El Chapo Speaks | SOURCE: Rolling Stone
Source: El Chapo Speaks | Rolling Stone: Interview
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/el-chapo-speaks-20160109#ixzz3x0Qm0ueJ
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Disclosure: Some names have had to be changed, locations not named, and an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication. The subject did not ask for any changes.
"The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature, proceed from custom." —Montaigne
It's September 28th, 2015. My head is swimming, labeling TracPhones (burners), one per contact, one per day, destroy, burn, buy, balancing levels of encryption, mirroring through Blackphones, anonymous e-mail addresses, unsent messages accessed in draft form. It's a clandestine horror show for the single most technologically illiterate man left standing. At 55 years old, I've never learned to use a laptop. Do they still make laptops? No fucking idea! It's 4:00 in the afternoon. Another gorgeous fall day in New York City. The streets are abuzz with the lights and sirens of diplomatic movement, heads of state, U.N. officials, Secret Service details, the NYPD. It's the week of the U.N. General Assembly. Pope Francis blazed a trail and left town two days before. I'm sitting in my room at the St. Regis Hotel with my colleague and brother in arms, Espinoza.
Espinoza and I have traveled many roads together, but none as unpredictable as the one we are now approaching. Espinoza is the owl who flies among falcons. Whether he's standing in the midst of a slum, a jungle or a battlefield, his idiosyncratic elegance, mischievous smile and self-effacing charm have a way of defusing threat. His bald head demands your attention to his twinkling eyes. He's a man fascinated and engaged. We whisper to each other in code. Finally a respite from the cyber technology that's been sizzling my brain and soul. We sit within quietude of fortified walls that are old New York hotel construction, when walls were walls, and telephones were usable without a Ph.D. We quietly make our plans, sensitive to the paradox that also in our hotel is President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. Espinoza and I leave the room to get outside the hotel, breathe in the fall air and walk the five blocks to a Japanese restaurant, where we'll meet up with our colleague El Alto Garcia. As we exit onto 55th Street, the sidewalk is lined with the armored SUVs that will transport the president of Mexico to the General Assembly. Paradoxical indeed, as one among his detail asks if I will take a selfie with him. Flash frame: myself and a six-foot, ear-pieced Mexican security operator.
Flash frame: Why is this a paradox? It's paradoxical because today's Mexico has, in effect, two presidents. And among those two presidents, it is not Peña Nieto who Espinoza and I were planning to see as we'd spoken in whispered code upstairs. It is not he who necessitated weeks of clandestine planning. Instead, it's a man of about my age, though absent any human calculus that may provide us a sense of anchored commonality. At four years old, in '64, I was digging for imaginary treasures, unneeded, in my parents' middleclass American backyard while he was hand-drawing fantasy pesos that, if real, might be the only path for he and his family to dream beyond peasant farming. And while I was surfing the waves of Malibu at age nine, he was already working in the marijuana and poppy fields of the remote mountains of Sinaloa, Mexico. Today, he runs the biggest international drug cartel the world has ever known, exceeding even that of Pablo Escobar. He shops and ships by some estimates more than half of all the cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana that come into the United States.
They call him El Chapo. Or "Shorty." Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera. The same El Chapo Guzman who only two months earlier had humiliated the Peña Nieto government and stunned the world with his extraordinary escape from Altiplano maximum-security prison through an impeccably engineered mile-long tunnel.
Watch two minutes of El Chapo's exclusive first-ever interview below.
This would be the second prison escape of the world's most notorious drug lord, the first being 13 years earlier, from Puente Grande prison, where he was smuggled out under the sheets of a laundry cart. Since he joined the drug trade as a teenager, Chapo swiftly rose through the ranks, building an almost mythic reputation: First, as a cold pragmatist known to deliver a single shot to the head for any mistakes made in a shipment, and later, as he began to establish the Sinaloa cartel, as a Robin Hood-like figure who provided much-needed services in the Sinaloa mountains, funding everything from food and roads to medical relief. By the time of his second escape from federal prison, he had become a figure entrenched in Mexican folklore.
