John Jairo Velasquez, a former hit man for Pablo Escobar, in 2006 giving testimony while holding a book about his former boss.
Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez, alias” Popeye,” is one of few surviving members of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel. He served as the infamous drug kingpin’s head of assassins.
In an interview with the Mexican news magazine Proceso, Popeye, who is a year removed from a 23-year prison term, said Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán would not be captured, but killed, should authorities try to apprehend him again.
Though Popeye thinks El Chapo could be found through a joint effort between un-corrupted police and military forces, American agents, and cooperative criminal elements, he said it would not be “convenient” for the Mexican government or for El Chapo if the fugitive drug lord survived.
Popeye: “El Chapo is a dead man.”
Popeye: “He knows he has to be killed, because if they capture him alive, they will extradite him to the US. And he will not tolerate a high-security prison in the US. There the food they give [is eaten with] a straw, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nobody talks to you; there is no human contact. If somebody sends you a letter, they show it to you on a television screen.”
Proceso: “You believe that El Chapo will not tolerate that?”
Popeye: “I imagine so; in order to get sun they take you out of your cell in a cage. And for a recalcitrant Mexican like El Chapo, as it was for Pablo Escobar … to be in a US jail is a very hard thing. That’s why El Chapo will get himself killed.”
Popeye also said he believed it would take Mexican authorities 16 to 18 months to track down El Chapo.
Mexico National Security Commission Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, left.
He noted that this was the likely period of time it would take to track down the drug lord’s finances, family network, and security apparatus. He said it was the kind of work that would proceed by millimeters, “but what they give to him, they give to him, because it is a political matter for the Mexican government. Of honor.”
Read an excerpt from Proceso’s interview (in Spanish) here.
Popeye has voiced his opinion on the drug war in the past. In 2013, while he was still locked up in a maximum-security prison in Colombia, he told reporters from Der Spiegel that the drug war was most likely unwinnable — and possibly unendable:
People like me can’t be stopped. It’s a war. They lose men, and we lose men. They lose their scruples, and we never had any … I don’t know what you have to do. Maybe sell cocaine in pharmacies. I’ve been in prison for 20 years, but you will never win this war when there is so much money to be made. Never.
Popeye’s former boss ran the Medellin cartel, the most powerful and most feared drug cartel in the world for much of the 1980s and 1990s.
Pablo Escobar, left.
Under Escobar’s leadership, the cartel waged a violent battle with the Colombian government, killing hundreds of government officials, police officers, prosecutors, judges, journalists, and innocent bystanders in the process.
“El Chapo” Guzmán has, many believe, assumed Escobar’s role as the world’s most powerful kingpin. His Sinaloa cartel has a global reach, reportedly delivering cocaine and heroin to Europe and the Middle East.
And the DEA said in 2013 that his organization was doing $3 billion a year in business routing drugs to the Chicago region of the US.
As is perhaps fitting for an heir to Escobar’s empire, El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel controls 35% of the cocaine coming out of Colombia, a market share it maintains control over by partnering with many of Colombia’s violent criminal gangs, which are themselves descendants of the Colombian cartels.
And, in one of the dark ironies so common in the decades-long drug war, the Colombian officials who were instrumental in hunting down and killing Escobar on a Medellin rooftop on December 3, 1993, were dispatched to Mexico in the days after El Chapo’s escape to assist with the search.
‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s Key Role In The Global Cocaine Trade Is Becoming Clearer
Colombia’s police chief, Gen. Rodolfo Palomino, center, examines confiscated packs of cocaine at a police base in northern Colombia, February 24, 2015.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel in Mexico is the largest drug-trafficking organization in the world, and its deep ties to Colombia are becoming more apparent.
According to a recent report from from Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Sinaloa controls 35% of the cocaine exported from Colombia — the largest producer of the drug in the world.
Now that El Chapo has escaped from a Mexican prison, Colombian generals who worked to bring down the notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar are reportedly hunting down the notorious Sinaloa cartel leader, too.
Born in the mountains of Sinaloa state on Mexico’s west coast, El Chapo’s cartel has expanded throughout the country and around the world over the last several decades.
According to Spanish newspaper El País, the cartel’s marijuana and poppy fields in Mexico cover more than 23,000 miles of land, an area larger than Costa Rica. It has operatives in at least 17 Mexican states and operations in up to 50 countries, Insight Crime reports.
StratforA look at Sinaloa’s operations in Mexico.
The cartel is adept at sneaking the drug across borders and into the US. Cocaine has been found smuggled in frozen sharks, sprinkled on donuts, and crammed into cucumbers. The cartel is perhaps best known for the hundreds of elaborate smuggling tunnels it has built (the most recent allowing its boss to escape prison).Sinaloa’s second-in-command, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, reportedly directs the cartel’s Colombian business dealings through two Mexicans based in the country, “Jairo Ortiz” and “Montiel” — both aliases.
Business Insider/Andy KierszA look at how drugs from Sinaloa have passed through the US.
‘Lacoste,’ ‘Apple,’ and ‘Made in Colombia’
Documents from police and security forces seen by El Tiempo indicate the Sinaloa cartel works closely with criminal groups and guerrilla forces to run a trafficking network that exports more than one-third of the cocaine produced in Colombia.
