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Mexican Kingpin's Fall Clouds Future Of Drug Heartland

posted 28 Feb 2014, 16:49 by Mpelembe   [ updated 28 Feb 2014, 16:50 ]

Mexico's drug heartland of Sinaloa faces an uncertain future with the arrest ofMexico top kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the stocky son of a peasant farmer whose legend saw him grab a slot on the Forbes' billionaires list.

LA TUNA, SINALOA, MEXICO (REUTERS) -  In villages nestled amid the jagged mountains where captured Mexican kingpin Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman was born, the drug trade that dominates the local economy is far from finished.

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Guzman, arrested last weekend, started life in the village of La Tuna high in the sierra of Mexico's northwestern state of Sinaloa. Marijuana and the poppies used for opium have been grown here for decades, fuelling the rise of successive dynasties of famous drug lords.

The military engages in a continual search for fields of marijuana and poppies between the rocky slopes of the surrounding mountains.

It's been a long time since Mexico's no.1 drug kingpin has returned home, and many La Tuna's locals miss the local farmer's son that went on to become one of the world's most wanted men.

"Everyone is asking for him to be freed, that he be let out because we miss "El Chapito" here. He hasn't come here because of the feds," said this unidentified resident.

Guzman, known by his nickname "Chapo" (or "Shorty"), was arrested on Saturday (February 22) when Mexican marines stormed a condominium in the beach resort of Mazatlan.

It was a major victory for the government in its long, brutal war on drug cartels, whose feuds have claimed more than 80,000 lives in the country since 2007.

The news shocked local residents, who think of Guzman as one of the most powerful people in Mexico, bathed in riches that for years allowed him to pay off police and politicians and even escape from prison in 2001.

For many of the youngsters growing up in the surrounding hillsides, Guzman is a role model and a hero, holding out hope for a life of power, women and wealth in a land where the only alternative for many is to toil in the fields or join the vast informal economy of street merchants.

"In the mountains it needs to be recognised, the way of life of the people is to sow (drugs), a farm activity that complements the other. But unfortunately the business of drug sowing in this particular case is marijuana. Production has fallen, as well as it's price and this means that it's not profitable," said Mayor of BadiraguatoMunicipality, home to La Tuna, Mario Valenzuela.

Guzman and his Sinaloa cartel are suspected of shipping billions of dollars worth of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana north across the border into theUnited States.

Residents of Sinaloa are also credited with helping to build Guzman's billion-dollar drug empire by selling drugs or raising marijuana or poppy flowers in the mountains as an extra source of income.

In the Sinaloan capital of Culiacan, more than a thousand people filled the streets in support of their homegrown cartel king.

While Guzman's feared Sinaloa Cartel fed the U.S. craving for illegal narcotics, it also hooked the economy of his home state on the southward flow of drug money.

Many locals credit Guzman and his gang for keeping the city free of the extortions and kidnappings that plague other parts of Mexico, where rival gangs reign.

"He's our idol because we have faith in him and there is no confidence in justice. We ask for respect above all else," said this unidentified local.

Chanting "free shorty", supporters want Guzman released.

"No extradition for "El Chapo" and that they free him, that's all," said this protester.

With Sinaloa better known as the heartland of Guzman's vast drug empire, state Governor Mario Lopez rejected calls from locals to free the drug kingpin.

"I think this march is something uncalled for for up-standing citizens of Sinaloans. For me and for good Sinaloans we will continue the fight so we are seen as a hard-working state," said Lopez.

Meanwhile the street buzzes with rumours. If Guzman really is gone, people fear that the notoriously violent Zetas gang, infamous for decapitations and mass executions, could move into the home turf of Mexico's drug-trafficking royalty.

Mexican prosecutors charged Guzman with drug trafficking offences soon after his arrest in the Pacific port of Mazatlan by Mexican marines assisted by U.S. intelligence.

Just days before, he had reportedly escaped the clutches of Mexican troops through a tunnel and sewer that led from the Culiacan home of a former wife.

Authorities said 16 houses and four ranches have been seized as part of a web of properties Guzman allegedly used to move between as part of his life on the run.

But it is not the first time Guzman has been caught. In 2001, he famously escaped a Mexican prison, reportedly in a laundry cart, and went on to become the country's highest-profile trafficker. He is believed to command groups of hitmen from the U.S. border into Central America.

He has been indicted in the United States on dozens of charges of racketeering and conspiracy to import cocaine, heroin, marijuana and crystal meth. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn said on Sunday that it would seek Guzman's extradition.

Forbes had put Guzman on its list of billionaires but then dropped him last year because it was impossible to verify his wealth.