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Since his escape, drug cartel chief Joaquin 'Shorty' Guzman has expanded his empire, waged war on rivals and become a legend.
On the lam with a satellite phone, laptop computer and AK-47 rifle, the 50-year-old fugitive has rebuilt his empire and started a war with rival smugglers that has claimed more than 600 lives this year. Although Mexican officials call him one of the most prolific, innovative and ruthless traffickers they have ever faced, his disappearing acts have made him a folk hero.
Although U.S. officials have repeatedly praised Mexico's anti-drug efforts under President Vicente Fox, including the arrest of 18 cartel leaders over the last four years, Guzman's elusiveness is an embarrassing symbol of the country's failure to stop the bloodshed or slow the flow of coc aine, heroin, marijuana and amphetamines into the United States.
But so far the heat on Guzman has merely enhanced his mystique as an untouchable outlaw constantly on the move, escorted by 10 armed bodyguards and apparently shielded across Mexico by a web of corrupt officials to whom he once boasted paying a total of $5 million per month.
"Some of them have benefited from his generosity," said Santiago Vasconcelos, the federal prosecutor. "They see him as a hero. They cover for him, and when any stranger comes into the communities, they warn him."
Badiraguato's 29-man police force does nothing to stop his security detail from setting up checkpoints, people in the area say. "When the cops pass El Chapo on the road, they call him Boss," a resident said.
"He thinks big," Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Misha Pilastro said. "When Chapo gets involved in a drug deal, we're talking about extremely large quantities. Tons."
First arrested in 1991, Guzman bribed the Mexico City police chief $50,000 to let him go. Later testimony in Mexico alleged that he enjoyed the protection of the country's top law enforcement officials at the time.
His rivals have fallen one by one since 2002. Ramon Arellano Felix is dead, and his brother Benjamin is in prison, along with Gulf cartel boss Osiel Cardenas, exposing their Baja California and Rio Grande territories to Guzman's forays.
One U.S. official says gangs led by Guzman and two allies now control all drug traffic along the Arizona and New Mexico borders and are fighting for gateways into Texas and California in a battle involving hundreds of gunmen.
U.S. officials say there is no evidence that the violence has diminished Guzman's operation or the overall flow of drugs from Mexico. But the Mexican manhunt is focused enough, they believe, that in the long run Shorty will go down. "He's a very high-profile target, and eventually he'll make a mistake and get caught," a U.S. official said.
Mexico Says Suspect Isn't Drug Kingpin
Fingerprint analysis and DNA testing clear a man authorities first believed to be Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, leader of the Juarez cartel.
By Marla Dickerson, Times Staff Writer
MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities said Monday that they thought they had arrested the leader of the Juarez drug cartel, but later said tests showed it was a case of mistaken identity.
The determination that the detained man was not Vicente Carrillo Fuentes dashed hopes of a rare instance of good news for Mexico's anti-narcotics forces amid an upsurge of violence.