After 28,000 deaths, the Mexican government finally admitted that there is a "violence problem" ravaging the country. It's about time. Now it needs to step up the battle against the drug cartels that are terrorizing entire cities. Recently the government scored some points in the battle against narco-violence when the Mexican army shot and killed Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, the No. 3 guy in the feared Sinaloa Cartel.
But who they really need to catch is the obscure head of the cartel, the most-wanted drug dealer in Mexico and the United States, ranked the second most dangerous fugitive, right below Osama bin Laden.
He is 55 years old, a self-described womanizer, not lavish in his appearance, drinks beer and rum and Coke, his neighbors say he is generous, musicians have composed songs about him, and restaurant diners -- complete strangers -- often have their tabs picked up by this elusive billionaire when he appears unannounced surrounded by an entourage of well-armed men.
Joaquín Guzmán Loera, also known as "El Chapo," has been on the run since January 2001, when he allegedly escaped from Mexico's most secure maximum-security prison in a laundry basket. According to Mexican officials, 78 people were implicated in his elaborate escape.
El Chapo was serving a 20-year sentence for bribery and criminal association linked to his real business, building one of the largest and most violent drug cartels in the world. Today there is a $5 million bounty on his head as the U.S. and Mexican governments try to entice someone to provide a tip on his whereabouts. El Chapo is wanted in the United States for possession with intent to distribute drugs, money laundering and conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
His life in crime began in the early 1980s, when he worked alongside Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, the most powerful drug lord at that time. El Chapo went on to form his own enterprise, and became successful by flooding the U.S. market with cocaine.
In 1993, a rival cartel, led by the Arellano Félix brothers, tried to kill El Chapo, but in the botched attempt the hit men mistakenly killed Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo.
There is a good explanation as to why he might be so hard to capture even by his powerful adversaries. In the town of Badiraguato, not far from Chapo's birthplace in the state of Sinaloa, residents praise his benevolence and welcome his so-called generosity. "He looks after the poor people, and that's why the poor people look after him," said one town resident.
A fast-food restaurant owner credits El Chapo with the flourishing commerce in the town of 35,000: "Because of him, we have stores; he helps the people, and the people come and spend."
Mexican President Felipe Calderón has assigned 45,000 military troops to fight the drug cartels, and many of them keep a vigilant eye on the area, but it is evident that loyalty in this region is keeping El Chapo a free man.
Several weeks ago, National Public Radio's news investigation unit provided disturbing findings of its exhaustive research: collusion between elements of the Mexican army and the Sinaloa Cartel. Bribing top officials has allowed Guzmán to elude capture, expand his territory and operate with impunity.
A well-respected news magazine in Mexico recently featured Guzmán on the cover, headlined "The Untouchable." The Reforma newspaper published articles about Guzmán's cartel infiltrating the federal police and controlling airports and seaports where cocaine is smuggled from Colombia on its way to the United States.
While journalists who risk their lives seem to be able produce evidence of the tactics and operations of this bloody cartel, the two governments trying to find Guzmán cannot seem to put a finger on him.
Unfortunately, there's probably another Chapo waiting for him to get knocked off in order to pick up his business. When will the bloodshed end?
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