There are few people in the world who have not heard the name of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. As the head of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel. Guzman rose to be the biggest drug trafficker in Mexico. American officials consider El Chapo to be the world’s most powerful drug trafficker and are desperate to put Guzman on trial in the U.S. for a range of crimes including murder and trafficking. It is estimated that El Chapo Guzman is responsible for shipping over 500 tons of cocaine into the U.S. and the DEA considers him to be an even bigger influence than Pablo Escobar was during his lifetime.
As was widely reported back in January of this year, Guzman is currently in jail in Mexico where he is fighting extradition to the U.S. to face murder charges. The Independent reports that El Chapo was arrested after a gunfight with Mexican special forces after a complex investigation following his escape from prison, through a mile-long tunnel dug to the shower of his cell at Altiplano.
That escape took place soon after Guzman was recaptured after over a decade on the run. In 2001, Guzman broke out of a different Mexican prison and became one of the world’s most wanted outlaws before he was recaptured in 2014. Mexican drug barons are renowned for their brutality and for “disposing” of anyone who stands in the way of their empire building. El Chapo is no exception.
With the vast financial resources of the Sinaloa Cartel to draw on Guzman is widely believed to have developed a huge network of corrupt officials in Mexico that protected the cartel’s operations. The BBC’s This World program alleged that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms colluded to allow the supply of illegal firearms to Guzman’s cartel in exchange for information on rival drug gangs.
It has long been recognized that, if El Chapo cannot buy you, then he will kill you if you stand in his way. It is estimated that up to 12,000 have been killed by the Sinaloa Cartel during Mexico’s drug wars. Even while in prison no-one is safe from El Chapo’s reach. Politicians, judges, and senior military figures have all been assassinated by the cartel.
The L.A. Times reports that a senior judge involved in Guzman’s extradition fight has been assassinated while jogging near his home. Judge Vicente Antonio Bermudez Zacarias was gunned down in what has been described as a “professional hit.” Many suspect that Guzman may have ordered the judge’s killing, something that is fiercely denied by El Chapo’s lawyer. Jose Refugio Rodriguez denounced as “yellow journalism” any effort to link Guzman to the judge’s assassination.
“I have heard that [the judge] was … very honest, impeccable, and that he was widely respected. There is no basis to see Joaquin Guzman behind this act.”
Thirty-seven-year-old judge Zacarias has worked on a series of high-profile cases involving drugs kingpins. As well as having responsibility for Guzman’s extradition case, Zacarias has been involved in many cases against the Mexican cartels. New York Magazine points out that cases include the prosecution of Miguel Trevino, a one-time leader of the Zetas cartel. Despite that, he had not been assigned any police protection.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto made no comment about the latest killing save to say that he had asked his attorney general to investigate the slaying.
El Chapo Guzman is currently being held in a maximum-security facility in a Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. It is widely expected that Guzman’s extradition to the U.S. will take place early in 2017. The killing of a judge is unlikely to prevent Guzman’s extradition.
It may prove impossible to link El Chapo to the judge’s murder, but his killing demonstrates that the drug cartels have a long reach even when leaders like Guzman are behind bars.
[Featured Image by Rebecca Blackwell/AP Images]