‘God Forgive Him’: El Chapo’s Guilty Verdict Brings Mixed Feelings in Mexico

Within moments of the jury announcing the guilty verdict of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in the snow-laden court in Brooklyn, word of the result was rippling across Mexico, from the valleys sprinkled with opium poppies to the sprawling mountain capital. People gathered at stalls and watched on televisions as U.S. attorney Richard Donoghue called it a victory that had “pulled back the curtain on international drug dealing.” But there were no cheers, and the reactions were somewhat muted considering it was the conviction of Mexico’s most infamous criminal in recent history.

Having reported from Mexico since Guzman’s first escape from prison in 2001, I also felt a certain numbness to the news, a sense that all the noise meant little, that nothing would change. In the ensuing hours, I talked to some of those I had met covering the violence over the years, who had been touched by the smuggling and murder, and they described their mixed reactions to the conviction.

Mirna Nereyda Medina, a teacher from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, where Guzman was finally captured in 2016, had her son abducted by gunmen and searched for years until she found his body in a mass grave in 2017. She saw the news of the verdict on her cellphone as she landed in Mexico City on a trip to pressure the Mexican government to find traces of the other 40,000 people who have disappeared.

“God forgive him for poisoning the minds of our children,” she says of Guzman, speaking to me by phone while she was still sitting on the plane. “God forgive him for the suffering he has caused. He will die in prison and even death won’t repair the harm he has done. But God have mercy on him.”

Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel was key in escalating the violence in Mexico and transforming the conflict from gang fights to something that has often resembled an actual war. In the last decade there have been more than 200,000 murders here, most believed to be at the hands of the cartels or the security forces who are assigned to fight them but too often work with them.


Medina said the trial didn’t focus enough on the suffering in Mexico. “Where was the mention of the disappeared?” she asks. And she said it was painful that Mexico did not have the institutional strength to judge him itself. After he escaped from two prisons here, Mexico extradited Guzman to the United States hours before President Donald Trump took power. “It is a shame on Mexico that we cannot convict our own criminals, that another country is delivering justice that we should be delivering.”

“God forgive him for poisoning the minds of our children,” says one woman whose son was abducted and killed.

In contrast, Baldomar Caceres, a singer who is originally from the mountains close to the home village of Guzman, said he was sad that the kingpin would spend the rest of his life in prison. “He did a lot of good. He gave to the poor and the sick,” Caceres tells me from the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan where he now lives. “The government doesn’t help people in the sierra, but he did.”

His words reflect a common sentiment that I found in people in the Sinaloa mountains when I journeyed up to Guzman’s home village last year. To them, he was a hero who had risen from abject poverty to outwit the Mexican government and the gringos — at least until now.

Caceres says it was calm on the streets in Sinaloa and he didn’t expect violence. Some other singers were already composing ballads about the trial of El Chapo, he says, and he plans to write one himself. “I want to investigate more about it and write something original,” he says. Known as narco corridos, drug ballads are a popular genre in Mexico, and there are hundreds about the exploits of Guzman.

Alejandro Hope, a former federal intelligence official, says the result was no surprise. “The big news was El Chapo being captured and being extradited. After that this was the most likely outcome.” It was also predictable that a trial in the United States would focus on trafficking to Americans rather than murdering Mexicans, he says. “This trial was about El Chapo the drug trafficker, rather than El Chapo the mass murderer.”

The conviction of Guzman was no game changer, he says, as there were plenty of other traffickers to move drugs over the Rio Grande. But it did mark the end of a phase in Mexico’s drug war. “It provides a certain closure in the time of all powerful kingpins. Now we are in a more complicated crime ecosystem with many fragmented cartels. This is less threatening to governments but more threatening to public safety.”

As Mexico and the United States have worked to take down cartel kingpins over the last decade, the country to the south has only got bloodier, with cartels fragmenting into smaller chunks led by super-violent lieutenants who fight over every inch of territory. Last year was the most murderous since modern records began, with more than 33,000 homicides here. And Guzman spent that year in an American jail cell.

