On Nov. 5 Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, kingpin of the infamous Sinaloa Drug Cartel, pleaded “not guilty” to 17 counts of drug trafficking, money laundering, murder and kidnapping.
El Chapo was extradited from Mexico to America in January of last year after escaping Mexican detention facilities twice according to ABC News. The American government is now trying Guzman, who is estimated to have earned up to $14 billion from illegal activities, in the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse.
Guzman’s trial is under intense security, not only because American officials fear retribution from the Sinaloa Cartel, but also due to the terrorist threat that this kind of highly publicized trial attracts. The Los Angeles Times reports that whenever the police transport El Chapo to trial, officials shut down the Brooklyn Bridge and at the courthouse itself security is even more extensive. The National Guard patrols the halls scanning for explosives or biological weapons, while snipers ring the buildings around the courthouse. Police also pack the court, and even attorneys have to remove their shoes when going through security.
The trial is also highly secretive, which the prosecutor describes as “necessary,” since El Chapo has escaped twice and is allegedly responsible for the deaths of thousands in Mexico and America. According to The New York Times, the state frequently sends private letters to the judge trying the case and often bars the court from sketching witnesses. The defense claims that the secretive nature of the trial makes it difficult for them to mount a proactive defense.
Guzman’s strategy is to downplay his role in the Sinaloa Cartel, claiming that he was just a lieutenant, while shifting the leadership to his partner, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia. Ismael’s brother, Jesus Zambada García, a lieutenant in the Sinaloa Cartel who is also on trial, is a witness for the state, giving the American public a unique view into the inner workings of the cartel and has provided damning testimony against El Chapo.
Jesus alleged that the cartel gave “a few million [dollars]” to the President-elect of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, while he was the mayor of Mexico City. NBC News also reports that Zambada Garcia alleged he personally gave the former leader of Mexico’s Federal Investigative Agency, Genaro Garcia Luna, $3 million and when officials were closing in on El Chapo the cartel gave a high ranking official $250,000 to call it off.
In addition to the corruption surrounding the Sinaloa Cartel and the Mexican government Garcia also described the intense violence surrounding El Chapo. Garcia recalls a meeting between Guzman and his competitor Rodolfo Fuentes; when the session ended Fuentes did not shake El Chapo’s hand. For that slight El Chapo ordered his death.
In another instance, Arellano Felíx, a rival of El Chapo, was shot in the back of the neck during a botched arrest attempt. Garcia alleged that El Chapo was paying the police who killed Felix. Even the police were not exempt from the cartels’ wrath. Zambada recalls that a “corrupt police commander” claimed that he would finish off Guzman and Ismael Zambada Garcia, so the cartel killed him.
El Chapo’s trial, which has already revealed several bombshells will likely last a very long time. The sensitive nature of the case for the Mexican government ensures that America will not release many details of the case to the public, however, what is clear is that El Chapo will likely live the rest of his life imprisoned in America.