bosses and is now the boss of all bosses.”