El Chapo conviction ‘will not end’ drug trafficking, says criminal’s hometown

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“I think this is going to continue with or without him,” Rodriguez said. “I think there are certain kinds of people, with a certain way of dressing, with certain kinds of vehicles that one avoids, because even though it seems like prejudice, they could be involved in something like that.”

Guzman gained notoriety in Mexico and abroad for twice pulling off brazen escapes from maximum-security prisons in Mexico, presumably with the help of corrupt officials. Ballads known as “narco-corridos” were composed extolling his exploits as he evaded Mexican justice for years.

A man sells jewellery using narco-culture imagery in downtown Culiacan, in Mexico's Sinaloa state.

A man sells jewellery using narco-culture imagery in downtown Culiacan, in Mexico’s Sinaloa state.Credit:AP

But many in Culiacan reject the outlaw myth associated with Guzman.

“El Chapo is not a persona. He is a criminal,” said Tania Venegas, also from Culiacan. “That’s why drug trafficking will always exist; people see it as the easy path.”

Guzman now stands to spend decades behind bars in a supermax prison south of Denver, and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador saw in him a cautionary tale.

“Let this serve as a lesson to show that money doesn’t buy true happiness,” Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday at a news conference. He mused that “happiness is having a clear conscience and being at peace with one’s self and others”.

September 2016: police examine a military convoy in Culiacan, Mexico, ambushed with grenades and high-powered guns, killing five soldiers. Authorities attributed the ambush to the sons of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

September 2016: police examine a military convoy in Culiacan, Mexico, ambushed with grenades and high-powered guns, killing five soldiers. Authorities attributed the ambush to the sons of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.Credit:AP

Lopez Obrador, who took office on December 1, says his anti-cartel strategy will not focus on hunting down kingpins and has launched a campaign aimed at persuading people not to break the law. Its slogan: “We’re all going to behave.”

In the Sinaloa mountains where Guzman was born and which he long used as a stronghold and hideout, news of the conviction spread quickly even in remote communities.

“Here there is no cellphone signal in many places, much less internet,” said Pedro Cazarez, a resident of Tameapa, near Guzman’s hometown of La Tuna in Badiraguato municipality. “I heard about it when I got home. But by word of mouth, it’s already known everywhere.”

Miguel Angel Vega, a journalist for the weekly publication Riodoce who visited the mountains recently, said the news had reached Guzman’s family.

A woman prays to the folk saint Jesus Malverde in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state in Mexico.

A woman prays to the folk saint Jesus Malverde in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state in Mexico. Credit:AP

“I have been in contact with some of his relatives and they tell me they are outraged by the verdict,” Vega said.

In Badiraguato, home to about 31,000 people and nestled in the drug-producing Golden Triangle region of north-western Mexico, it’s practically impossible to find anyone who hasn’t had direct contact with Guzman or knows someone who has.

El Chapo is known to have provided jobs in the community, and locals say the municipality’s economy has collapsed since his most recent capture in 2016 and subsequent extradition.

“Very little movement of money … you see a lot of poverty,” said Jaime Laija, who runs a small kitchen on the main highway between Culiacan and Badiraguato.

A diamond-encrusted pistol that a government said belonged to "El Chapo", monogrammed with his initials JGL - Joaquin Guzman Loera.

A diamond-encrusted pistol that a government said belonged to “El Chapo”, monogrammed with his initials JGL – Joaquin Guzman Loera.Credit:AP

Vega said Guzman’s sister confirmed to him that last week people in La Tuna and nearby towns were organised to pray for an acquittal. In 2014, hundreds of people marched in Culiacan to urge Mexico not to extradite Guzman to the United States, but there was no similar protest this week.

Guzman is arguably the most important drug-related figure ever brought to trial in the US. Prosecutors estimated that in his 30 years as a trafficker, he accumulated nearly $US14 billion ($19.7 billion) in earnings.

El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel is still active in Mexico and is one of the leading traffickers of the synthetic opiate fentanyl into the US. Other cartels, such as the Jalisco New Generation, have risen up to fill any gaps that were left by Guzman’s arrest.

In fact, Mexican heroin production increased by 37 per cent and seizures of fentanyl in places like Nogales on the US-Mexico border more than doubled in 2016 and 2017, the years when the crime lord was most recently arrested and sent to New York for prosecution.

A photo provided by the US Drug Enforcement Administration of Guzman arriving in New York state after his extradition earlier this month.

A photo provided by the US Drug Enforcement Administration of Guzman arriving in New York state after his extradition earlier this month.Credit:AP

Sinaloa police chief Joel Ernesto Soto noted Guzman has been out of the state and in custody for several years, saying his conviction “will not directly have repercussions for us”.

An initial succession battle involving Guzman’s sons and a rival faction is said to have fizzled with the arrest of the faction’s father-and-son leaders, but in Culiacan, resident Javier Bastidas still worries.

“The people closest to [Guzman] are going to be angry,” Bastidas said. “For as many as they catch and catch, more criminals appear.”

AP, The New York Times

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