On February 12, Mexican drug lord and head of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera was convicted on ten federal criminal accounts, including engaging in a criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds, international distribution of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other drugs, and other similar charges. The minimum sentence for just engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise is life imprisonment— meaning that the official sentencing for the total convictions may exceed multiple life sentences for Guzman.
The verdict came a after a three-month trial, the revelations during which were, at times, akin to the most fantastical action films (huge sums of money, grizzly murders and even using family members as collateral for high-volume narcotics transactions. One of the lasting realities, with which we, as a nation must contend, is that El Chapo’s success and subsequent criminal activity was driven heavily by American drug addiction.
A “Victory” in the American Drug Addiction Crisis?
Richard Donoghue, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, calls El Chapo’s conviction “a victory for the American people” whose lives have been negatively impacted by the drugs and violence that came from Guzman’s 14 billion-dollar drug trafficking trade. The drug war in Mexico has killed over 100, makes the high-profile prosecution is a largely symbolic victory for authorities in Mexico and the US.
At the same time, experts are reporting that despite El Chapo’s conviction, business in the Sinaloa and Mexican drug trade continues to boom, begging the question: Is this conviction a temporary and symbolic victory or a true turning point in the crisis? After all, supply is largely dictated by demand. While the verdict and outcome of the trial was morale-boosting, the Sinaloa cartel is basically operating within the same power and reach as before. Ray Donovan, the DEA special agent who spearheaded the efforts that ultimately led to Guzman’s capture, shared with CNN that the Sinaloa cartel was still the main supplier for most drugs that are coming into the United States.
The Takeaways from the Trial
The trial was revealing in a variety of ways even apart from El Chapo’s role in the American drug addiction epidemic, unfolding with soap-operatic dramatics and gore. Unfortunately, many aspects of the trial reach beyond the realm of drama, pulling back the curtain that covers international drug trade and revealing the distasteful, ugly reality behind it. Over the course of the nearly three-month trial, it was revealed that El Chapo not only built the drug empire from the bottom up, but also engineered a series of assassinations for slights both drug-related and personal, ordered unspeakable tortures, and routinely drugged and raped underage girls. Corruption was also uncovered in every possible echelon of the Mexican government, ranging from the police and military commanders to the possibility of bribery with former presidents. One witness stated that former president Pena Nieto accepted a bribe of $100 million from Guzman to allow him to come out of hiding, and another witness testified that former president Obrador’s top security official accepted a multi-million bribe in 2005.
The Aftermath of El Chapo’s Fall
El Chapo’s fatal mistake came from his own paranoia— he hired Christian Rodriguez, a Colombian I.T. expert, to install a high-tech spyware system on his wife’s, mistresses’, and associates’ phones and computers. Rodriguez later agreed to cooperate with authorities, which allowed them to listen and record Guzman’s private calls and messages with both family and business partners. This alone provided a plethora of evidence against the drug kingpin, and once paired with the testimonies of several witnesses created a narrative filled with violence and lawlessness that ultimately contributed to his conviction.
Although El Chapo’s arrest, extradition, and now conviction have all symbolically served as a blow to the drug trafficking trade, the reality is that more still must be done in order to impact it and reverse the course of its impact on American drug addiction. According to Mike Vigil, the former chief of international operations for the DEA, “With or without El Chapo, these lines of bribery, these lines of corruption, extend into every political party at every level of the Mexican government.”