Mexican officials are scrambling to capture a murderous, billionaire drug cartel kingpin who escaped from prison over the weekend, but who exactly is this man, how dangerous is he, and why is the entire country of Mexico terrified of him?
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman (“El Chapo” is Spanish for “shorty”) escaped from the most secure prison in Mexico Saturday through a mile-long tunnel likely on a motorcycle. It is his second escape from a Mexican prison after staying there for barely more than a year.
He is a man surrounded by myth, fear and mystery, some saying he travels with an army of loyal bodyguards, and Mexicans crediting him with killing tens of thousands of people. Forbes estimated his wealth to be $1 billion in 2012.
El Chapo is the face of the Sinaloa cartel, one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world. The cartel murders police, journalists and competing drug traffickers while infiltrating every level of government to protect against legal trouble.
The cartel was birthed on the West coast of Mexico. A handful of families trafficked marijuana in the 1970s and of the group’s leaders, Pedro Aviles, took El Chapo under his wing and taught him the trade from a young age, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Now, the majority of heroin smuggled into the U.S. comes from Mexican drug cartels, predominantly the Sinaloa cartel, with El Chapo at the helm.
El Chapo is just under five feet and five inches. Some details are unclear, but he is believed to be 56 years old and on his third marriage.
His escape was impressive. He climbed into a 20 inch-wide hole in the floor of his shower, down a ladder for 30 feet to a lighted, ventilated tunnel just about his height, complete with a motorcycle track, CNN reports. The tunnel stretched nearly a mile before coming up into a house.
This escape isn’t his first. He was arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and after serving eight years broke out by paying off guards. Reports are conflicted with some saying he hid in a laundry cart, and others saying he simply walked out the front door.
El Chapo was captured in February of last year. Now that he has broken free again, U.S. authorities are reportedly angry because they fought to have El Chapo come to a more secure American prison but Mexico refused.
“We share the government of Mexico’s concern regarding the escape of Joaquin Guzman Loera ‘Chapo’ from a Mexican prison,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
“In addition to his crimes in Mexico, he faces multiple drug trafficking and organized crime charges in the United States. The U.S. government stands ready to work with our Mexican partners to provide any assistance that may help support his swift recapture.”
Authorities in Chicago and California have called him “public enemy number one,” a title once held by Al Capone. Now, they’re back on the alert, planning their response to the prison break.
For now, El Chapo is on the lamb, likely seeking asylum where he can access his vast wealth and run his powerful cartel. Authorities, on the other hand, hope to bring him back looking like this.
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