Through an unidentified businessman, the Sinaloa cartel works with the criminal organization Los Urabeños, which was formed by remnants of right-wing paramilitaries in the mid-2000s, according to Colombia Reports.
This unidentified businessman works with Los Urabeños, its leader Dario Antonio Úsuga, and the cartel to coordinate shipments of drug cargos, labeled “Lacoste,” “Apple,” and “Made in Colombia,” to destinations in Europe and Asia, according to El Tiempo.
Los Urabeños, aka Clan Úsuga, is regarded as the most powerful of Colombia’s remaining criminal organizations and as the only one with a truly national reach.
Many of the Pacific and Caribbean smuggling routes are controlled by Los Urabeños, and its influence is so extensive that, over the last 18 months, 600 Colombian officials have been jailed for supporting the group.
REUTERS/John VizcainoCounternarcotics police guard an under-construction submersible that was seized from Los Urabeños.
The Sinaloa cartel has also formed an alliance with the left-wing guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
The Farc began peace negotiations with the government in late 2012 and agreed to suspend drug trafficking as a part of the talks. Sinaloa then began franchising drug operations from Farc rebels, allowing the cartel to expand its reach into the production stages of the cocaine trade.
The Mexican cartel reportedly works with two Farc leaders in southern Colombia and pays as much as $40,000 per shipment for cocaine that leaves the Pacific coast departments of Nariño and Cauca.
The Sinaloa cartel also works with “La Empresa,” a criminal group based in the Pacific port city of Buenaventura, to direct shipments. La Empresa has, according to Colombia Reports, allied with Colombian criminal group “Los Rastrojos” (with whom the Sinaloa cartel has also aligned) to fight off the Pacific coast expansion of Los Urabeños.
(La Empresa, El Tiempo notes, has been linked to the “casas de pique” — buildings in outlying areas of Buenaventura used to torture and dismember rival gang members.)
REUTERS/Edgard GarridoA low-income neighborhood in Mexico City, July 23, 2015.
The Sinaloa cartel has also provided weapons and financing to the Oficina de Envigado, a Medellin-based crime syndicate that assumed much of Pablo Escobar’s operations after his death in 1993.
Sinaloa “retained the services of ‘La Oficina’ to support drug trafficking around the world,” the US Treasury Department has said.
According to El Tiempo, “the FARC, ‘los Úsuga,’ and ‘la Empresa’ are keys in Sinaloa’s strategy to control eight ports on the Pacific, from Mexico to Peru.”
“In Colombia, [the Sinaloa cartel] already directs 50% of the drugs that leave from [the ports of] Tumaco, Buenaventura, and el Urabá, which form a network with ports in Peru (El Callao and Talara), Ecuador (Esmeraldas and San Lorenzo) and Guatemala,” according to intelligence documents seen by El Tiempo.
Drugs are shipped by fastboat from Colombia, primarily to Guatemala’s Puerto Quetzal, which handles almost all of the cocaine coming out of Colombia.
A kilo of cocaine that reaches Guatemala is worth $10,000, according to El Tiempo. The price hovers around $12,000 to $15,000 at the US border, and a kilo can sell in the low six figures once it reaches the US.
‘A possible refuge’
The panoply of ties that the Sinaloa cartel has built throughout the Western Hemisphere lead many to believe El Chapo, the fugitive Sinaloa boss, could seek “a possible refuge” in Colombia.
US State DepartmentJoaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán.
In fact, on July 19, just eight days after El Chapo rode to freedom on a motorcycle through a mile-long, air-conditioned underground tunnel in central Mexico, El Tiempo reported that officials from the DEA and FBI had requested “all available information on the movements, personnel, and contacts of the Sinaloa cartel in the country.”US State DepartmentJoaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán.
In the six months prior to El Chapo’s escape, the Mexican army captured nearly 2,800 kilos of cocaine — a 340% increase over the same period in 2014. The increase in seizures comes despite UN reports indicating that drug cultivation and trading in Colombia had stabilized.
The hunt for El Chapo has also drawn in several officials from the very country to which he may be headed. In late July, El Tiempo reported that three retired Colombian generals and six active police officials were headed north to assist with the search.
The Colombian generals — two former heads of the national police and the former chief of the now disbanded secret police — were selected because of their roles in similar mission: The effort to bring down the Cali cartel and Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel — two of the Colombian drug-trafficking organizations that ran roughshod over Colombian society in 1980s and 1990s.
Reuters Two men carry a picture of Pablo Escobar through the streets of Medellin December 2, 1994, on the first anniversary of his death. Hundreds of admirers packed a memorial service for the slain cocaine king, proclaiming undying loyalty to the dead drug lord.
The generals, who a Colombian police source called the “most effective three musketeers the country has against the narcos,” left Mexico in early August.
But, according to Michael Lohmuller at Insight Crime, whatever advice they left behind may not be enough to bring down Sinaloa’s drug boss.
The 22 years since the controversial killing of Escobar have seen marked advancements in the operations, sophistication, and evasiveness of drug cartels.
Moreover, modern-day Colombian police have failed to catch their country’s own most wanted kingpin: Dario Antonio Úsuga — the head of Los Urabeños and El Chapo’s ally.