Mexico City–based investigative journalist Beith presents the bloody story of Mexico’s drug-trafficking kingpin.
In 2009, Joaquin Guzman appeared on the Forbes magazine billionaire list. Better known as “El Chapo,” Guzman, since his sensational 2001 escape from a maximum-security prison, happened also to be Mexico’s most-wanted man. Chapo hasn’t been seen in public for more than two years. Sequestered in the hills of Durango or his native Sinaloa, he’s virtually the last man standing in the savage drug wars that have crippled Mexico. Beith traces the country’s serious drug trade back to the ’70s, when the Colombian Medellín and Cali cartels ruled, and Mexican capo El Padrino served as point man. In charge of logistics for El Padrino and fueled by his ambition, efficiency and ruthlessness, Chapo steadily rose through the ranks. By the ’90s, with El Padrino in prison and the Colombians muscled out of the way, Mexican drug lords were growing their own product and fighting each other for control of the $40-billion-per-year industry. In a desperately poor country, many people see drug traffickers as Robin Hoods, but they also bring kidnappings, assassinations, beheadings and torture. Chapo’s emergence from this sanguinary scrum is the heart of the author’s tale, but he forthrightly concedes the difficulty of reporting on the elusive boss and organized crime in general, dealing as he must with so many untrustworthy sources. He offers a discouraging list of the dead journalists who’ve gotten too close to the story. Thus, only a faint picture of Chapo emerges: his four wives and many mistresses, the relatives and allies he’s lost to prison or murder, anecdotal evidence of his ability to charm, seduce and strategize. His near-mythic status has been enhanced by a variety of factors, including his influence (at one time he employed as many as 150,000 people) his many escapes from near-capture, the narcocorridos (drug ballads) and public banners mocking thwarted rivals and feckless law enforcement (“You’ll never get Chapo”). More successfully, Beith paints a depressing picture of the culture of corruption ensnaring Mexico’s government officials, military and police. The trade also thrives because of the flow of illegal weapons south and because of America’s apparently insatiable demand for heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines. Today, the Sinaloa cartel has cells in more than half of American states.
A startling account of a desperate problem boiling on and spilling over the border.