Is Mexico’s most famous cartel capo still relevant today?

In July 2019, a US court sentenced Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to a life sentence in prison and ordered him to compensate $ 12.6 billion for his role in running the Sinaloa cartel and smuggling industrial quantities of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl and heroin into the United States. El Chapo is now in prison, but his name continues to be mentioned in pop culture conversations and political debates about Mexico’s security concerns and the US-led war on drugs. In October 2019, gunmen turned the town of Culiacan, in northwestern Mexico’s Sinaloa state, into a war zone after El Chapo’s son Ovidio was briefly detained by the police. El Chapo’s gunmen, still at work, still armed, held soldiers hostage and threatened to attack the Mexican government unless Ovidio was released. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador nodded, freeing Ovidio. In June 2021, El Chapo’s wife, Emma Coronelle, pleaded guilty to helping run the El Chapo drug smuggling operation after his arrest and conviction. And yet, in 2019 and 2020 more than 73,000 people were killed in Mexico. Overall, violence in Mexico continues to increase at a historically high level. President Lopez Obrador has invested new resources in a new militarized police force, but seems less interested in working seriously to improve struggling Mexican local police forces or reforming the overwhelmed justice system. El Chapo is in prison but violence in Mexico continues. There are still many questions about the impact the arrest of El Chapo will have on the security dynamic in Mexico and on the drug trafficking organizations that continue to operate in Mexico.

To discuss El Chapo’s continued role in Mexico, I contacted Noah Hurowitz, author of a new book, El Chapo: The untold story of the world’s most infamous drug lord.

Nathaniel parish flannery: What is the most important thing that you learned while writing this book?

Noah Hurowitz: The view many Americans have of El Chapo and other drug dealers – hardened outlaws living in defiance of the law – is deeply and dangerously inaccurate. Before reporting on this book, I had a sense of the high levels of corruption in Mexico, but starting to report from the field in Sinaloa – and reading the work of academics such as Luis Astorga, Oswaldo Zavala , Benjamin T. Smith, Dawn Paley and many others – a much more disturbing picture has become clear to me.

Drug trafficking in Mexico developed under and in tandem with the State Building Project of the Institutional Revolution Party – known by its Spanish acronym, PRI – which emerged from the sinking of the Mexican Revolution with a stranglehold on power in the capital and a patchwork, sometimes precarious control of the countryside which it maintained for 70 years thanks to a carrot and stick approach of convoluted networks of patronage, corruption and, sometimes, terror pure and simple. Within this power structure, drug trafficking has functioned for decades as a pillar of stability for the federal government in Mexico City, which has relied on the coercive power of local drug traffickers to keep the peace in the areas. rural areas where the state had little presence. When the government made crack down on drug traffickers, violence unleashed in rural areas hit peasants hardest at the lowest levels of drug trafficking, while wealthy traffickers with state ties generally managed to survive or, in some cases, to thrive through the elimination of competition. As academics including Alexander Aviña have argued, the Mexican state’s continued war on drugs has essentially been a campaign of counterinsurgency aimed at pacifying and controlling the countryside rather than destroying the drug trade. Drugs.

As a journalist, this understanding has proven invaluable in my repeated trips to El Chapo’s hometown of Badiraguato, Sinaloa, and it has helped me form a picture of El Chapo – not as a rebel. like Jesús Malverde, the holy bandit he is so often compared to, but rather as a regional broker with long-standing ties and some shared interest with elements of the state.

Parish flannery: What’s the most important thing you want readers to take away from your book?

Hurowitz: I hope readers will see how El Chapo’s career unfolded within economic, social and political structures much larger than him. This book is the story of a man, yes, but it is also the story of how a corrupt and authoritarian government in Mexico promoted, protected and controlled the drug trade, and how, based on From the vagaries of its foreign policy, the United States protected and ignored this corruption while pushing for intransigent drug policies that targeted the lower echelons of the drug trade, always to the great detriment of the Mexican people anyway.

I want readers to understand the role their governments are playing in the terrible violence that has hit Mexico. The war on drugs has not failed – it works very well for law enforcement agencies who use it to expand their budgets and operational mandate; it is immensely profitable for the arms manufacturers; it is a useful tool of coercion in American foreign policy; and that makes drug dealers rich. I hope my book will help readers identify the people and institutions that continue to perpetuate and profit from this violence.

Parish flannery: Is it helpful for readers to just focus on worshiping El Chapo as an individual or do we need to understand the larger dynamics at play as well?

Hurowitz: Much of the coverage of the War on Drugs focuses on branded traffickers and criminal groups – El Chapo, the Sinaloa Cartel, El Mencho, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, etc. There is some use to that: It’s easier to understand what happens when you can put a name and face to something as brutal and complex as the war on drugs. But it also helps to mask the material interests and market trends that drive the drug trade, it helps portray the drug trade as somehow being separated from the rest of society and the larger power structure. in Mexico.

This book isn’t completely free from that either, of course, but my goal from the start was to use El Chapo’s personal life and professional career story to give readers a deeper insight. structural forces at play, historical forces, political, economic and social trends that El Chapo has traveled to get to where he arrived.

I hope readers enjoy the compelling stories of El Chapo’s career – his prison breaks, his paranoia, his love of technology, and his obsession with seeing his life turned into a movie – but I also hope I made it clear. how the war on drugs is so much bigger than a man, so much bigger even than drugs. It is a story of power, material interests, and political and economic control.

Further reading: check out my recent Q&A with Mexican historian Benjamin Smith about his new book, Drugs: The True Story of Mexican Drug Trafficking.

Back To Top