For a semi-illiterate grammar school dropout, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is a bloody mastermind. Guzmán, 55, sits atop Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, which by all accounts is arguably the richest, most powerful crime syndicate in history. A stocky, calculating leader, Chapo pushes more drugs today than Pablo Escobar at the height of his reign.
Chapo is myth, the stuff of countless narcocorridos. Chapo is legend, revered and cursed as much for escaping prison—via laundry cart, as the legend goes—in 2001 as he is for rocking on the balls of his feet when dishing orders to subordinates. Chapo, the centerpiece of “Cocaine Incorporated,” Patrick Radden Keefe’s recent and exhaustive profile of the kingpin, could well be the last of his kind.
It’s a fascinating read. Keefe paints an incredibly detailed portrait of the complex figure. “He’s an octopus,” a longtime Guzmán accomplice once said in testimony, about whom much still remains in the shadows of the illicit underworld. By mapping Chapo’s steady rise from his fledgling Guadalajara cartel days in the early ’80s to eventually running his own show, the Sinaloa, Keefe establishes the guy as any and all of these things: an unlikely scrap from the Sierra foothills; a former coke head; a shrewd businessman; a billionaire; a loving husband and father; possibly a murderer.
But it’s as an innovator of smuggling—the physical, dirty, high-risk challenge of moving product across time and space—that really seems to set Chapo above and beyond everyone else in the game. He’ll best his rivals and outwit the border watchers. And that’s that. For when it comes to supplying Americans with seemingly endless rails of coke, plus tons of weed, heroin and meth, Chapo’s smuggling tech is in a constant state of reimagination.
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