He led an internationally powerful Latin American drug cartel for over a decade, he has been arrested three times, escaped from prison twice, ordered countless assassinations, smuggled billions of dollars of drugs into America and became known as “the most powerful drug trafficker in the world” and “the biggest drug lord of all time.”
In part, because of his ingenious use of jalapeno peppers.
Joaquin Guzman Lorea goes by many names. “El Rapido”, “El Lento”, “The Last Godfather”… most commonly, though, he’s known as “The Shorty” aka El Chapo. El Chapo has been ruthlessly commanding the Sinaloa cartel since 2003 (though he’s been involved since the 80’s), engaging in wars with his competition, battling the DEA, kidnapping, murdering, and, apparently, innovating within the business.
Since his trial began over a month ago, a lot of secrets have come to light. Terrible tales of violence, murder, deceit and betrayal have been told. And some strange and spicy details are beginning to emerge.
According to a witness who testified last month, El Chapo and the Sinaloa cartel were smuggling roughly $500 million worth of cocaine annually across the US-Mexican border inside cans of pickled peppers.
It was a stroke of pure genius – a true testament to Mexican ingenuity and creativity.
Because, you see, Mexico is the world’s third largest exporter of chilies and peppers, and a truck full of canned jalapenos might be one of the most common things that border patrol agents see coming into the states. They couldn’t possibly check each and every sealed can inside each and every jalapeno truck each and every day. They’d spend their entire careers sifting through pickled jalapenos.
El Chapo realized this. And he saw it for what it was: the perfect opportunity to move product.
So, he put together a team, designated a facility in Mexico City and had his crew start stuffing six-pound cans with kilos of coke. And, according to Miguel Angel Martinez, a turncoat who was once one of El Chapo’s right hand men, everyone was high off their asses the entire time.
“They got intoxicated because whenever you would press the kilos, it would release cocaine into the air,” Martinez told jurors. As they packed their cargo, the workers were constantly inhaling coke. Which, no doubt, helped push productivity.
The trucks would then smuggle those cans in loads of 2000-3200 a pop, mixing in cans of actual jalapenos for the sake of appearances. And it worked like a charm. These jalapeno trucks moved roughly 25 to 30 tons of coke into America every single year.
And not just for a couple of years, either. They did this for decades… according to Martinez, this jalapeno canning operation started sometime in the early 90’s, when El Chapo’s famous drug smuggling tunnels were discovered by police. Those tunnels were like drug trafficking highways, and when they were busted, El Chapo lost his fastest, most important mode of drug smuggling. Suddenly, he needed another way — a new method for getting drugs across the border without getting caught.
Thus, the pepper plan was hatched. And the jalapenos coming into the States were suddenly a lot “hotter” than they’d ever been before.