Even from jail, ‘El Chapo’ looms large in Mex­i­can home state

Kuwait Times - - International -

CULIACAN: He has lost weight in his New York jail cell, and some of his larger-thanlife aura, but Joaquin “El Chapo” Guz­man still looms large over Mex­ico’s Si­naloa, where he launched his nar­cotics empire. With his head and trade­mark mus­tache shaved, held in soli­tary con­fine­ment 23 hours a day when he is not in court, Guz­man is a far cry from the brazen bil­lion­aire capo whose Si­naloa car­tel brought this law­less western state to world fame.

But even as he goes on trial Tues­day in US fed­eral court, charged with smug­gling 155 tons of co­caine into the United States, “El Chapo” re­mains a con­stant pres­ence on the streets of Si­naloa’s cap­i­tal, Culiacan, where he was feared and beloved in equal mea­sure dur­ing his days as the world’s most-wanted drug lord. Street ven­dors still sell fig­urines of a gun-tot­ing Guz­man, and hats stamped with the num­ber 701 - the spot he once held on Forbes mag­a­zine’s list of the world’s rich­est peo­ple, with an es­ti­mated for­tune of $1 bil­lion.

There is an avid fan base here for the

dif­fer­ent movies and tele­vi­sion se­ries in­spired by his life, surely one of the most col­or­ful to come from this re­gion known for its out­laws. Guz­man, 61 - whose nick­name means “Shorty” - grew up dirt-poor in the town of Badi­raguato, where he sold fruit on the street as a boy and started grow­ing mar­i­juana and opium pop­pies at age 15. Re­cruited into the pow­er­ful Guadala­jara car­tel, he then struck out on his own, even­tu­ally turn­ing his home­grown car­tel into a multi-bil­lion-dol­lar empire with ruth­less ef­fi­ciency.

Later came his two au­da­cious jail­breaks - once in a laun­dry cart, in 2001, and once through a tun­nel out­fit­ted with a mo­tor­cy­cle on rails, in 2015. Less leg­endary though still laced with a hint of Hollywood glamor - was the hu­mil­i­a­tion of be­ing re­cap­tured, six months later, af­ter the Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties picked up his trail when he gave an in­ter­view to the ac­tor Sean Penn that was pub­lished in Rolling Stone mag­a­zine. “El Chapo was a me­dia star. He had a the­atri­cal streak, and that put the spot­light on him even more,” says Tomas Gue­vara, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Si­naloa.

‘Narco cul­ture’ Guz­man may be be­hind bars, but the Si­naloa car­tel re­mains a mas­sive busi­ness, now led by his right-hand man, Is­mael “El Mayo” Zam­bada. “The cap­ture and ex­tra­di­tion of ‘Chapo’ Guz­man was largely sym­bolic,” says Mike Vigil, for­mer head of in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tions and the US Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Si­naloa is home to some of Mex­ico’s most fa­mous drug barons, in­clud­ing the men who dom­i­nated the game in the 1980s, Ernesto Fon­seca and Rafael Caro Quin­tero.

That has given rise to a lo­cal “narco cul­ture,” vis­i­ble in the bal­lads that lo­cal mu­si­cians ded­i­cate to drug traf­fick­ers and the fash­ion sense some­times found on the streets of Culiacan, a unique blend of Coun­try Western and bling. It is also vis­i­ble in the Jar­dines de Hu­maya ceme­tery, where late king­pins re­pose in lux­u­ri­ous tombs out­fit­ted with bul­let-proof glass, soar­ing domes and air-con­di­tion­ing. Nearby, there is a chapel ded­i­cated to Je­sus Malverde, the so-called “narco saint” - a folk hero who, ac­cord­ing to le­gend, stole from the rich to give to the poor in early 20th-cen­tury Si­naloa. —AFP

CULIACAN: Photo shows the Jar­dines del Hu­maya ceme­tery in Culiacan, Si­naloa state, Mex­ico. In spite of be­ing in New York, where he awaits trial, Mex­i­can drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guz­man is still present in the Mex­i­can north­west­ern state of Si­naloa, where he was born. —AFP

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