From inside the US's most secure prison, 'El Chapo' is pointing fingers at what he says are the real powers in the drug trade

Mexico's Attorney General holds a photo of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán at a news conference in Mexico City July 2015.REUTERS/Stringer
Three years after his conviction, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán is in the most secure prison in the USA.
Former Sinaloa cartel boss says senior officials are the real rulers of drug trafficking.
Guzmán's attorney said the kingpin believes taking out the "alleged leaders" of the cartels won't work.
Ciudad Juárez, Mexico - Five years after his extradition to the United States, Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is pointing the finger at what he believes is the real power behind drug trafficking on both sides of the border.
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Speaking through his lawyer Mariel Colón, one of the few people allowed to have regular contact with him, Guzmán said that in order for the drug war to stop, the authorities had to go after "politicians on both sides of the border".
"For years the authorities have locked up these alleged leaders, but it serves no purpose, but when you go after politicians who allow it, that's a different matter," Colón told Insider. "He's said that before. That's what he thinks."
Guzmán is aware that he may only be a political tool for the US and Mexican governments, Colón said.
“Every new US president has his trophy. With Trump it was Chapo. After him, Biden also has his trophy,” added Colón. "It was always just politics."
In 2019, Guzmán, now believed to be 65, was sentenced to life in prison on multiple drug-related charges. Since then, he has been in solitary confinement at ADX Florence, a "supermax" facility in Colorado that's considered the safest prison in the United States.
The Federal Correctional Complex, including the Administrative Maximum Penitentiary or "Supermax" prison, in Florence, Colorado. Thomson Reuters
Guzmán is only allowed one hour off a day and is only allowed 15 minutes per month on the phone with three people previously screened by the US government: his mother, one of his sisters and his youngest child.
“Guzmán was in total isolation. He had no access to recreation areas or any areas around the prison other than his cell," Colón said.
In 2020, his legal team filed an appeal complaining that he was being subjected to "inhumane conditions," which a federal judge dismissed. Guzmán's treatment, which his lawyers describe as "torture" and the result of a "political vendetta", has not changed.
US authorities said the security measures are designed to prevent Guzmán from escaping or engaging in illegal activities, but even with Guzmán since his arrest in January 2016, business for the Sinaloa cartel has been booming.
During fiscal year 2016, which ran from October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016, more than 5,000 pounds of cocaine were seized by the US Border Patrol. That value rose to over £9,000 in 2017. After declining in 2018, US Border Patrol seizures of cocaine rose to over £11,000 in 2019 and over £15,000 in 2020.
Seizures of other drugs in the US have also increased during this period -- a trend that experts say shows a mistake in focusing on arresting cartel leaders, as US and Mexican authorities have done for decades.
"The agents are bought"
Packages of cocaine seized from a ship at a Philadelphia port in June 2019. AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Testimony at Guzmán's trial named several Mexican presidents, police chiefs and senior military officials involved in the drug trade.
Jesus "El Rey" Zambada, the youngest brother of Sinaloa cartel drug lord Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, claimed on the witness stand that "the real leaders" of the cartel were Mexican government officials and US law enforcement agencies.
Zambada specifically referred to Genaro García Luna, who was Mexico's minister of public security from 2006 to 2012. García Luna was arrested in the United States in December 2019 and accused of taking bribes from the Sinaloa cartel.
García Luna has pleaded not guilty. His trial was scheduled to start in October this year but was postponed to January 2023 at the request of his lawyers.
According to the US Department of Justice, García Luna is accused of accepting millions of dollars so Guzmán could "operate with impunity in Mexico" for more than a decade. At the same time, Garciá Luna was allegedly doing business with high-ranking officials within top US national security and law enforcement agencies.
In October 2020, Salvador Cienfuegos, Mexico's defense minister from 2012 to 2018, was arrested while arriving in Los Angeles on a flight from Mexico City.
Cienfuegos was also charged with drug-related offenses, allegedly as part of the investigation into links between the Sinaloa cartel and Guzmán. He was accused of using his authority to protect a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel while ordering operations against his rivals.
US Border Patrol agents near the US-Mexico border fence in Imperial Beach, California in November 2021. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
Cienfuegos pleaded not guilty at his first hearing, and surprisingly, US prosecutors dropped the charges against him after negotiations with the Mexican government. The ex-general was sent back to Mexico and released.
García Luna and Cienfuegos were not convicted, but an antitrust official in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez said Guzmán's allegations were not far from reality.
In an October 2016 interview with Mexico's El Universal newspaper, the middle boss of La Línea, the armed wing of the Juárez cartel, said several US border officials are on their payroll.
"The agents have been bought," said the executor at the time.
In 2016, the Center for Investigative Reporting documented 153 cases of corruption investigations into US border officials, most of whom were members of US Customs and Border Protection.
Drug trafficking was the most common crime, followed by bribery and people smuggling, and the vast majority of cases cited by the CIR involved agents with 10 years of service or less. Most incidents occurred in Texas, followed by California and Arizona.
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