Notorious Drug Lord Arrested

Photo Courtesy: CNN

(CNN) — Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman eluded arrest for so long that the stories about him veered closer and closer to the stuff of legend.

So powerful is he, people said, that he can bribe anyone. He commands so much loyalty, the story goes, that he is always tipped off when the heat is close. He’s so fearless that he can live his life without concern of being caught.

Of course, now we know his influence has its limits.

Guzman was arrested overnight in a hotel in the Pacific beach town of Mazatlan, in his home state of Sinaloa.

He had been on the lam since escaping from prison in 2001, and no one — that we know of — came close to catching the drug lord who regularly appears on Forbes magazine list of most powerful people.

The rumor was that with that kind of money, he could be hiding anywhere in the world.

In the end, he was caught just 140 miles from the city of Culiacan, the home base for his Sinaloa drug cartel.

Mexican Marines (touted by Mexico as the least susceptible to corruption) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (who have a hand in nearly all major busts) carried out the joint operation.

This latest chapter in the drug lord’s life will likely end up immortalized in lyrics, such as the corridos, or folk songs, sung about him in Mexico. And the idolization crossed the border north. Consider the lyrics of rapper Gucci Mane’s 2012 song:

All I wanna be is El Chapo

Fully automatic slice your auto

All I wanna be is El Chapo

Three billion dollars in pesos

All I wanna be is El Chapo

And when I meet him I’mma tell him bravo

Guzman was born in Badiraguato, Sinaloa, at a time when the drug trade was evolving, and began his career in the drug trade working for powerful drug lord Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, according to a biography by Time.

He founded his own cartel in 1980, and quickly established outposts in a number of states, eventually inheriting some of his mentor’s territory, according to Time.

His drug empire became Mexico’s most powerful, the Sinaloa cartel. It also was deadly, authorities said. He surrounded himself with an army of ruthless guards and enforcers and reigned over a worldwide, multibillion-dollar drug empire that supplied much of the marijuana and cocaine peddled on the streets of U.S. cities.

In U.S. indictments, the organization was accused of using assassins and hit squads to maintain control.

In Mexico, the strength of his enterprise helped unleash an ongoing drug war that has left thousands of his countrymen dead.

Guzman was arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and extradited to Mexico, where he was convicted and sentenced to a maximum-security prison.

One of the most often retold stories about him is how he escaped from the prison in a laundry cart in 2001. The carefully planned escape required bribes and cooperation that allegedly cost him $2.5 million, according to Malcolm Beith’s book “Last Narco.”

“He’s a fascinating character,” Beith told CNN in an interview last year. “He’s the epitome of the problem. He’s a poor kid who had some family connections in the drug trade, no options, no real education…(and) becomes a big time drug lord.”

Even during his time in prison, there was very little doubt that he lived like a king inside, Beith said.

And although he dislikes the title “world’s most wanted drug lord,” it is an accurate description of who Guzman is, he said.

“There’s tons of other drug lords around. But I think the Sinaloa cartel, given its growth, given its influence… I think it puts him on the top,” Beith said.

Guzman’s legend only grew while he was on the run from authorities. Stories of him helping the poor, or taking everyone’s cell phones at a restaurant while he ate and then footing everyone’s bill for their inconvenience.

“I think probably a lot of them have some truth,” Scott Stewart, vice president of analysis at Stratfor, told CNN last year. “He wants to try to foster that whole mystique.”

The mystique of him being some sort of Robin Hood character helped Guzman as he tried to evade arrest, he said.

“I think there’s a false narrative that says El Chapo is kind of this benevolent businessman,” Stewart said.

In truth, Guzman is known for not hesitating to use force when he needs too, and for bribing officials who get in his way, he said.

His capture will shed some light on just how loyal his followers were, and how far his bribe money got him.

His legend stands tall, but the next images Mexico will see of him likely will be standing between federal police officers, handcuffed.

El Chapo will be reduced to the man, not the myth.

But on social media, however, many were betting that Guzman might escape again.

“Don’t get so worked” about the arrest, one Twitter user wrote. “He’s going to escape again in a cart of dirty laundry.”

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