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New Yorker: The Hunt For El Chapo

Author: Patrick Radden Keefe
May 5, 2014

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"[Joaquin] Guzman has been characterized by the U.S. Treasury Department as "the world's most powerful drug trafficker," and after the killing of Osama bin Laden, three years ago, he became perhaps the most wanted fugitive on the planet. Mexican politicians promised to bring him to justice, and the U.S. offered a five-million-dollar reward for information leading to his capture. But part of Guzmán's fame stemmed from the perception that he was uncatchable, and he continued to thrive, consolidating control of key smuggling routes and extending his operation into new markets in Europe, Asia, and Australia. According to one study, the Sinaloa cartel is now active in more than fifty countries."

One afternoon last December, an assassin on board a K.L.M. flight from Mexico City arrived at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. This was not a business trip: the killer, who was thirty-three, liked to travel, and often documented his journeys around Europe on Instagram. He wore designer clothes and a heavy silver ring in the shape of a grimacing skull. His passport was an expensive fake, and he had used it successfully many times. But, moments after he presented his documents to Dutch customs, he was arrested. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had filed a Red Notice with Interpol—an international arrest warrant—and knew that he was coming. Only after the Dutch authorities had the man in custody did they learn his real identity: José Rodrigo Arechiga, the chief enforcer for the biggest drug-trafficking organization in history, Mexico's Sinaloa cartel.

To work in the Mexican drug trade is to have a nickname, and Arechiga went by the whimsically malevolent handle El Chino Ántrax. He supervised the armed wing of the Sinaloa—a cadre of executioners known as Los Ántrax—and coördinated drug shipments for the cartel's leader, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, who was known as El Chapo, or Shorty. Arechiga was anarcotraficante of the digital age, bantering with other criminals on Twitter and posting snapshots of himself guzzling Cristal, posing with exotic pets, and fondling a gold-plated AK-47. Guzmán, who is fifty-seven, typified an older generation. Obsessively secretive, he ran his multibillion-dollar drug enterprise from hiding in Sinaloa, the remote western state where he was born, and from which the cartel takes its name.

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