Six months after his notorious escape from Altiplano maximum security prison in July of last year, Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was recaptured in a bizarre series of events, proving reality can be stranger than fiction.
Initially arrested in Guatemala in June of 1993, following an extensive manhunt, Guzman, who is the head of the Sinaloa cartel, was extradited to Mexico where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
He served almost eight years at the Puente Grande prison in Jalisco before coordinating his escape. In January of 2001, El Chapo hid in a laundry cart and was convoyed to freedom by a colluding prison guard.
Despite a nationwide manhunt, the infamous drug kingpin managed to evade capture for more than a dozen years.
In the months leading up to his recapture, U.S. and Mexican authorities obtained a trove of surveillance footage and data, including cell phones that helped map his movement, and detained a number of El Chapo’s top associates, all harbingers that they were closing in.
On Feb. 22, 2014, a successful raid of his beachside hotel culminated in his re-arrest.
However, celebrations of the government’s symbolic victory over the cartel’s influence proved to be premature. On July 11, 2015, the famed drug trafficker escaped yet again by way of a 1.5 kilometer-long tunnel that lead to an unfinished barn near the prison.
El Chapo’s second successful prison break was humiliating for the Mexican government, who had been promoting the idea that the country had turned the tide on organized crime and weakened its powerful grip over the nation’s institutions. His escape proved that corruption still held the country in its clutches.
The slippery drug lord was caught partly due to the fact that he was attempting to create a biographical film about his famed prison-breaks.
Further, U.S. authorities had urged Mexican officials to extradite Guzman to the U.S. when he was caught for fear of his imminent escape.
“It is a significant arrest, provided he gets extradited immediately to the United States,” Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Phil Jordan told CNN. “If he does not get extradited, then he will be allowed to escape within a period of time.”
The Sinaloa cartel is said to be one of the most powerful drug trafficking operations in the world, with their activities stretching across continents. In addition to the far reaches of the organization, the group’s kingpin El Chapo (meaning “Shorty”) belies his meager 5-foot-6-inch stature, earning himself a reputation as “godfather of the drug world”, according to the DEA.
Many aspects of El Chapo’s persona and reputation have reached legendary heights, and the bizarre details that came to light following his capture are no different.
On Jan. 8 of this new year, the Mexican Navy detained El Chapo after a violent gun battle at Los Mochis, Sinaloa. According to a statement released by the Mexican Navy, five suspects were killed and six arrested in the bloody attack.
“It’s huge. I mean, he’s the number one drug-trafficking figure in history and he’s been probably the world’s biggest criminal fugitive,” senior DEA official Michael Braun told NBC News. “And so it’s a huge win for the rule of law. No one is above it, and it’s great for the government of Mexico and the U.S., and the world.”
According to Attorney General Arely Gomez Gonzalez, Guzman will be transferred back to the Altiplano prison that he escaped from in 2015.
Gonzalez also noted that the slippery drug lord was caught partly due to the fact that he was attempting to create a biographical film about his famed prison-breaks. His people were reaching out to actors and producers, which eventually helped lead authorities to the safe house in Los Mochis where Guzman was hiding out.
In addition, El Chapo sat for an interview with actor and director Sean Penn. The Rolling Stones article penned by Penn (pun intended) delves into the drug trafficker’s childhood, upbringing, and how he became one of the biggest drug syndicates in the world.
When asked by Penn how he would define himself if he were a different person, someone who knew him better than he knew himself, Guzman responded, “Well, if I knew him — with respect, and from my point of view, it’s a person who’s not looking for problems in any way. In any way.”
According to the state attorney, Mexican officials have officially begun the process of extraditing El Chapo to the U.S., though some say it the process will take a minimum of six months.
He is wanted for a slew of charges in the U.S., which include but are not limited to drug trafficking and homicide.
Image: Screengrab from El Chapo Interview