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U.S. Trial Of Mexican Drug Lord Attracts Much Attention In Mexico


The notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman faces the possibility of life in prison - this after being found guilty on all 10 counts related to drug trafficking. That verdict was handed down in a federal courthouse in Brooklyn yesterday after weeks of gripping testimony. A number of former cartel members took the stand and detailed the brutality that underpinned El Chapo's cartel, an empire responsible for a lot of the flow of narcotics into the U.S. for decades. The question we're going to look at now - how is this conviction being viewed back in Guzman's home country? NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us from Mexico City. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: We've heard so much about this trial here on the U.S. side of the border. What about in Mexico? How much traction has it been getting in the press?

KAHN: Right. It has been covered in the press here, but it's definitely not dominating the news. You know, some of the trial's more salacious revelations get good media play. Remember the day in the trial when that convicted Colombian trafficker testified for the prosecution that Guzman had paid the former president a $100 million dollar bribe.

MARTIN: Right, the former president of Mexico, yeah,

KAHN: Right. That barely got coverage here. And I think part of it was that Mexicans were in the midst of a crippling gas crisis then. But also I think there's a lot of corruption fatigue since, you know, these past years have been plagued by revelation after revelation of high-level corruption and conflict-of-interest scandals by the previous administration. Yesterday, after the verdict, we did get some react from Mexicans here in the capital.

And by far, most were pleased with Guzman's conviction. This one high school student, he was really interesting. He said, you know, maybe in some parts of the country, like Guzman's home state, they still consider him a folk hero or romanticize his outlaw persona. But he was a brutal criminal who caused a lot of pain in this country. And this one 30-year-old computer salesman really summed it up saying it's just unfortunate that Mexico didn't try Guzman here and that a foreign government had to bring this man to justice once and for all.

MARTIN: So now that El Chapo is likely to spend life in prison, is that going to change the way that drugs flow across the border?

KAHN: Well, I think just look at Guzman's cartel specifically, the Sinaloa cartel. It's really not lost much strength since Guzman's arrest in 2016 or his extradition in 2017. It's still one of the largest in the world, and that's according to the Drug Enforcement Administration in the U.S. You know, last year in their 2018 drug threat assessment, they called - they said the cartel maintains the most expansive international footprint of any Mexican drug organization still.

MARTIN: What about the violence? I mean, El Chapo's story really highlights what's known as the kingpin strategy - right? - targeting the head of the snake by going after the cartel leaders. Is there evidence that that is a sound strategy in terms of curbing the violence?

KAHN: I would say we've seen just the opposite. It's conventional wisdom here that the strategy hasn't worked to stem the violence. Just look at the last decade of the drug war here in Mexico. Every year, violence has increased. You know, last year was the bloodiest year on record ever since Mexico started keeping homicide statistics. More than 33,000 murder investigations were open last year. The new government says - that's in power now says it's not going to go after kingpins. It's instead going to ensure public safety. We'll have to see if they really do that and if it works. But January's homicide figures were just as high as past months. So it's been just as bloody here in Mexico.

MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Kahn from Mexico City. Thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.