In 1989, El Chapo dug the first subterranean passage beneath the border from Tijuana to San Diego, and pioneered the use of tunnels to transport his products and to evade capture. I will discover that his already accomplished engineers had been flown to Germany last year for three months of extensive additional training necessary to deal with the low-lying water table beneath the prison. A tunnel equipped with a pipe-track-guided motorcycle with an engine modified to function in the minimally oxygenized space, allowing El Chapo to drop through a hole in his cell's shower floor, into its saddle and ride to freedom. It was this president of Mexico who had agreed to see us.
I take no pride in keeping secrets that may be perceived as protecting criminals, nor do I have any gloating arrogance at posing for selfies with unknowing security men. But I'm in my rhythm. Everything I say to everyone must be true. As true as it is compartmentalized. The trust that El Chapo had extended to us was not to be fucked with. This will be the first interview El Chapo had ever granted outside an interrogation room, leaving me no precedent by which to measure the hazards. I'd seen plenty of video and graphic photography of those beheaded, exploded, dismembered or bullet-riddled innocents, activists, courageous journalists and cartel enemies alike. I was highly aware of committed DEA and other law-enforcement officers and soldiers, both Mexican and American, who had lost their lives executing the policies of the War on Drugs. The families decimated, and institutions corrupted.
I took some comfort in a unique aspect of El Chapo's reputation among the heads of drug cartels in Mexico: that, unlike many of his counterparts who engage in gratuitous kidnapping and murder, El Chapo is a businessman first, and only resorts to violence when he deems it advantageous to himself or his business interests. It was on the strength of the Sinaloa cartel's seemingly more calculated strategies (a cartel whose famous face is El Chapo, but also includes the co-leadership of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada) that Sinaloa had become dominant among Mexico's criminal syndicates, extending far beyond the rural northwestern state, with significant inroads to all principal border areas between the United States and Mexico – Juarez, Mexicali, Tijuana, and reaching as far as Los Cabos.
As an American citizen, I'm drawn to explore what may be inconsistent with the portrayals our government and media brand upon their declared enemies. Not since Osama bin Laden has the pursuit of a fugitive so occupied the public imagination. But unlike bin Laden, who had posed the ludicrous premise that a country's entire population is defined by – and therefore complicit in – its leadership's policies, with the world's most wanted drug lord, are we, the American public, not indeed complicit in what we demonize? We are the consumers, and as such, we are complicit in every murder, and in every corruption of an institution's ability to protect the quality of life for citizens of Mexico and the United States that comes as a result of our insatiable appetite for illicit narcotics.
As much as anything, it's a question of relative morality. What of the tens of thousands of sick and suffering chemically addicted Americans, barbarically imprisoned for the crime of their illness? Locked down in facilities where unspeakable acts of dehumanization and violence are inescapable, and murder a looming threat. Are we saying that what's systemic in our culture, and out of our direct hands and view, shares no moral equivalency to those abominations that may rival narco assassinations in Juarez? Or, is that a distinction for the passive self-righteous?
There is little dispute that the War on Drugs has failed: as many as 27,000 drug-related homicides in Mexico alone in a single year, and opiate addiction on the rise in the U.S. Working in the emergency and development field in Haiti, I have countless times been proposed theoretical solutions to that country's ailments by bureaucratic agencies unfamiliar with the culture and incongruities on the ground. Perhaps in the tunnel vision of our puritanical and prosecutorial culture that has designed the War on Drugs, we have similarly lost sight of practice, and given over our souls to theory. At an American taxpayer cost of $25 billion per year, this war's policies have significantly served to kill our children, drain our economies, overwhelm our cops and courts, pick our pockets, crowd our prisons and punch the clock. Another day's fight is lost. And lost with it, any possible vision of reform, or recognition of the proven benefits in so many other countries achieved through the regulated legalization of recreational drugs.
