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Fischer: Heroin or hero?

BY CHRISTIAN FISCHER | JULY 28, 2015 5:00 AM

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Joaquín Guzmán — better known as cartel kingpin “El Chapo” — is the first person to be given the title “Public Enemy No. 1” since the legendary Al Capone. Surprisingly, he’s also been known to be a peacemaker and to help the disadvantaged in his home state of Sinaloa, Mexico.

After an unbelievably successful prison break, El Chapo took to Twitter and sent a death threat directly to Donald Trump after his bigoted comments against the Latino community, offering a $100 million bounty for him dead or alive.

El Chapo’s crimes are undeniable, and it only seems natural to want a murderous drug lord behind bars. However, the “widely propagated myth” that surrounds Guzmán and his Sinaloa Federation has me on the fence about whether I should root for his return to Mexico.

Despite being responsible for roughly a quarter of the drugs found in the United States, Guzmán has displayed deep loyalty and care for his people. This is especially noticeable on Twitter, where #FreeElChapo is now trending.

According to World Bank data, more than half (roughly 63 million) of the 120.8 million citizens of Mexico live at or below the poverty line. On top of that, Pew Research Center states that only one-third of Mexicans trust elected officials. With this, people turn elsewhere for role models.

Growing up as the son of a poor farmer in the small mountain town of Badiragauto, Mexico, Guzmán entered the drug trade around the age of 15, and he took charge of the Sinaloa Cartel in the early 1990s.

According to  a 2008 Los Angeles Times article, “In the old style of swaggering kingpins, Guzmán cultivated support in his native Sinaloa by handing out money and favors to hardworking villagers.”

Because of this, villagers are said to be helping the head of Mexico’s most dominant narcotics network hide from authorities.

Despite the legends of his altruism, such as gifts of medicine and drinking water delivered to poor and storm-stricken areas, Badiraguato remains impoverished.

“I don’t see a single building producing jobs, a single piece of public works, a soccer field, a sewer, a school, water systems, a clinic or hospital, not a single one that you can say was built by drug traffickers or their money,” Mayor Mario Valenzuela told the Associated Press.

Valenzuela went on to note that El Chapo’s hometown would look drastically different if the legends of Guzmán’s community investments were true. However, he is quick to follow with the fact that Guzman and his cartel have been seen as a “lesser evil” compared with others, such as the notoriously vicious Zeta Cartel.

A mythology has evolved around Guzmán, and whether any of these rumored feats are actually true is beside the point. Despite being vilified by not only Mexico but surrounding countries, he has become admired by local people — particularly those “transporting marijuana, opium poppy, or cocaine.”

Despite the illicit nature of El Chapo’s trade, he is a ruthless businessman yet merciful and nonviolent, according to Valenzuela, unlike his Zeta counterparts. Maybe if we were all to put less energy into a chase that could go on for years, we could read just our scope from capturing a locally respected “Public Enemy No. 1” to the cartels that make the brutal headlines of hanging bodies from highway underpasses.


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