The new Mexican President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has said he wants to focus less on going after the trophy drug bosses and more on reducing violent crimes such as murders. It is yet to be seen if he can succeed in this. This coming weekend, he plans to travel to Guzman’s home municipality, where no active Mexican president has ventured before.

“He did a lot of good. He gave to the poor and the sick,” says a singer who grew up near El Chapo’s hometown.

Over the border from El Paso, it was Ciudad Juarez that suffered the most intense violence in Mexico’s drug war, with Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel fighting a long and catastrophic turf battle there. Sandra Ramirez is a local psychologist who has worked with victims of violence throughout this bloodletting. She said the Guzman verdict also gave her mixed emotions.

“I am pleased to see the methodical presentation of evidence that can help destroy the myth of El Chapo and his invincibility,” she says. “But I am sad that it is another country that does this, while we live with a broken justice system.”

The accusations in the trial that Mexican officials had taken bribes, allegedly right up to former President Enrique Pena Nieto, came as no surprise to Ramirez, or almost anyone else in Mexico. “It was an open secret that the cartels were working with politicians. How else could they have so much power?” she says. Yet she had little confidence the accused politicians would be convicted. “This situation can feel very hopeless.”

I have felt this same hopelessness covering the violence in Mexico, and searched to find inspiration that the situation could get better. The conviction of Guzman didn’t provide it. Yet if he had remained free, or somehow beaten the case in the United States, it would have been even worse.

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Inside squalid ‘Alcatraz’ prison where El Chapo will spend the rest of his life

Harrowing pictures capture the "supermax" prison – said to be USA’s most secure jail – in which drug lord El Chapo will spend the rest of his life.

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman was found guilty on Tuesday of 10 charges relating to masterminding an international drug smuggling conspiracy.

He’ll be sentenced in June, though it’s believed he faces life behind bars.

And it’s understood the 61-year-old cartel kingpin will be sent to ADX Florence, Colorado, a brutal prison from which no one has ever escaped.

El Chapo will be locked up with bombers, hate-preachers and domestic terrorists at the 490-bed slammer, known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies".

Photos taken in the tiny cells in Colorado show the squalid conditions El Chapo faces.

Special conditions are in place at ADX Florence, which opened in 1994, to prevent inmates escaping and to protect staff.

One image shows a small, rickety bed, beside furniture made out of reinforced concrete in a tiny cell.

Other snaps capture huge cell doors and windows with iron grills.

Exterior shots highlight the measures the £46million ($60million) jail has installed to keep lags inside, including giant gating and jagged barbed wiring along the perimeter.

One 36-year-old former prisoner, who spent six years at the jail between 2008 and 2014 for his involvement in prison riots at two federal lock-ups, said the stark conditions border on the "inhumane."

"Those guys at Guantanamo had it much better than we did," he said.

The former cartel boss will be housed some of USA’s most notorious criminals, including the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who killed three people and wounded 280 after detonating pressure cooker explosives near the finishing line in 2013.

Abu Hamza , the hook-handed former club bouncer who who took control of Finsbury Park Mosque, London, and used it as a base to spread the ideals of Islamic fundamentalism and militant Islamism , is also caged at ADX Florence.

El Chapo was found guilty of 10 counts of various drug trafficking charges at a U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York City.

The court heard he ordered henchmen to drug girls as young as 13 so he could rape them at one of his hideouts.

He also shot a man, before throwing him into a grave while he was still breathing. He buried him alive.

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El Chapo Courthouse Cops Ran Active Shooter Drill to Prep for Trial, Verdict

When drug kingpin El Chapo‘s verdict comes down, law enforcement at the courthouse will be ready for the worst case scenario after running drills for an active shooter crisis … TMZ has learned.

According to sources at the Brooklyn Federal Court where El Chapo’s trial is going down … U.S. Marshals led courthouse staffers through a mandatory active shooter drill the week before jury selection began back in the fall. 

We’re told certain employees were chosen to pretend they’d been shot — while others would try to fight back. Some drills were run with a single shooter, and others with multiple shooters. We’re told the Marshals timed how long it took them to apprehend the culprit.

The drills took the court staff by surprise. One source, who’s worked at the court for years, tells us they’d never seen anything like it … even though they’ve had tons of high profile cases there. 