Now on 50th Street, Espinoza and I enter the Japanese restaurant. El Alto sits alone in a quiet corner, beneath a slow-turning ceiling fan that circulates the scent of raw fish. He's a big man, quiet and graceful, rarely speaking above a whisper. He'd been helpful to me on many previous excursions. He's worldly, well connected and liked. Espinoza, speaking in Spanish, fills him in on our plans and itinerary. El Alto listens intently, squeezing edamame beans one at a time between his teeth. We considered this meeting our point of no return. We were either all in, or we would abandon the journey. We had weighed the risks, but I felt confident and said so. I'd offered myself to experiences beyond my control in numerous countries of war, terror, corruption and disaster. Places where what can go wrong will go wrong, had gone wrong, and yet in the end, had delivered me in one piece with a deepening situational awareness (though not a perfect science) of available cautions within the design in chaos.
It was agreed that I would go to L.A. the next day to coordinate with our principal point of contact to El Chapo. We ordered sake and indulged the kind of operating-room humor that might displace our imperfectly scientific concerns. Outside the restaurant windows, a chanting march of Mexican-Americans flowed by in protest against the Peña Nieto government's asserted violations of human rights, having allowed their country of origin to fall prey to a narco regime.
In January 2012, the Mexican film and television star Kate del Castillo, who famously played a drug lordess in Mexico's popular soap opera La Reina del Sur, used Twitter to express her mistrust of the Mexican government. She stated that in a question of trust between governments and cartels, hers would go to El Chapo. And in that tweet, she expressed a dream, perhaps an encouragement to El Chapo himself: "Mr. Chapo, wouldn't it be cool that you started trafficking with love? With cures for diseases, with food for the homeless children, with alcohol for the retirement homes that don't let the elderly spend the rest of the days doing whatever the fuck they want. Imagine trafficking with corrupt politicians instead of women and children who end up as slaves. Why don't you burn all those whorehouses where women are worth less than a pack of cigarettes. Without offer, there's no demand. Come on, Don! You would be the hero of heroes. Let's traffic with love. You know how to. Life is a business and the only thing that changes is the merchandise. Don't you agree?" While she was ostracized by many, Kate's sentiment is widely shared in Mexico. It can be heard in the narco corrido ballads so popular throughout the country. But her views, unlike those folkloric lionizations, are rather a continuity of her history of brave expression and optimistic dreams for her homeland. She had been outspoken on politics, sex and religion and is among the courageous independent spirits that democracies are built to protect and cannot exist without.
Her courage is further demonstrated in her willingness to be named in this article. There are both brutal and corrupt forces within the Mexican government who oppose her (and indeed, according to Kate, high-ranking officials have responded to her public statement with private intimidations), and hence, a responsibility of the greater public to shepherd those who make their voices heard.
It perhaps should have come as no surprise that this homegrown icon of entertainment would catch the interest of a singular fan and fugitive from Sinaloa. After reading Kate's statement on Twitter, a lawyer representing El Chapo Guzmán contacted Kate. He said El Señor wanted to send her flowers in gratitude. She nervously offered her address, but with the gypsy movements of an actress, the flowers did not find her.
Two years later, in February 2014, a detachment of Mexican marines captured El Chapo in a Mazatlán hotel following a 13-year manhunt. The images of that arrest were flashed across the world's televisions. While he was incarcerated at Altiplano prison, El Chapo's attorneys were flooded with overtures from Hollywood studios. With his dramatic capture, and, perhaps, the illusion of safe dealings now that El Chapo was locked up, the gringos were scrambling to tell his story. The seed was planted, and El Chapo, awakened to the prospect, made plans of his own. He was interested in seeing the story of his life told on film, but would entrust its telling only to Kate. The same lawyer again tracked her down, this time through the Mexican equivalent of the Screen Actors Guild, and the imprisoned drug lord and the actress began to correspond in handwritten letters and BBM messages.
It was at a social event in Los Angeles when Kate met Espinoza. She learned he was well connected to financial sources, including those that funded film projects, and she proposed a partnership to make a film about El Chapo. This was when Espinoza included our mutual colleague and friend El Alto. I learned of their intention to make the film, but I did not know Kate or have any involvement with the project. The three of them met with El Chapo's lawyer to explore their approach, but it was ultimately determined that direct access to El Chapo would still be too restricted for their authorized pursuit to rise above competitive "Chapo" projects that Hollywood would pursue with or without his participation.
