Chapo: The Most Wanted Man in Mexico

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Joaquin Guzman is one of the most powerful men in the world. Forbes Magazine listed the Mexican drug lord as the 41st most powerful person in the world in 2009, just behind Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Guzman's Sinaloa drug cartel controls the bulk of cocaine and marijuana trafficking into the United States. He tops the most-wanted list on both sides of the border. And now, the 54-year-old Guzman, known as Chapo or Shorty, is a new dad. According to the Los Angeles Times, his 22-year-old wife travelled to California in mid-July and gave birth to twin girls a month later. Tracy Wilkinson co-wrote this story for the LA Times, she's in Mexico City. How do you know what happened with Guzman's wife, Emma Coronel?

Tracy Wilkinson: Well, of course, we cite senior US law enforcement sources and officials, and unfortunately, I can't be more specific than that because that's the condition of them giving us the information; but I'm confident that the information is correct. We were able to corroborate the birth of these two babies through public records in LA County.

Werman: Now, Emma Coronel, a former beauty queen, is already a US citizen, so I guess we shouldn't read too much into the fact that she travelled to the US to have her children, but she wasn't picked up for questioning.

Wilkinson: That is correct. The federal agents were clearly following her, tracking her every move. I think they knew even as she embarked on her trip to California. They knew when she crossed the border. And they knew when she checked into the hospital and when the babies were born. And they knew when she left and came back to Mexico. So I think they were keeping very close tabs on her, but you're right, they did not pick her up for questioning. They say that there are no charges against her. She is not wanted on any indictment, and therefore, they did not pick her up. But it may be that finding Guzman is not as big a challenge as actually apprehending him. You know, he travels surrounded by very well-armed security. He tends to live in remote, isolated places that are hard to get to; in other words, a column of Mexican soldiers trying to move in on him would be noticed. And so this points to what has been an interminable problem here, is how to capture him.

Werman: Is there any evidence at all that he has some kind of political influence over the powers that be in Mexico?

Wilkinson: Well, there have been incidents sure over time where fairly senior members of the attorney general's offices, of the police, have been found to be on this payroll over the years, and so he definitely has been able to buy protection at fairly high levels of the Mexican authorities.

Werman: The story of his wife, Emma Coronel though, giving birth in Los Angeles to twin girls, it's like a scene lifted straight out of the movie, Traffic. Remind us who Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is and how he got so powerful. Was it drugs alone?

Wilkinson: Yes, it was mostly drugs. He's a very good, he has been a good businessman. The cartel as I say has managed to corner much of the market in terms of producing, growing and producing, and shipping marijuana, and transporting cocaine from Columbia to the United States. They're even apparently now moving into some of the mass market as well, which had previously been pretty much owned by other cartels. So just by building the business year after year and then by buying off as I say, buying the protection, the cartel has grown and grown and grown. And he has eliminated rivals when necessary and just continues to consolidate his own power and his billions.

Werman: What is Chapo's role in the current drug violence plaguing Mexico?

Wilkinson: Well, the Sinaloa cartel has been moving into areas of Mexico where it hadn't really operated very much before. For example, last year they moved into Tamaulipas state, which is in the northeast corner of Mexico bordering Texas. And fought the Zetas, another cartel that until then had dominated that region...a very bloody fight, untold scores and scores of people killed. Now, his people apparently are moving into the coastal city of Veracruz, where just last week 35 bodies were dumped in the middle of the town.

Werman: Right.

Wilkinson: So his people are starting to apparently move into Veracruz as well, to overpower the Zetas that are there. So, he has helped cement violence by fighting other cartels to take over more and more territory.

Werman: Tracy Wilkinson, bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times in Mexico City, thank you so much.

Wilkinson: Thank you.