March 10, 2014
“I had nothing to do with the cardinal’s death (Posadas Ocampo); I was the target and look where I am now and those bastards (Arellano Félix Organization) are doing fine.”
by Anabel Hernandez
Who is Chapo Guzmán? How does he react? How does he negotiate? How does he show his emotions? What does he think towards his family? Who does he hate? What apprehensions does he have?…In 1998 two DEA agents met with the capo, when he was being held at the Jalisco Puente Grande federal prison No.2, the prison from which he would escape in 2001.
They reveal details on Chapo’s personality, which they found as being both charismatic and manipulative.
To the (now) former DEA Chief of Intelligence in Mexico, Larry Villalobos, and the former Operations Supervisor for the agency, Joe Bond, Chapo Guzmán appeared to be impressive, intelligent, charismatic and manipulative.
They know him very well because they have been witnesses to Mexico’s recent drug trafficing history and had been studying the Sinaloa drug cartel for years. Being interviewed in the United States, they exclusively reveal the details to Proceso about the meeting they had with Guzmán Loera at the Puente Grande maximum security prison in Jalisco in October 1998, which they had a kept in secret until now.
Both agents were stationed in Mexico between 1997 and 2003. But because Villalobos only retired from the anti-drug agency in 2012 and Bond the following year, the information in their possession is relatively current. Among his recent assignments, Villalobos was Head of EPIC Intelligence (El Paso Intelligence Center), while Bond was agent coordinator for the International Operations Office.
Because of their positions in Mexico, the agents had access to information about Guzmán Loera’s “escape” in January of 2001, successful, according to them, thanks to the complicity of officers in Vicente Fox’s government, in addition to the the prison staff.
From the retired DEA agents’ experience one can get an insight into Guzmán Loera’s personality, his hates and fears, the man considered by the United States government to be the most powerful drug trafficker in the world and who the Mexican government says they captured without firing a single shot.
Contrary to what is widely assumed, it was Chapo who contacted the DEA while being detained at Puente Grande. “In those days, recalls Villalobos, I was at the United States Embassy in Mexico, working with the DEA, when someone representing Chapo came with a message that he wanted to meet with the agency to talk about the Arellano Félix family.
“He wanted to turn them in”.
At the time, Arellano Félix brothers headed the Tijuana Cartel, and according to the federal government version, they initiated the shootings on the 24thof May, 1993 at the Guadalajara International Airport, and while attempting to execute Chapo Guzmán, killed Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo.
“The United States government couldn’t get involved. We worked closely with the Mexican government under the Ernesto Zedillo administration. We were in contact with Mariano Herrán Salvatti and we also worked with José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos. We told them that a guy had come saying he represented Chapo and that he wanted to see us. We spoke to the DEA in Washington. I knew that the source was indeed a person very close to Chapo”, ex-agent Villalobos relates.
He clarified: “We represented the United States government in Mexico and we weren’t going to harm the case; we had to confirm and coordinate everything with the Justice Department. As we weren’t working alone, we had to collaborate with the Mexican government”.
As the Arellano Félix was the prime target, Washington gave the approval for Villalobos and Bond to meet up with Chapo. Approval from the Mexican government took a few months longer.
Months went by, until one day the PGR gave them permission to visit the famous drug trafficker. They said José Patiño Moreno, an agent from the Public Ministry for anti-drug prosecution, would accompany them, Patiño was later assassinated in Baja California.
The DEA agents entered the prison pretending to be psychologists contracted by the Mexican government to carry out a study on high level prisoners, and to investigate if the penitentiary was respecting human rights. Zedillo’s government provided them with accreditation documentation.
Villalobos said,“Chapo didn’t know when we were going to the prison. We had told his messenger,“If the day comes that we visit Chapo, tell him that we will introduce ourselves as “Tito”, and by that name, he will know it’s us.”
When they arrived, the staff led them to the prison hospital and instructed them to wait in the large lounge.
Chapo then entered.
“What was your first impression?” asked the reporter of Villalobos, who was then the Head of DEA Intelligence in Mexico.
