Once one of the world’s most powerful and notorious criminals, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was jailed for life Wednesday — the mandatory sentence for a host of crimes spanning a quarter-century.
Guzman, the 62-year-old former co-leader of Mexico’s mighty Sinaloa drug cartel, was convicted in February in US federal court on a variety of charges, including trafficking hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana to the United States.
The much-anticipated sentencing hearing in a New York courtroom caps a dramatic legal saga and saw Guzman deliver what will likely be his final public words before he is taken to a supermax federal prison in Colorado for the rest of his days.
“Since the government of the United States is going to send me to a prison where they will never hear my name, I take this opportunity to tell them: there was no justice here,” he said, wearing a gray suit, lilac shirt, purple tie and publicly sporting his mustache for the first time stateside.
The charges, which also include money laundering and weapons-related offenses, carried a mandatory life sentence.
US Federal Judge Brian Cogan tacked a symbolic 30 years on the sentence and ordered Guzman to pay $12.6 billion in forfeiture — an amount based on a conservative estimate of revenues from his cartel’s drug sales in the United States.
So far, US authorities have not recovered a dime.
– ‘Great torture’ –
In the courtroom in Brooklyn, Guzman said prayers from his supporters had given him “strength to endure this great torture,” which he said has been “one of the most inhuman that I have ever experienced… a lack of respect for my human dignity.”
When entering and prior to leaving the room, he touched his heart and blew a kiss to his wife Emma Coronel, who wore a black and white suit and was perhaps seeing her husband for the last time.
Complaining bitterly that he was unable to hug his twin daughters, who did not attend the hearing, Guzman said that “the United States is no better than any other corrupt country that you do not respect.”
– ‘Overwhelming evil’ –
Guzman — whose moniker “El Chapo” translates to “Shorty” — is considered to be the most influential drug lord since Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, who was killed in a police shootout in 1993.
During the epic three-month trial in New York, jurors heard evidence from 56 government witnesses, with many describing in exacting detail the cartel boss beating, shooting and even burying alive those who got in his way, including informants and rival gang members.
Prosecutors won their request to tack on a symbolic extra 30 years in prison for the use of firearms in his business, portraying Guzman as “ruthless and bloodthirsty.”
Cogan said he imposed the additional sentence because the “overwhelming evil is so severe.”
A Colombian woman who prosecutors say survived a hit ordered by the kingpin tearfully read a statement in court Wednesday, saying Guzman had caused her psychological damage.
“I am a miracle of God, because Mr. Guzman tried to kill me,” she said. “I paid a high price — I lost my family, my friends, I became a shadow without a name.”
“I had everything and I lost everything, even my identity.”
– ‘Alcatraz of the Rockies’ –
Guzman launched his career working in the cannabis fields of his home state of Sinaloa. Now, he is likely to live for the rest of his life at the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” — the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado.
Current inmates include convicted “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, the British “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and the Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is awaiting execution.
Since his extradition from Mexico in 2017, Guzman has been held in solitary confinement at a high-security prison in Lower Manhattan.
He repeatedly complained about the conditions of his detention via his attorneys — notably that his windowless cell is constantly lit.
Speaking to AFP prior to the proceedings, Guzman’s lawyer William Purpura said: “I think he is in a good state of mind right now.”
“I think he’s had enough of being here and the way he’s been housed,” Purpura said.
“And I think he’s looking forward to the move to where he’s going to go, and looking forward to his appeal.”
Another attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, said that “Joaquin’s conviction and incarceration for drug trafficking will change nothing in the so-called war on drugs.”
New York’s special narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan acknowledged that taking El Chapo out of the equation did not diminish the Sinaloa cartel’s influence.
“We believe that’s the one that supplies most of the drugs coming into the US,” she told AFP.
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