"Look at cocaine and all you see is powder. Look through cocaine and you see the world". El Chapo Guzmán was born in a poor family, like many other drug-dealers. He quickly began to understand what having power and money meant.
Illegal-drug trade: one of the most profitable markets in the economy, but very risky. A sort of a jungle where you cannot trust anyone, with risks and dangers everywhere, ready to stab you in the back.
The story of the most-profitable market is strictly related to the life of Joaquín Guzmán, also called El Chapo, head of the Sinaola cartel, the biggest in Mexico according to the American DEA and in the 1990s bigger than the Medellin cartel, after the death of Pablo Escobar.
El Chapo Guzmán was born in a poor family, like many other drug-dealers. He quickly began to understand what having power and money meant. But cocaine leads you into a vicious circle – once you’re in you can’t escape, you want more.
He was around 20 when he gained his first experience in the narcotics business, working with Hector Salazar (who became the first boss of the Sinaloa cartel). Through this Western Mexican state of Sinaloa, tons of cocaine, amphetamines and heroine went directly into the United States for more than 40 years.
By the mid-1990s the increasing importance of Mexican organizations to the flow of cocaine to the United States allowed the Mexican cartels to become the senior partners in the business relationship, while the Colombian ones were declining according to the Business Insider.
But why is the drug-trafficking so profitable? What makes people like El Chapo become rich so quickly?
According to The Economist a kilo of cocaine costing $1,500 in Colombia, brings $12,000-$16,000 in Mexico, $77,000 if it makes it to Britain, and $200,000 in Australia.
In addition, this business is linked to many criminal groups all around the world (from the Russian mafia to the Italian “Cosa Nostra”), creating a market of billions of dollars. On the other hand, The Russian mafia, for example, supplies Latin American gangs with Soviet-era weapons. West African government officials store drug shipments off the coast.
During the economic crisis in 2007-8 finance was destroyed by subprime-mortgages, by the crazy stock market and, as a consequence, politics and the every-day life of the citizens were severely impacted as well. Yet, the financial crisis did not have a negative effect on the criminal economy. In fact, it even helped it to grow, according to Roberto Saviano. In his book “ZeroZeroZero”, considered the best book of the year by the Guardian, he explains that “No business in the world is so dynamic, so restlessly innovative, so loyal to the pure free-market spirit as the global cocaine business”. But just so that you don’t think we are suggesting getting a job within the cocaine ‘industry’ would be a good idea, let’s not forget that drug-trafficking causes severe collateral damage in society.
For example, according to the Economist, Mexico was plunged into violence when the president, Felipe Calderón, declared war on the drug gangs by sending 6,500 troops to the troubled state of Michoacán in 2006. Over 47,000 people were killed by violence associated with organised crime between 2006 and 2011, says the government. In the first six years of the drug war 31 Mexican mayors were killed, 13 of them in 2010 alone.
What Saviano underlines in his book, is that those drug-dealers are not simply criminals. They are leaders from all the point of views. They know how to run a business, how to gain respect and trust from the subordinates, how to punish the traitors, how to deal with other rival organizations, how to launder money. And most of them, like El Chapo, are megalomaniacs.
The actor Sean Penn, turned into a gonzo journalist as the Guardian reports, decided to interview El Chapo soon after he escaped from a maximum-security prison in Mexico in 2015. Guzman told the actor about his drug-business and how he hired European engineers to help him to escape from the prison. “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world … I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats” he said to the actor and he added that he wants to make a biopic of his life, supported by the actress Del Castillo (who was the translator) who declared in 2012: “Today I believe more in Chapo Guzmán than in the governments that hide the truth, even if it’s painful.”
“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”. This is what Sean Penn wrote after the meeting, according to The Guardian. A leader, as Saviano was claiming into his book. The author arrives to the conclusion that “total legalisation” is the only way to stop this business.
Finally, one quote by Guzmán is worth mentioning. “Unfortunately, as I said, where I grew up there was no other way and there still isn’t a way to survive.”
If the governments all around the world try to improve those areas and the living standards of the people there, maybe less El Chapo’s would be born, reducing this dangerous and violent trafficking.
In January 2016, Joaquín Guzmán was arrested again and he is now in an “escape-proof” cell in the Altiplano prison. His life and movie seems to have reached an end but his criminal empire is still running the business.