‘The Lord of Tunnels’: The dramatic capture of a Mexican druglord

  • AFP, Mexico City
  • Updated: Jan 09, 2016 15:47 IST
Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by army soldiers to a waiting helicopter, at a federal hangar in Mexico City, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. The world's most wanted drug lord was recaptured by Mexican marines Friday. (AP Photo)

With his daring underground escapes and ability to smuggle narcotics under the US-Mexico border, Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has earned a new nickname: “The Lord of Tunnels.”

In fact, Guzman made one last tunnel escape before his capture on Friday, fleeing through a drainage system in the city of Los Mochis, Sinaloa state, as marines hunted him down. He was finally caught in a stolen car.

The man whose old nickname means “Shorty” had used the money from a drug empire whose tentacles reach Europe and Asia to dig himself out of trouble again and again.

The bathtub in one of his houses opened into an escape route through drainage systems that he used to flee from troops in early 2014, and he repeated the act last year from a maximum-security prison.

US and Mexican authorities have regularly discovered sophisticated tunnels with rails and electricity used to ship marijuana, cocaine and other drugs into the United States, with cash and weapons coming the other way.

Folk legend

The 58-year-old Sinaloa drug cartel leader’s legend soared after he humiliated authorities by escaping prison in his most ambitious tunnel yet.

On July 11, 2015, after just 17 months at the Altiplano prison in central Mexico, Guzman slipped through a hole in his cell’s shower, climbed on a motorcycle mounted on rails, and travelled 1.5 kilometers (one mile) through the tunnel.

US and Mexican law enforcement officials say Guzman then flew to his home patch on the Sinaloa-Durango state border because he is revered as a modern-day Robin Hood in the region. His octogenarian mother still lives in his village of La Tuna.

Marines nearly captured him in October in a remote mountain region. Authorities said Guzman injured his face and a leg while falling in the rough terrain, but special forces failed to nab him.

AFP journalists who visited the area weeks after the operation found bullet-riddled homes and cars. Residents said military helicopters fired on the community during the operation, prompting hundreds to flee.

Guzman had been previously captured on February 22, 2014, in the Sinaloa resort of Mazatlan. He was found in a condo with his wife and their young twin daughters.

He had been on the lam for 13 years after escaping a first time in 2001 from another prison by hiding in a laundry cart. He had spent eight years in prison following his 1993 capture in Guatemala.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City. The feared Sinaloa Cartel boss’s exploits made him a legend in the Mexican underworld. (REUTERS Photo)

Guzman became a legend of Mexico’s underworld, with musicians singing his praises in folk ballads known as “narcocorridos,” tributes to drug capos.

He is said to have been brazen enough to walk into restaurants in his state of Sinaloa, ask diners to hand their cell phones to his bodyguards, eat calmly and pay everyone’s tabs before leaving.

‘Public Enemy No 1”

Born on April 4, 1957 to a family of farmers, Guzman had humble beginnings in a region known as a bastion of drug trafficking.

He dropped out of primary school to work in marijuana and opium poppy fields as drug consumption rose in the neighboring United States.

He was recruited by Guadalajara cartel boss Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, the godfather of Mexico’s modern drug cartels.

Guzman’s job was to contact drug traffickers in Colombia.

After Felix Gallardo was arrested in 1989, Guzman’s Sinaloa drug cartel began its meteoric rise.

But he had enemies.

A gunfight in 1993 at the airport of Guadalajara killed the western city’s archbishop, Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, allegedly because he was mistaken for Guzman.

His ability to sneak tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana into the United States made him “Public Enemy Number One” in Chicago, a moniker that had been given to US prohibition-era mafia boss Al Capone.

Guzman “easily surpassed the carnage and social destruction that was caused by Capone,” the Chicago Crime Commission said in February 2013.

The mustachioed drug lord made Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires until he was left out in 2013 because he was believed to have spent much of his wealth on protection.

Guzman married an 18-year-old beauty queen, Emma Coronel, in 2007 and is believed to have 10 children with various women.

His family has paid dearly for his life of crime. One of his brothers was killed in a Mexican jail in December 2004 and a son was shot dead in a shopping center parking lot in May 2008.

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