“He looked incredible, young, in good shape, slim. As if he were eating and sleeping well”answered Villalobos.
The two interviewees continued with their narrative.
Joe Bond introduced himself with the code: “Good afternoon. I am Tito”. Chapo went pale. Immediately and with clear refrain he asked: “The three of you?”
He then dropped to the floor on all fours as he looked under the door in case there was someone listening. “He wanted to make sure that only us would hear what he was about to tell us”, Bond supposed.
Patiño Moreno then interjected: “Do you know why we are here? To this the convict replied: “They told me they were going to a psychological study, but I already know who you are. Are you all from the same agency?
Bond hen explained; “No, only Larry and I are from Tito. Pepe is from the Mexican government. We have complete faith in him, so you can talk freely.”
Chapo didn’t hold back. He began to say things in a perplexing barrage, firing five years of pent up hate.
“Chapo… Do I call you Chapo or Joaquín?” Villalobos interrupted.
“As you wish…”
“Chapo, take it easy, and allow us to ask the questions and that’s how we’ll get to know what you have to say. Alright?”
“That’s fine. Hand on my heart I am going to tell you the truth.”
The Rise of the Empire
Standing up and with his eye on the mountain horizon out the window, Chapo said “I am not coming back here. I’ll kill myself or they’ll kill me before I hand myself over to the government”.
He had been in prison for five years and he already had many of the prison officers on his payroll.
Villalobos and Bond looked at him astounded. Villalobos had been studying him for years, even before being sent to Mexico in 1997 and Bond was his best pupil. They knew, for example, that one of Chapo’s first significant positions in crime, was as foreman on the El Búfalo ranch, in Chihuahua, property of Capo Rafael Caro Quintero.
Despite his apparent integrity, Chapo protested:
“I won’t leave here. I won’t see my family or my children. I don’t want them to visit or they’ll be killed….I had nothing to do with the cardinal’s death (Posadas Ocampo); I was the target and look where I am now and those bastards (Arellano Félix Organization) are doing fine.”
“What do you want to tell us about the Arellanos? You are Chapo Guzmán. You can kill those bastards any time you want. Why do you need the DEA to go and get them? You can kill anyone, according to what people say, replied Villalobos.
“No, no!” “What you don’t understand is that I don’t have that power anymore. The people that used to work with me left and are now working for them. It’s alright though. I can’t expect them to stay with me because they have to maintain their families. But I don’t have people anymore. I can’t have them killed nor handed over. I do not have that power.
“And El Güero?”
“No, neither myself or El Güero have people.”
“What do you want from us?”
“We can work together” Chapo answered anxiously
“The United States doesn’t work with drug dealers. And what’s more, why should we listen to you? If the Mexican government hands you over tomorrow they would give you 50 to 60 years with the charges we have against you. What are we going to give you? You complete the 25 years you have to do here and then they take you away to do another 50, so that way there is no use in us helping you” Villalobos bluntly replied.
What El Chapo wanted was to negotiate a deal with the DEA, he would hand over his arch enemies, the Arellano Félix, in exchange for not being extradited to the United States or an offer of a five year sentence.
He also stated his desire that his youngest children (Joaquín, Édgar, Ovidio and Grisela), that he had produced with Griselda López, didn’t follow down the same road of illegal business.
“I want them to be educated, I don’t want them to end up here”, he said.
“It seemed painful to him. He stated that he didn’t want his children to go into the business, as if he were about to cry”, Villalobos recalled with surprise.
However, on the 8th of May 2008, his son Édgar Guzmán López, 22, was killed in the parking lot of a mall in Culiacán, Sinaloa.
Villalobos and Bond affirm that of all his women, El Chapo preferred Griselda. (it was at Griselda’s Culiacán home that Chapo escape through the tunnels-2 days before his capture)
They met her when she went to the United States Embassy to ask for visas for herself and her children. They describe her as being intelligent and totally devoted to her then husband, who also gave her his complete trust.
The federal government said that it had found clues about Chapo in Griselda López’s house, in Culiacán, just days before arresting him.
