‘El Chapo’s arrest changes nothing’ – the drug expert’s view

As Sean Penn talks about meeting the infamous drug lord, Loaded talks to the journalist who knows El Chapo best.

El Chapo
Caught Drug lord El Chapo Guzman pictured being captured back in 2014. Image Picture by Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since Sean Penn’s interview with El Chapo went viral earlier this month, the actor has stayed silent about meeting the world’s most infamous drug lord – until his 60 Minutes interview is broadcast later today that is.

Days after Penn’s encounter for Rolling Stone, El Chapo was arrested in Mexico after a gunfight with police. But does bringing down a gangster supposedly worth $1bn actually change anything in the war on drugs?

Not according to the author who knows drug warlords’ culture better than anyone. Ioan Grillo, author of new book Gangster Warlords on how the drug barons operate, believes that El Chapo’s arrest is effectively just symbolic.

Grillo, whose previous book El Narco focused solely on El Chapo and Mexico’s drug trade, tells Loaded: “El Chapo is simply one of many drug traffickers. His arrest has a massive symbolic and emblematic value, but he’s just one of thousands of people involved in drug crime in America. El Chapo is just one person – and his power might be exaggerated.”

El Chapo – real name Joaquin Guzman – is boss of the Sinaola cartel. His arrest leaves his deputy El Mayo in charge of their reign of terror in Mexico.

Grillo explained: “Everyone says El Chapo is an extraordinarily powerful trafficker. But he’s just part of this one huge federation, which consists of drug traffickers and crooked lawyers and accountants. El Chapo was just the figurehead.”

Expert view
Expert view Journalist Ioan Grillo's new book on how drug lords operate.

So the drugs trade will basically be unaffected, Grillo insists. “No real dictator controls El Chapo’s federation. While he’s in prison, that federation will keep churning out drugs.”

Standing just 5ft 6ins tall, Guzman’s nickname El Chapo means “Shorty”, but he has overseen an army of traffickers since he gained control of the Sinaolo cartel in 2003.

Despite his arrest leaving the drugs trade unaffected, Grillo – who grew up near Brighton before moving to Mexico in 2001 – insists that El Chapo’s arrest still has some symbolic power.

Grillo says: “The Mexican government had to try to put El Chapo in prison. People have carried out many, many murders and kidnappings in his name – thousands of them. You can’t allow someone like that to continue laughing at the establishment.

“Putting him in prison doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination end any problems with drug trafficking. But you can’t allow El Chapo to flout the law, which helps him become an idol.”

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Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn

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