Mexican actress Kate del Castillo sparked controversy on Tuesday when she praised Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, powerful cartel boss who had just been named the world's most powerful drug trafficker by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Del Castillo is one of Mexico's most prominent film and television actresses, but who is the Guzman and why is he so powerful?
As the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, perhaps the largest trafficking organization in the world, El Chapo (also known as Shorty Guzman) is a billionaire fugitive. In 2011, Guzman became the most wanted person on Earth after the death of Osama bin Laden and was also featured on Forbes Magazine's list of the world's richest people.
Sinaloa is a drug trafficking organization that distributes cocaine, marijuana and, with increasing regularity, heroin.
(Poppy farms are thriving in the fertile state of Sinaloa, according to Reuters, and Mexico is the United States' chief heroin supplier and is gaining ground on Afghanistan and Southeastern Asia in terms of production.)
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The cartel's territory runs all the way up the Pacific Coast of Mexico which it uses to shuttle drugs from Central America, Colombia and Bolivia up through Mexico and into the United States.
A significant percentage of the cocaine sold in the U.S. got there thanks to Sinaloa.
Guzman was arrested in 1993 but later escaped from prison in 2001 in a laundry truck and has been on the run since. Even so, he has been able to rise through the ranks of Sinaloa, becoming the gang's leader in 2003.
With Guzman at the helm, Sinaloa has become the largest drug trafficking organization in Mexico and reportedly in the world. Guzman has become the most powerful drug lord in history, and the crime boss has a bounty on his head totaling about $7 million and a net worth of about $1 billion.
Currently, he is believed to be running Sinaloa's operations from hiding in the mountains of Durango.
Mexico has an unsteady relationship with its drug dealers. Cartels and bosses like Guzman are immortalized in songs by popular norteño musicians who compose ballads of crime. Guzman himself has been the subject of many songs, including the famous Homenaje al Chapo by Diego Rivas, a norteño singer who was murdered in November.
But others are much less sympathetic toward cartels who regularly use extortion, torture, murder and terrorist-like actions to gain territory and to control local police, politicians and citizens.
Still, del Castillo, who played a drug trafficker on the show La Reina del Sur (Queen of the South), sees the positive power of a person like Guzman. Making veiled references to the ineffectiveness of President Felipe Calderon's government, del Castillo said that Guzman has the ability to bring about change in Mexico.
Today, I trust in El Chapo Guzman more than I do the governments that hide painful truths, that hide the cure for cancer, AIDS, etc. for their own benefit and wealth, the actress wrote on her Twextra blog.
Mr. Chapo. Wouldn't it be swell if you started trafficking in good? In cures for diseases, in food for street children, in alcohol for the elderly in shelters where they are not allowed to spend their last years doing whatever the f_ck they feel like, in trafficking with corrupt politicians and not with women and children who end up like slaves, the actress continued.
In burning down all those 'whorehouses' where a woman isn't worth more than a pack of cigarettes, there is no demand without supply, get on it sir, you'd be a hero among heroes, let's traffic in love, you know how.
After his election in 2005, Calderon began a militarized offensive against Mexico's cartels. Since then, around 50,000 people have been killed, bringing him as much negative attention as the cartels get, especially as he spends national resources on his quest at a time when Mexico is struggling economically.
Chapo has allegedly paid for schools, hospitals, and other public projects, Guzman biographer Malcom Beith told Reuters. Second, he's just about the only source of employment in parts of Sinaloa. And he has provided security of a sort. He's been known to apprehend small-time crooks or thugs when they got out of hand. Lastly, the name Chapo pretty much puts the fear of God into people.
The most recent significant victory in Calderon's war was the capture of Felipe Cabrera Sarabia, one of Guzman's top lieutenants.