The Current

Trial of El Chapo won't resolve the corruption that empowered him, says journalist

As the trial of suspected Mexican drug kingpin El Chapo resumes in a New York courtroom, so too does a compelling-yet-bloody story of drug trafficking, cartel warfare and incredible violence. But would a conviction do anything stop the flow of illegal drugs.

'Corrupted people' that helped suspected drug lord are still free, says author

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Mexico City, Jan. 8, 2016. His trial resumed in New York last week after a holiday recess. (Reuters/Tomas Bravo)
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The trial of suspected Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is laying bare a bloody tale of drug smuggling and cartel warfare, but it won't do much to combat the larger problem, according to a Mexican investigative journalist.

"The trial of El Chapo Guzman is very symbolic," said Anabel Hernández, author of Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers.

"But the problem is that this will not resolve all the corruption, all the laundering of money that exists in Mexico, and that helps the Sinaloa Cartel, and also other cartels, to exist," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

The "bad news" is that all the "corrupted people" that helped El Chapo on his rise to power are still free, and still in positions of power in Mexico, she added.

Guzman's trial began in New York in November and resumed last week after a holiday recess. He faces 17 criminal counts and a potential life sentence if convicted.

"He has been charged with smuggling, over the course of nearly two decades, over 200 tonnes of cocaine, heroin and marijuana from Mexico across the United States border," said Alan Feuer, a New York Times reporter who has been covering the trial.

Guzman faces 17 criminal counts and a potential life sentence if convicted. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

Guzman did that through an ever-shifting fleet of planes, trains, fishing boats, submarines, tractor-trailer trucks — "virtually every conceivable means that you can think of," Feuer said.

"Attached to that drug conspiracy, are some pretty gruesome murders," he told Tremonti.

Alleged bribes of $1 million-a-month

Last week, the trial heard from Vicente Zambada, the son of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, an alleged associate of Guzman.

Vicente Zambada grew up in the drug trade and "was being groomed" to take over the cartel, Feuer explained. But when he decided he wanted out, he agreed to co-operate with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, sharing his "encyclopedic" knowledge of Guzman's operation.

Some of these people were on $50,000-a-month salaries.- Alan Feuer

Zambada testified that his father had a bribery budget of one million dollars a month, alleging that the money went to high-ranking officials.

"Some of these people were on $50,000-a-month salaries," Feuer said.

In November, former Mexican president Felipe Calderon said on Twitter that allegations of bribes are "absolutely false and reckless." A spokesperson for former president Enrique Pena Nieto called the claim "false and defamatory."

Feuer said that the trial is offering a public airing of the crimes of the Sinaloa drug cartel — but it is only revealing "what the government would like us to hear."

"Much of this case has been litigated in secret, and there have been a raft of sealed filings, redacted filings," he noted.

"It's very clear that a lot is going on beneath the surface, that is not in the public view."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from Thomson Reuters. Produced by Julie Crysler and Samira Mohyeddin.