In 1993, when Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán was just getting started on his criminal career, he was almost captured by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and extradited to the United States.
The two decades-long international law enforcement effort to bring Guzmán to justice is nearing an end after he was recaptured in January by Mexican authorities after notoriously escaping from jail six months earlier, his second dramatic jail break.
As Guzmán sits in a Mexican jail awaiting extradition to the United States, Univision Investiga pieced together some of the legal case that will be presented against him once he arrives in the United States in the next few months.
For several months, the research team Univision obtained access to testimony and documents that could be used in the United States against Guzmán. Among those interviewed are former U.S. and Latin American counternarcotics agents. Univision also examined the testimony of informers who were at one time close associates of Guzmán.
“Using this body of evidence, dating back to the nineties, we reconstruct the story of how Guzmán flooded the United States with drugs by sea, land and air, often with the complicity of local authorities.
A WAREHOUSE IN SAN SALVADOR
In June 1993 six tons of Colombian cocaine was seized in a warehouse on the outskirts of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.
Despite the apparent success of the operation, one detail was missing: the alleged owner of the cocaine got away.
Guzmán had visited San Salvador two months before the operation, using the fake identity of Jose Luis Ramírez. He was there to inspect one of his new drug warehouses.
“They wanted to use El Salvador as a base to transhipment base,” according to a former Salvadoran undercover police officer who asked not to be identified.
Unbeknownst to Guzmán his movements were being watched by Salvadoran agents who had infiltrated the drug ring.
One evening, Guzmán went out drinking with friends, and ran into the undercover agents. When a bar brawl broke out the agents took advantage of the confusion to snap photos of Guzmán that appear in the case file.
The net had been closing on Guzmán for months. While he was in San Salvador Mexican authorities busted a truck with 7.3 tons of El Chapo’s merchandise hidden in 1,400 boxes of chilis just outside Tijuana.
According to court documents the agents were expecting Guzmán back in San Salvador. The plan was to arrest him the day the drugs were seized. “The DEA’s idea, as far as I know, was to capture him and immediately transfer him to the United States,” said the undercover agent.
But Guatemalan authorities beat them to it, detaining the drug lord June 9 for his alleged involvement in the murder of Mexican Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo.
Guzmán spent eight years jailed in Guatemala before escaping in 2001. Guzmán then spent 13 years on the lam before his second capture in February 2014.
Despite the disappointment of Guzmán getting away in 1993, the Salvadoran operation would provide the DEA with an important new lead, thanks to a telephone number for one of his most trusts accountants in the United States.