Then came July 2015. El Chapo's prison break. The world, and particularly Mexico and the United States, was up in arms. How could this happen?! The DEA and the Justice Department were furious. The fact that Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong had refused El Chapo's extradition to the United States, then allowed his escape, positioned Chong and the Peña Nieto administration as global pariahs.
I followed the news of El Chapo's escape and reached out to Espinoza. We met in the courtyard of a boutique hotel in Paris in late August. He told me about Kate and that she had been intermittently receiving contact from Chapo even after the escape. It was then that I posed the idea of a magazine story. Espinoza's smile of mischief arose, indicating he would arrange for me to meet Kate back in Los Angeles. At a Santa Monica restaurant, I made my case, and Kate agreed to make the bridge, sending our names for vetting across the border. When word came back a week or so later that Chapo had indeed agreed to meet with us, I called Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone. Myself, Espinoza and El Alto were given the assignment. And with a letter from Jann officiating it, we would join Kate, who was our ticket to El Chapo's trust, then put ourselves in the hands of representatives of the Sinaloa cartel to coordinate our journey. It had been a month in the planning by the time Espinoza and I were breathing the New York air that late-September day on 55th Street.
See footage from El Chapo's July prison escape below:
Four days later, on October 2nd, El Alto, Espinoza, Kate and I board a self-financed charter flight from a Los Angeles-area airport to a city in mid-Mexico. Upon landing, a hotel driver takes us by minivan to the hotel we had been instructed to book. Suspicious of every living or inanimate thing, I scan cars and drivers, mothers papoosing infants, grandmothers, peasants on the street, building tops, curtained windows. I search the skies for helicopters. There is no question in my mind but that the DEA and the Mexican government are tracking our movements. From the moment Kate had gone out on a limb with her tweet of January 2012 through the beginning of our encrypted negotiations to meet El Chapo, I had been bewildered by his willingness to risk our visit. If Kate was being surveilled, so must those named on any shared flight manifest. I see no spying eyes, but I assume they are there.
Through the windshield as we approach the hotel, I see a casually dressed man in his forties appear on the sidewalk, simultaneously directing our driver to the entryway while dialing a number on his cellphone. This is Alonzo, who, I'm about to learn, is an associate of El Chapo. We grab our bags and exit the minivan. Almost immediately, the traffic around the designated pickup point diminishes. Out of my view, someone is blocking the neighboring streets. Then, a lone convoy of "up-armor" SUVs appears in front of our hotel. Alonzo asks us to surrender our electronics and leave them behind – cellphones, computers, etc. I had left mine in Los Angeles, anticipating this requirement. My colleagues surrender theirs to the hotel desk. We are whisked into the vehicles. Alonzo rides shotgun, my colleagues and I in the back. Alonzo and the driver are speaking quick and quiet Spanish. My own Spanish is weak at best. By day, and put on the spot, I'm pretty restricted to hola and adios. By night, with perhaps a few beers, I can get by, speaking and listening slowly. The conversation in the front seat seems unthreatening, just a cooperative exchange of logistics in the facilitation of our journey. Throughout the hour-and-a-half drive away from the city and across farmlands, both men receive frequent BBM messages – perhaps updates on our route to keep our convoy safe. With each message received, the needle on the speedometer rises; we are cruising at well over 100 miles per hour. I like speed. But not without my own hands on the wheel. To calm myself, I pretend I have any reason to memorize the route of our journey. It's that upon which I concentrate, and not the exchanges between the two strangers leading our pursuit.
We arrive at a dirt airfield. Security men in tailored suits stand beside two six-seat single-engine prop planes. It isn't until boarding one of the two planes that I realize that our driver had been the 29-yearold son of El Chapo, Alfredo Guzmán. He boards beside me, designated among our personal escorts to see his father. He's handsome, lean and smartly dressed, with a wristwatch that might be of more value than the money housed by the central banks of most nation-states. He's got one hell of a wristwatch.