According to Villalobos, he had to cut short the capo’s sentimental outburst:
“We are not going to talk about that. If you want to hand over the Arellano Félix to us because you hate them, because they are bastards who kill people all over Mexico, that’s fine. We can help you, but you will not get a deal for 5 or 6 years in the States. We can’t do that.”
Villalobos continued, “We spoke for three hours. We spoke about the drug history in Mexico, about the people he knew, the meetings with Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo when he was still free and what they did in Toluca with several police chiefs”.
The former director of EPIC Intelligence says that before going to Puente Grande he and Bond had agreed with their Embassy that they wouldn’t talk about corruption with El Chapo.
“We weren’t going to discuss government issues, such as who Chapo was paying off, etc. That wasn’t what we wanted, Villalobos explained.
But Chapo wanted to and whenever he tried to steer the conversation to political matters the DEA agents stopped him from continuing.
“We would say to him; just talk to us about how you came into power, how this drug federation came about. Talk to us about Amado Carrillo and all the people he knew.
Chapo said that they were all a federation. They were all a group of friends that got on well together and that they had everything under control within the states, on the border, with several people controlling the border areas.”
“We respect each other “Chapo explained. “ You think there is absolutely no respect, but there is. If someone enters a plaza, he looks for who is controlling it and he pays him. Because these people have to pay for other things. And if another person comes in and doesn’t pay for the drugs, time and people, then that is when a settling of scores takes place.”
Just the same as El Güero Palma, El Chapo was important to Félix Gallardo and Caro Quintero from the Guadalajara cartel, Villalobos commented; “Chapo was responsible for getting all the goods to the border and introduce them into the U.S. The Columbians called him El Rápido (fast one) because he guaranteed that from the time of receiving goods he would get them into the U.S. within 48 hours; what they didn’t know was that he had a tunnel at Agua Prieta”, the retired agent pointed out.
“Güero Palma” was in charge of the security of goods when they arrived in Mexico. They would find out when the goods were going to arrive and when they would be taken to the U.S., who would control it in Mexico, who would ensure the crossing and who it would be delivered to”.
“I know about their operations, such as when they arrived outside of San Luis Potosí” Chapo mentioned to Villalobos: he was referring to the handling of a large drug shipment.
“We were successful, weren’t we?” bragged the drug dealer.
“You were incredible!”the DEA Intelligence Chief acknowledged.
The Proceso interview relates that after the fall of Félix Gallardo and the rise of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, El Chapo and El Güero Palma joined with him.
“Very shortly they joined up with Amado Carrillo, who really loved them. And they also loved Amado. They were known as the Juárez cartel, but Amado Carrillo controlled it from Juárez to Veracruz”, Villalobos explained.
He added that Chapo was highly valued within the organization for his efficiency and even in prison he tried to knock down his rivals:
“Juan García Ábrego had just been extradited (1996), although neither Osiel (Cárdenas Guillén) nor Los Zetas were in. Carrillo and his people’s dispute was more with the Arellano Félix. Chapo wanted to convince us that the problem was them. He wanted AFO to be the target. If we got rid of Arellano, he said, there was going to be no more violence.”
“You get all the details for us, give us something we can evaluate and let’s see what we can do” Villalobos told Chapo Guzmán Loera after three hours of conversation.
“Are we going to see each other again?” asked the prisoner.
“Yes, we’ll meet again.”
They said goodbye to each other. In agreement with Villalobos, the United States government ordered the two agents not to meet up with Chapo again because they were worried that any contact could affect the cases they were preparing.
It is true that the Tijuana cartel leaders were dropping like flies since Chapo had escaped out of Puente Grande. In February 2002, Ramón Arellano Félix was killed in Mazatlán, Sinaloa. It is said that the order came from Ismael Mayo Zambada and Chapo.
Ironically, Chapo was arrested in this same port and in the same month, 12 years later.
In April 2002, Benjamín Arellano Félix was arrested in Puebla and in August Francisco Javier Arellano Félix by the United States marines off the coast of California. He carried out a 15 year sentence in prison and in October 2013 a hit man dressed as a clown killed him at a children’s party in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur.