“Say hello to my little friend.”
Everyone remembers how cocaine kingpin Tony Montana went down in Brian de Palma’s gonzo crime classic Scarface… in a hail of gunfire, ripped-to-the-gills on Miami’s best Bolivian Marching Powder. Most drug kingpins are killed by rival cartels, their hideouts raided by the DEA, or in the strange case of Christopher Coke, AKA “Dudus,” the kingpin of Jamaica’s notorious Shower Posse, they’re detained at a routine roadblock dressed as a woman.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, however, remains active and on the run. Called the “godfather of the drug world” by the DEA, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel has been captured twice. He’s also escaped from prison twice - the first time in 2001, hidden in a prison laundry truck, the second time in July 2015, through a complex tunnel system beneath his maximum-security cell. These are the sorts of stories and romanticized mythologies that surround Mexican drug cartels. Of course the reality is cartels are responsible for thousands of deaths and disappearances each year. Here are 10 shocking facts about Mexico’s drug cartels.
10 Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was the Hottest Halloween Costume in Mexico
9 The Rise of Narcosubs
8 Elite Soldiers Turned Cartel Gunmen
7 Texas Retailers Fuel Mexico’s Drug War
6 Mexico has the Highest Kidnap Rate in the World
5 Patron Saint Jesus Malverde and Narcocorridos (Drug Ballads)
4 Nuevo Laredo is Home to the Bloodiest Highway in the World
In 2014, Nuevo Laredo spent a million dollars on a billboard campaign -“Laredo is Safe” –in an attempt to revamp the border town’s image. The campaign has been called the marketing equivalent of “I am not a crook.”
3 Tranquilandia was the Disneyland of Cocaine Production
Headed by Pablo Escobar, the Medellin Cartel supplied the U.S. with 84-90 percent of its cocaine in the 1970s and 80s. At the height of its power, it also controlled 80 percent of the global cocaine market. Some estimates suggest the cartel raked in $60 million per day. While the Medellin Cartel operated several drug processing facilities in Columbia, the most impressive was Tranquilandia.
2 Officials Have Discovered Roughly 181 Illicit Passages Under the U.S-Mexico Border
Bootleggers and rumrunners have used underground passages to transport illegal contraband for ages. Mexican drug cartels –especially the Sinaloa cartel -have turned illicit underground tunnels into an art form. The Sinaloa cartel built the first cross-border narcotunnel in 1989. It was a short, narrow, “gopher hole,” barely large enough for a person to crawl through.
1 “El Chapo” Made Forbes Magazine’s List of the World’s Top Billionaires
Every year Forbes magazine publishes a list of the world’s top billionaires. Despite some newcomers, the composition is similar from year to year –Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, the Spanish retail magnate Amancio Ortego. In 2009, Forbes added Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the list. El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel is said to control 25 percent of drug trafficking into the U.S., making it the most powerful international drug cartel in the world. "El Chapo" stayed on Forbes Magazine's list of billionaires until 2012. According to senior wealth editor Luisa Kroll, "El Chapo" was dropped from the list because “Guzman’s family had grown, and an increasing chunk of money was going to protect them.” Forbes could no longer determine whether or not the drug kingpin was actually a billionaire.
Sources: globalpost.com, newyorker.com, huffingtonpost.com, cbsnews.com
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