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Associated Press
Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs Saturday by Mexican authorities in Mexico City. The drug lord was captured in the beach resort town of Mazatlán.

Top drug trafficker caught in Mexico

Cartel crossed continents, made billions

– Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the man who supplied more illegal drugs to the United States than anyone else on Earth, was captured by the Mexican military without a shot Saturday morning in Mazatlán, a resort town on the Pacific coast, according to U.S. and Mexican authorities.

The arrest of the world’s most wanted drug lord was electrifying news in Mexico and a major political victory for its president, Enrique Peña Nieto. On Saturday afternoon, Peña Nieto confirmed the capture in a tweet and thanked his security forces. “Congratulations to all,” he wrote.

Guzmán runs an organized crime empire that spans several continents and earns billions of dollars. Guzmán built a shipping and transport empire that plied air, sea and roads to sate the world’s demand for cocaine, heroin and marijuana. From Los Angeles warehouses to Chicago barrios, his employees crisscrossed America to supply their customers.

His Sinaloa cartel is the grandfather of Mexican drug-running organizations, the wealthiest and most powerful corporation in the business, whose riches have corrupted generations of Mexican politicians and corroded the nation’s democracy.

“He’s a legend,” said security analyst Jorge Chabat in Mexico City. “He is the jewel of the crown.”

Mexican television broadcast photographs of a shirtless, mustachioed Guzmán looking down at the ground. News reports said he had been captured by members of the Mexican military on Friday night in a building known as “Miramar” in Mazatlán.

Guzmán separated himself from other drug lords because of his longevity and ability to evade the law for years. Captured in Guatemala in 1993, he was sent to Mexico’s high-security Puente Grande prison, only to escape in 2001 on the eve of his extradition to the United States. Legend has it that he sneaked out in a laundry cart.

Guzmán has been on the run ever since, periodically surfacing in Mexican beach resorts, Central American villages, even South America, only to vanish before authorities arrived. With each passing year, he became wealthier and more powerful – Mexico’s mythical outlaw – with a reputation comparable only to fallen Colombia drug lord Pablo Escobar.

He had a beauty queen wife and a reputation for generosity among his followers that elevated him to folk-hero status. Under Mexico’s previous president, Felipe Calderón, the appetite to capture Guzmán was so ravenous that Mexico ran at least three full-time kill-capture units dedicated solely to pursuing him.

Yet Guzmán was not flashy or flamboyant, quietly building his billion-dollar narcotics empire through well-placed bribes and overwhelming firepower. He directed an army of hit men who murdered thousands. His strong-armed push to take control of the border city of Ciudad Juarez produced the drug war’s biggest bloodbath.

Unlike Mexico’s widely despised, upstart crime syndicates such as Los Zetas or The Knights Templar, his Sinaloa cartel largely eschewed extortion and kidnapping. Instead, it focused on the lucrative business of delivering marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine to the United States.

Guzmán was born into the trade. The son of a dirt-poor peasant farmer, he grew up in the “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, the heart of North American marijuana and opium poppy production. He didn’t make it past third grade but was mentored by local drug lords and set himself apart as a smart operator and fearless gunman.

The same mountain communities and tight-lipped locals helped him elude capture, despite all-out efforts by U.S. and Mexican authorities to catch him.