The photo says it all.
Taken on February 22, it shows Joaquin Guzman, the widely-feared kingpin of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel, in the custody of Mexican Marines.
The Marines had launched a surprise, early-morning raid on the condominium where he was staying in Mazatlan, Sinaloa.
Taken without a shot being fired, Guzman was paraded before photographers. Yet, even with his hands cuffed behind his back, the fear generated by his name was such that all the Marines in the photo wore black masks over their faces.
His nickname might be “El Chapo”, or “Shorty,” owing to his 5’6″ height. But there is nothing aborted about the extent of his power.
Guzman became Mexico’s top drug kingpin in 2003 after the arrest of his rival, Osiel Cardenas, head of the Gulf Cartel. Since then, he has been considered the “most powerful drug trafficker in the world” by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
High-ranking officials in the U.S. Department of Justice hailed the arrest and announced they would seek Guzman’s extradition to the United States for trial.
There were two solid reasons for doing this:
- Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel smuggles multi-ton cocaine shipments from Columbia through Mexico to the United States–the world’s top consumer.
- Arrested in 1993 and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, Guzman lived like a king in prison–until he bribed his guards to smuggle him out in a laundry cart. In Mexico, such treatment for drug kingpins is typical.
But even if Guzman spends the rest of his life in prison, his drug empire will go profitably rolling on.
Anyone who doubts this need only read Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields.
Written by Investigative Reporter Charles Bowden and published in 2010, Murder City offers a terrifying, and almost lethally depressing, portrait of what happens when a city–and a country–disintegrates.
Ciudad Juárez lies just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. A once-thriving border town, it now resembles a failed state. Notorious as the place where women disappear, its murder rate exceeds that of Baghdad or Mogadishu.
It’s so overwhelmed with the violence of drug trafficking that its leading citizens—police, politicians, even the drug lords—find it safer to live in El Paso.
Hundreds of millions of narco-dollars flow into Juárez each week, and the violence and corruption that follow yield 200 to 300 murders each year.
Among the casualties of that violence:
- A reporter–who has dared to expose cartel-corrupted members of the Mexican Army–is forced to flee to the United States with his young son.
- A beautiful woman who became the mistress of one drug cartel leader is gang-raped by members of a rival cartel.
- A teenage killer for the cartels is now being hunted for having run afoul of his murderous bosses.
This is a city–and a country–where virtually no one is safe.
- Mexican police pay big bribes to be assigned to narcotics enforcement squads. The reason: Not to suppress the rampant drug trafficking but to enrich themselves by seizing and selling those narcotics.
- Residents awaken at dawn to find bodies of the drug cartels’ latest victims dumped on streets–their hands, feet and mouths bound with silver and gray duct tape.
- Mexican policewomen are often snatched off the streets and raped–by members of the Mexican Army.
- Honest policemen–and even police chiefs–are routinely gunned down by cartel members.
If there is any one story in Murder City that symbolizes the total corruption of a society awash with drugs and the profits they produce, it is this:
A Mexican priest serves as confessor to drug lords. They, in turn, believe their confessions to be safe, as they are supposed to be heard only by the priest and God.
But one of the drug lords wears a large gold crucifix, which the priest secretly covets.
So he turns from drug lord confessor to police informer–and the Mexican police raid the next drug lord gathering and confiscate a large quantity of narcotics.
The police don’t intend to turn in the seized narcotics. Instead, they will sell these for their own profit.
And as a reward for his cooperation, the priest is given the large gold crucifix–which he blesses and consecrates to his God.
Who, exactly, is behind all these killings?
And who, if anyone, is in charge of Juárez–or Mexico?
Bowden states it is difficult to answer such questions because the Mexican press has been thoroughly corrupted by drug cartel monies or terrorized by drug cartel hit squads. Reporters have been murdered–by the cartels and the army–for writing anything about killings, the army or the cartels.
The world of Murder City is a nightmarish one:
- Members of drug cartels live like kings.
- Their bribes and violence have corrupted all branches of the Mexican government, military and police forces.
- Ordinary Mexicans live in grinding poverty, thanks to American factories paying starvation wages
When you leave its pages, you are grateful that you can safely put its evil behind you–unlike the residents of Juarez who remain trapped in its web.
For residents of this failed nation-state called Mexico, it’s too late. Such endemic corruption can never be fought successfully.