The planes take off, and we travel a couple of hours. Two bouncing birds side by side through the thermals over the mountainous jungle. It once again occurs to me all the risks that are being taken by El Chapo in receiving us. We had not been blindfolded, and any experienced traveler might have been able to collect a series of triangulated landmarks to re-navigate the journey. But through his faith in Kate, whom he'd only ever known through letters or BBM, are we enjoying an unusual trust. I ask Alfredo how he can be sure we are not being followed or surveilled. He smiles (I note he doesn't blink much) and points out a red scrambler switch below the cockpit controls. "That switch blocks ground radar," he says. He adds that they have an inside man who provides notification when the military's high-altitude surveillance plane has been deployed. He has great confidence that there are no unwanted eyes on us. With Kate helping along in translations, we chat throughout the flight. I'm mindful not to say anything that may alienate his father's welcome before we've even arrived.
It's been about two hours of flight, when we descend from above the lush peaks to ward a sea-level field. The pilot, using his encrypted cellphone, talks to the ground. I sense that the military is beefing up operations in its search area. Our original landing zone has suddenly been deemed insecure. After quite a bit of chatter from ground to air, and some unnervingly low altitude circling, we find an alternate dirt patch where two SUVs wait in the shade of an adjacent tree line, and land. The flight had been just bumpy enough that each of us had taken a few swigs off a bottle of Honor tequila, a new brand that Kate is marketing. I step from plane to earth, ever so slightly sobering my bearings, and move toward the beckoning waves of waiting drivers. I throw my satchel into the open back of one of the SUVs, and lumber over to the tree line to take a piss. Dick in hand, I do consider it among my body parts vulnerable to the knives of irrational narco types, and take a fond last look, before tucking it back into my pants.
Espinoza had recently undergone back surgery. He stretched, readjusted his surgical corset, exposing it. It dawns on me that one of our greeters might mistake the corset for a device that contains a wire, a chip, a tracker. With all their eyes on him, Espinoza methodically adjusts the Velcro toward his belly, slowly looks up, sharing his trademark smile with the suspicious eyes around him. Then, "Cirugia de espalda [back surgery]," he says. Situation defused.
We embark into the dense, mountainous jungle in a two-truck convoy, crossing through river after river for seven long hours. Espinoza and El Alto, with a driver in the front vehicle, myself and Kate with Alonzo and Alfredo in the rear. At times the jungle opens up to farmland, then closes again into forest. As the elevation begins to climb, road signage announces approaching townships. And then, as it seems we are at the entrance of Oz, the highest peak visibly within reach, we arrive at a military checkpoint. Two uniformed government soldiers, weapons at the ready, approach our vehicle. Alfredo lowers his passenger window; the soldiers back away, looking embarrassed, and wave us through. Wow. So it is, the power of a Guzman face. And the corruption of an institution. Did this mean we were nearing the man?
It was still several hours into the jungle before any sign we were getting closer. Then, strangers appear as if from nowhere, onto the dirt track, checking in with our drivers and exchanging hand radios. We move on. Small villages materialize from the jungle; protective peasant eyes relax at the wave of a familiar driver. Cellphones are of no use here, so I imagine there are radio repeaters on topographical high points facilitating their internal communications.
We'd left Los Angeles at 7 a.m. By 9 p.m. on the dash clock we arrive at a clearing where several SUVs are parked. A small crew of men hover. On a knoll above, I see a few weathered bungalows. I get out of the truck, search the faces of the crew for approval that I may walk to the trunk to secure my bag. Nods follow. I move. And, when I do...there he is. Right beside the truck. The world's most famous fugitive: El Chapo. My mind is an instant flip book to the hundreds of pictures and news reports I had scoured. There is no doubt this is the real deal. He's wearing a casual patterned silk shirt, pressed black jeans, and he appears remarkably well-groomed and healthy for a man on the run. He opens Kate's door and greets her like a daughter returning from college. It seems important to him to express the warm affection in person that, until now, he'd only had occasion to communicate from afar. After greeting her, he turns to me with a hospitable smile, putting out his outstretched hand. I take it. He pulls me into a "compadre" hug, looks me in the eyes and speaks a lengthy greeting in Spanish too fast for my ears. I gather up the presence of mind to explain to him in broken Spanish that I would depend on Kate to translate as the night went on. Only then does he realize his greeting had not been understood. He jokes to his crew, laughing at his own assumption that I speak Spanish and at my momentary disorientation that I've let him go on at such length in his greeting.
