The trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn is drawing to a close, as jury deliberations began at the start of this week. But even though reporters covering the trial initially expected a swift verdict, by Wednesday morning it became clear that the trial’s resolution would drag into the week.
Don't expect a verdict in Chapo's trial today. The other two questions by the jury: requesting what the judge interpreted as the FULL testimony of two cooperating witnesses: both Jorge and Alex Cifuentes. The judge estimated it could take 4 to 5 days to read back.
— Emily Palmer (@emilyepalmer) February 5, 2019
Here's a love letter than El Chapo sent to his mistress Lucero Sanchez from prison. He calls her "my queen" and references the plan to have her visit him with a fake ID.
— Keegan Hamilton (@keegan_hamilton) January 22, 2019
It started in early November with jury selection, when prosecutors protected the identities of their witnesses for fear of cartel reprisals, and Judge Brian M. Cogan kept the identity of the jury anonymous in order to prevent jury intimidation or attacks.
The Sinaloa Cartel kingpin faces more than 10 charges, including money laundering, homicide, drug trafficking and importation and distribution of narcotics into the United States. The U.S. government is also seeking to seize up to $14 billion worth in illegal assets, allegedly earned by the drug baron over his 30-year-long career.
In the 11 weeks of trial that have elapsed, the prosecution brought 56 witnesses into the gallery to testify against El Chapo. In turn, the defense’s lawyers called just one person to testify and in a rare oral intervention, El Chapo announced on January 28 he had opted not to speak in his own defense. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
The trials were described by The New York Times as a “circuslike extravaganza,” or “something out of a Dickens novel,” and seeing the nature of prosecutors’ witnesses’ testimonies, El Chapo’s life trajectory has acquired the patina of a character of mythical proportions. Yet the proceedings aren’t a myth or movie to those who suffered from the consequences of his actions, those who are hearing allegations of corruption involving El Chapo and government officials, or those hurt by the U.S. war on drugs.
Born in 1957 in a small village located in the drug-growing region of the Sierra Madre mountains known as The Golden Triangle, his idiosyncratic rise into narco stardom, and his love of the limelight still had production companies —fiction and non-fiction alike— take notice, contributing to the sensationalism around Guzmán Loera. In 2016, Mexican writer and poet Javier Sicilia, even asked that the focus be placed on drug war victims, his son being one of them.
Netflix’s “Narcos: Mexico,” which premiered last year, featured El Chapo as a minor character. In 2016, Netflix paired up with the investigative unit at Univision to work on a Spanish-language biopic of the Mexican Sinaloa-native.
But fiction and drama takes aside, whatever the Brooklyn courthouse resolves will have everlasting implications not only for El Chapo and his criminal organization, the Sinaloa Cartel, but also for the United States’ policy on drugs of the past three decades.
Here at Latino Rebels we put together a short list of nonfiction audio and video pieces to help you make sense of it all.
Married to the Cartel
Those who have been following the trial are well-acquainted at this point with Emma Coronel Aispuro: the 29-year-old wife of El Chapo. Almost without fail, she has taken her seat in the second row of the gallery during the trial. Reserved and with inscrutable facial expressions, some have wondered how she has escaped prosecution, after evidence came up during the trial pointing to her active involvement in El Chapo’s business.
But she is not the only wife, of course. In this Latino USA podcast (one of our Futuro Media colleague shows), host Maria Hinojosa spoke to Mia and Olivia Flores, the wives of the Pedro and Junior Flores twins, currently serving a 14-year reduced federal sentence for drug trafficking. Formerly one of El Chapo’s main partners in the United States, they agreed to become informants in return for immunity for their families. Mia and Olivia (not their real names) talk about what it’s like to be married to two of the world’s biggest drug dealers.
The New York Times Daily Podcast
For those hoping to understand how the Mexican drug baron ended up being tried in Brooklyn, New York, Michael Barbaro breaks it down in this 30-minute piece by The Daily.
Chapo: Kingpin on Trial
And for those who want to go deeper, Vice News released an all El Chapo-themed podcast series, which you can listen through Spotify, YouTube or Apple Podcasts. It was released in both Spanish and English. In over eight chapters, the series delves into the different characters and complex realities that come into play to make a criminal organization the likes of the Sinaloa Cartel operational at a global scale.
Democracy Now! Segment
Lastly, Democracy Now! did a segment earlier this week that considered how El Chapo’s trial highlights the failure of U.S. war on drugs, and asks “will U.S. ever be held accountable?” In the segment hosted by Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! speaks with Christy Thornton, an assistant professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University. She tells them that the sensationalism surrounding Guzmán Loera’s trial “is obscuring the truth about the so-called war on drugs.”
Emily Corona is a digital intern at Futuro Media. She is a journalist and translator from Mexico City, pursuing a master’s in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies at NYU. She tweets from @daminijo.