A DEA official has declared Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera the most powerful drug trafficker in history, ranking him above Medellin's Pablo Escobar in terms of clout and staying power.
Since writing The Last Narco, I've had a few opportunities to get a little deeper into the Chapo story. For instance, I recently met a man who knew Chapo's mother, Maria Consuelo Loera Perez. He met her in La Tuna de Badiraguato, the family pueblo, in 2006. He showed me a few photos of her – she looked kind, stern, wore glasses, looked like an ordinary mom, a typical (if a bit more light-skinned than usual for those parts) Mexican mother from a mountain pueblo.
According to my source, the man who met her, she is. Just a normal lady, he said, nice. Friendly. Tough.
Chapo's mother lives in a finca in La Tuna, which her son built for her. It's a pretty splendid place, particularly when compared to the tiny one-story, dirt-floor homes that most of the pueblo's residents live in. She's managed to stay above the fray in throughout the drug war, only talking to reporters on two occasions (once to denounce human rights abuses and another to complain about the arrest of another son, Miguel Angel, a.k.a. "El Mudo." (The Mute).
When El Mudo was arrested, Loera Perez was quick to express her anger. "They took him away without any arrest warrant. He makes an honest living," she told reporters at the scene of the arrest, a Chinese restaurant in Culiacan. "I don’t believe that he dedicates himself to illegal activities... They arrested him only because he’s Chapo’s brother."
She sprang to Chapo’s defence, too. "He didn’t force one door or threaten anyone to get out of jail [in 2001], they opened [the doors] for him. It’s as if one opens the cage for a bird, it flies away. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Joaquin; I’m not in contact with him. He only helps good people. How can I feel bad, if I am his mother? A mother has to bear all the problems that her children bring, for this I will plead to God on their behalf – he’s my best lawyer."
I'm all for mothers springing to the defence of their sons, but when it comes to Chapo, I just wonder if she might be suffering from a bit of maternal denial. He is, after all, the most powerful drug lord in history, according to some.