MEXICO CITY -- Hundreds of Mexicans marched in support of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the criminal mastermind captured last weekend after eluding authorities for 13 years, witnesses said.
Chanting slogans in English such as “I love Chapo,” the demonstrators demanded his freedom during marches Wednesday evening in three cities in Sinaloa, the state that was the birthplace of Guzman’s vast multibillion-dollar drug empire.
Guzman was Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive and one of the largest drug traffickers in the world. His capture was seen as an important victory for the Mexican government in its long drug war, although few experts believe it will have a huge effect on the flow of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and other drugs to the United States.
Many of the marchers had apparently been bused in and given free T-shirts and other gifts. Local newspapers reported that numerous children were among the demonstrators, who were summoned for the most part via social media networks. [Link in Spanish]
However staged the demonstrations may have been, the displays nevertheless illustrated a certain admiration many Mexicans have for Guzman, despite the deaths of thousands of people at the hands of the drug cartels.
Javier Valdez, a Sinaloa-based journalist who has written numerous books about drug traffickers, said that in the eyes of many people Guzman remained one of the old-style drug lords who showered local communities with benefits: money, business, gifts.
The people of Sinaloa accommodated the drug cartel for decades. “Such co-existence led to certain levels of protecting them, identifying with them, even adoring and idolizing them,” Valdez told Radio Formula news. “It is a complicity. … It’s not that we let the narcos into our kitchens; they are in our bedrooms.” [Link in Spanish]
Mexicans are now debating whether Guzman should be extradited to the United States, and how much information he will be willing to spill on the many authorities believed to have protected him during his years on the lam.