We are brought up some steps to a flat area on the knoll beside the bungalows. A local family caters a buffet of tacos, enchiladas, chicken, rice, beans, fresh salsa and . . . carne asada. "Carne Asada," an oft-used cartel term describing the decimated bodies in cities like Juarez after mass narco executions. Hence, I go for the tacos. He walks us to a picnic table; we are offered drinks. We sit in the low illumination of some string lights, but the perimeter falls into abrupt darkness. I see no more than 30 or 35 people. (El Chapo later confided to El Alto that, out of sight, another hundred of his soldiers were present in the immediate area.) There are no long-barrel weapons in sight. No Danny Trejo types. My impression of his crew is more in sync with what one would imagine of students at a Mexico City university. Clean-cut, well-dressed and mannered. Not a smoker in the bunch. Only two or three of the guys wear small shoulder bags that hang low beside their waists, where I assume small arms are carried. Our host, it seems to me, is concerned that Kate, as the lone female among us, not face intimidating visions of force. This assumption would be borne out several hours later.
As we sit at the picnic table, introductions are made. To my left, Alonzo. Alonzo is, as it turns out, one among El Chapo's lawyers. When speaking of El Chapo's lawyers, it gets a little murky. During his imprisonment, the only visits allowed were with "lawyers." Evidently, some who would be more accurately described as lieutenants had been dubbed or perhaps certified by the expedition of power as part of his legal team. Alonzo visited El Chapo at Altiplano just two hours before his audacious escape. According to Alonzo, he was unaware of the escape plan. But he notes that did not spare him a brutal beating by interrogators afterward.
To my right, Rodrigo. Rodrigo is godfather to Chapo's twin four-year-old girls by his 26-year-old beauty-queen wife, Emma Coronel. Rodrigo is the one who has me concerned. The look in his eye is far away, but locked dead on me. My speculation goes audio. I hear chain saws. I feel splatter. I am Sean's dubitable paranoia. My eyes are compelled to drift to Rodrigo's right. There is Ivan, Chapo's eldest son. At 32, he is considered the heir to the Sinaloa cartel. He's attentive with a calm maturity. Like his brother, he boasts a fabulous wristwatch. And directly across from me, our host, with Kate to his right. Beside Alonzo, Alfredo. El Alto sits at the end of the table. Espinoza, still standing, apologizes to Chapo and asks if he may lay down for an hour to rest his back. Espinoza's funny this way. It's as if we had spent these endless grueling hours hiking a vertical volcanic summit to the cone, and now, just three steps from viewing the ring fault of the caldera, he says, "I'm gonna take a nap. I'll look into the hole later."
With Kate translating, I begin to explain my intentions. I felt increasingly that I had arrived as a curiosity to him. The lone gringo among my colleagues, who'd ridden on the coattails of El Chapo's faith in Kate. I felt his amusement as I put my cards on the table. He asks about my relationship with the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez with what seems to be a probing of my willingness to be vilified through associations.
I speak to our friendship in a way that seems to pass an intuitive litmus test measuring the independence of my perspective. I tell him, up front, that I had a family member who worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency, that through my work in Haiti (I'm CEO of J/P HRO, a nongovernmental organization based in Port-au-Prince) I had many relationships inside the United States government. I assure him that those relationships were by no means related to my interest in him. My only interest was to ask questions and deliver his responses, to be weighed by readers, whether in balance or contempt.
I tell him that I understood that in the mainstream narrative of narcos, the undersung hypocrisy is in the complicity of buyers. I could not sell him on a bait-and-switch, and I knew that in the writing of any piece, my only genuine cards to play were to expose myself as one fascinated and willing to suspend judgment. I understood that whatever else might be said of him, it was clear to me he was not a tourist in our big world.
Throughout my introduction, Chapo smiles a warm smile. In fact, in what would be a seven-hour sit-down, I saw him without that smile only in brief flashes. As has been said of many notorious men, he has an indisputable charisma. When I ask about his dynamic with the Mexican government, he pauses. "Talking about politicians, I keep my opinion to myself. They go do their thing and I do mine."
See footage of El Chapo after his recapture below:
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/el-chapo-speaks-20160109#ixzz3x0Qm0ueJ
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