Of course, El Chapo is a different beast altogether due to drug cartel connections, and the fact he’s escaped custody multiple times in the past. 

The jurors been partially sequestered while in deliberations, and the verdict could be handed down this week. As you know, El Chapo is facing life in prison.

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El Chapo Trial: Defense Zeroes in on $100 Million Presidential Bribe

Joaquín “Al Chapo” Guzmán paid a $100 million bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, at the beginning of Peña Nieto’s term, in a bid by Guzmán to buy the protection of the then-incoming president, according to a witness who once worked closely with El Chapo.

The accusations, which implicated nearly every level of the Mexican state, came during testimony at the trial of the alleged Sinaloa Cartel kingpin, who faces a 17-count indictment for drug trafficking and associated charges that could put him away for life.

Alex Cifuentes, a Colombian drug smuggler who last week described himself as a “secretary, right-hand man, and left-hand man” to Guzmán, told prosecutors during a series of debriefing sessions 2017 and 2018 that Guzmán had handed over the mammoth bribe to Peña Nieto in 2012 in hopes of coming out of hiding, according to Guzmán’s defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman. Cifuentes made the bombshell accusation Tuesday afternoon at the prompting of Lichtman, who prodded Cifuentes during cross-examination to recall details about the bribery and their intended results by reading from a transcript of Cifuentes’s earlier conversations with prosecutors.

Former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has denied taking bribes. photo: Jorge Nunez/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

“Mr. Guzman pays money and the president allows Mr. Guzman to keep working?” Lichtman asked

“I imagine so,” Cifuentes replied.

The accusation came toward the end of the third day on the stand for Cifuentes, 51, who has been testifying about the years he spent in the close orbit of El Chapo, including nearly two years with Guzmán hiding from Mexican authorities in the mountains of Sinaloa.

In addition to implicating Peña Nieto, Cifuentes had also accused the recently departed president’s predecessor Felipe Calderón of siding with Chapo’s enemies, the Beltrán-Leyva organization, during a bloody war between the two cartels, and also alleged that Guzmán sent suitcases stuffed with cocaine from Argentina to Mexican federal police, who in turn sold the drugs themselves, Cifuentes told jurors, with prodding from Lichtman.

“I was working with my wife, Angie San Clemente, and working with the Mexican Federal Police — with Señor Guzmán’s authorization,” Cifuentes said.

“And you claimed the police would then sell the drugs, correct?” Lichtman asked. “You said the police were the customers of the drug dealers?”

“Yes,” Cifuentes said.

Cifuentes was not the only one to use this method, according to Lichtman, reading from a transcript of the proffer sessions, who added that Cifuentes had told prosecutors that the federales also imported cocaine-filled suitcases on behalf of “La Barbie,” the nickname for the American-born drug lord Edgar Valdez Villarreal.


Despite initially making the bribery accusations in 2017, Cifuentes had later backed off, and said in a September 2018 conversation with prosecutors that he was not so sure about how much money traded hands, but that the events had happened as described.

Peña Nieto has previously denied taking bribes, according to Vice News, pointing to the fact that it was his government who caught el Chapo — twice, first in 2014 and again in early 2016 after Guzmán’s 2015 spectacular prison break — and extradited him the the United States. A spokesman for Peña Nieto, who left office in December, described the new accusation as “false and defamatory,” according to the Associated Press.

Originally from Colombia, Cifuentes is a member of
the Cifuentes-Villa family, a clan of narco-traffickers from Medellín that authorities say became one of the main suppliers of cocaine to the Sinaloa Cartel in the later years of El Chapo’s career.

By Tuesday afternoon, Cifuentes had spent nearly three full days days regaling jurors with tales of his life in El Chapo’s mountain hideouts, including details about Guzmán’s daily schedule, his security detail, his demand for heavy, military-grade weaponry, and a handful of hasty escapes from the army. And on Tuesday morning, he discussed various murder-for-hire and kidnapping plots, most of them unsuccessful, that Guzmán had hatched from hiding.

