Is El Chapo a Murderous Drug Lord or a Tool of Corrupt Governments?

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A verdict is expected soon in the trial of notorious Mexican drug boss Joaquin Guzman, nicknamed El Chapo. Illustration by Diario Presencia via Flickr

In the much anticipated trial of the infamous drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the defense claimed “El Chapo” was not the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel (one of the largest drug cartels in Mexico).

Jeffery Lichtman, one of Guzmán’s layers, argued in his opening statement at Tuesday’s hearing in downtown Brooklyn that Guzmán’s long time partner Ismael Zambada was the real leader, and “El Chapo” was being used as a scapegoat by the Mexican and U.S. governments.

Lichtman also claimed in a groundbreaking statement that Zambada was able to stay in business by paying off both the former and current Mexican president, as well as U.S. officials.

“There’s another side to this story,” said Lichtman.

“An ugly side to the story. This is a case that requires you to throw out what you know about the government. Government officials at the highest level can conspire and be bribed by economic gains. They’re in it for the money.”

He cited both the current and former Mexican presidents, as well as Mexican police officers, and the Mexican military as co-conspirators accepting money from Zambada in exchange for secrecy and cooperation.

But the United States, Lichtman said, is only interested in pursuing “El Chapo” because he is “the biggest prize this prosecution could dream of,” while Zambada continues to roam free.

After escaping from Mexican prison twice, and allegedly transporting over 150 kilograms of cocaine to the U.S., “El Chapo” has earned his name as a notorious drug kingpin, with Netflix TV shows based on his narcos business, rap songs named after him, and even a sandwich called ‘The El Chapo” at a deli in NYC.

However, the defense called “El Chapo” more of a myth than reality.

“If the world is focusing on the mythical creature Guzmán, whose going after Zambada?” Lichtman asked the court.

The U.S. Government was quick to rebut.

The Assistant US Attorney, Adam Fels, painted Guzmán as a hard hitting criminal whose multi-million dollar illegal enterprise was fueled by trafficking drugs via underground tunnels onto American soil.

The much anticipated trial began with opening statements late Tuesday afternoon after two jurors had to be replaced in the morning (one juror had a doctor’s note and was excused, the next juror did not have the funds to withstand jury duty).

Hundreds of people lined up outside the courthouse and stood in the rain waiting to go through security. Viewers got there as early as 3 am to get a spot in the court room. Many of the observation rooms were overflowing, and reporters, lawyers, and the general public were turned away.

When the prosecution began, they highlighted how Guzmán was able to traffic drugs into the U.S. like none of his predecessors. 

“Guzmán slashed delivery time time trafficking drugs by building underground tunnels from Mexico to the U.S.,” said Fels. “Consequently, Guzmán earned the name “El rapido”, or speedy.”

When he wasn’t using underground tunnels, “El Chapo” was transporting drugs by submarine, trucks, tractors, trailers, planes, cars; any transportation method he could get his hands on.

But Guzmán was known for more than just his speed.

According to the prosecution, Guzmán ran a gory, violent enterprise where hitman were hired to murder members from rival cartels and even members within the Sinola cartel, starting various drug wars in Mexico.

Fels noted that Guzmán gave direct orders to have his cousin, who was also his Lieutenant, murdered for potentially working with the authorities.

He also promised the jury there would be forthcoming evidence of Guzmán torturing members of rival cartels, and even pulling the trigger himself on one occasion.

Megan Hadley is the Senior Staff Writer at The Crime Report.

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