Later that day, he walked jurors through a series of accusations of staggering corruption at nearly every level of the Mexican government, from local cops to federales to judges, all the way to heads of state on the payroll — and taking orders — from multiple drug traffickers, including the Sinaloa Cartel. The accusations against Peña Nieto drew gasps from the audience.

According to Cifuentes’ recollection during the proffer sessions, Peña Nieto was the one to approach Guzmán, telling him that for $250 million, Peña Nieto would allow El Chapo — who had been hiding out in the mountains since he escaped a maximum-security prison in 2001 — to come out of hiding and continue trafficking drugs.

Ever the negotiator, Guzmán instead sent Peña Nieto $100 million in October 2012, months after Peña Nieto’s electoral victory that July, according  Lichtman’s reading of the Cifuentes proffer sessions. In November, Guzmán appeared to have received word that the bribe was successful, according to Lichtman’s reading of the proffer sessions.

“In this one, you claim that President Peña Nieto contacted Mr. Guzmán, and the message was that he didn’t have to stay in hiding, and that he could continue working,” Lichtman said, referring to a transcript of one of the debriefings.

“Yes, that is what Joaquín told me,” Cifuentes replied.

According to Cifuentes, Guzmán delivered the money through an intermediary, a woman named Andrea Fernandez Velez, who worked as a secretary for Cifuentes and moonlighted running a modeling agency in Mexico City whose young women the cartel used to curry favor in debaucherous parties for Mexican officials.

In his proffer sessions, Cifuentes told authorities that Fernandez had delivered the bribes in cash, stuffed into suitcases, and placed aboard the jet of a prominent political consultant who had worked on Peña Nieto’s presidential campaign.

Under questioning from Lichtman Tuesday afternoon,
Cifuentes said he had seen photos sent by Fernandez of the suitcases full of cash, but disputed the anecdote about her flying them to the president-elect on the consultant’s plane.

The corruption allegations were somewhat muddled by such equivocations by Cifuentes, and also by a verbal flub on Lichtman’s part — he initially said Cifuentes had told prosecutors of a $250 bribe, a figure that was corrected by Judge Brian M. Cogan.

And the accusations rest solely on the word of Cifuentes, a confessed drug trafficker facing the possibility of life in prison.

But Guzmán’s defense team appears eager to press the issue. From the beginning of the trial, Lichtman has sought to downplay Guzmán’s role in the cartel hierarchy, and instead focus the blame on Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, the man reputed to be the current head of the Sinaloa Cartel and long believed to be el Chapo’s closest ally and partner. In his opening statement, Lichtman accused el Mayo of using his influence with Mexican politicians to remain free, while the blame fell on the far more notorious Guzmán. Zambada, Lichtman said at the time, has paid “hundreds of millions of dollars” in bribes, “including up to the very top — the current president of Mexico.” (In early November, when the trial began, Peña Nieto was still president of Mexico. He has since been succeeded by Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has also had his name come up at the trial in relation to high-flying bribery, along with former president Felipe Calderón.)

Court adjourned Tuesday afternoon with Cifuentes still on the stand, and he is set to return for more questioning on Wednesday morning.

In a scheduling discussion with Judge Cogan following the testimony Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors said they expect to rest the government’s case by the end of next week, or early the following week. Then the defense team is expected to call its own witnesses. And that could include testimony from Guzmán himself, according to defense attorney Eduardo Balarezo, who spoke with the New York Daily News on Tuesday.

“Mr. Guzman has a right to testify in his own defense — he also has a constitutional right to remain silent, and that should not be held against him,” Balarezo said, according to the Daily News. “With respect to whether or not he will testify, the defense has not made a final decision, but it is possible.”

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Ex-Mexico Prez Vicente Fox says El Chapo Should Get Conjugal Visits

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox says even criminals have needs … so he’s down for El Chapo to get down in prison so long as he remains there. Forever.

We got Fox at Reagan National Airport Friday and talked to him a little bit about El Chapo … specifically how a judge denied the drug lord’s request to let him hug his wife in court. Sounds like Fox thinks that was harsh … even for someone as notorious as Chapo.

But, it doesn’t end there … we ask Fox if he’d be OK with El Chapo getting conjugal visits. The former Prez says yes but he’s got one condition. 

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