The True Story Behind Netflix's El Chapo Dramatisation
The Debrief: Everything you need to know about the hyped up Netflix series
El Chapo arrived on Netflix in June, and a second series has already been lined up. It tells the story of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and his introduction to the world of drug trafficking. If you were a fan of Narcos (a drama series about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar) and fancy getting stuck into something similar - or if you've heard people talking about this show and want to know what all the fuss is about - check out our lowdown on El Chapo.
Is it a true story?
Most definitely. Joaquin Guzman is a notorious Mexican drug lord. He has repeatedly been named by Forbes magazine as one of the most powerful people in the world, and was ranked the 10th richest man in Mexico in 2011 thanks to his billion dollar fortune.
Just who is 'El Chapo'?
'El Chapo' means 'shorty', a nickname acquired because of Guzman's diminutive stature (5ft 6"). There is some confusion regarding his date of birth, with some records claiming it's 1954 and some 1957. But he is known to have been born into a poor family in a rural community in La Tuna, a town in Sinaloa. With no real job prospects and a troubling home life, it didn't take him long to become involved with drugs, and he cultivated a marajuana plantation with four cousins at the age of 15. He left his hometown in his 20s to pursue a life of organized crime.
Is he famous?
I'll be honest, I hadn't heard of 'El Chapo' (or rather, Guzman). But by all accounts, he is pretty darn famous, becoming more so in 2015 when he escaped a maximum-security prison in Mexico through an underground tunnel, riding a motorbike on rails. I mean, you couldn't write this stuff. Starting his life of crime in the 70s, it was in the 80s that he was recruited by Miguel Angel Feliz Gallardo, the prominent leader of a Guadalajara cartel. When Gallardo was arrested, Guzman took over the Sinaloa Cartel, which in the following years moved billions of dollars worth of marajuana, cocaine and heroin.
How did he get arrested in the first place?
It was during those years that Guzman got noticed by the United States. In May 1993 years of conflict between the Sinaloa and Tijuana cartels reached boiling point, when gunmen from the Tiuana cartel opened fire on a car near the Guadalajara International Airport. The gunmen mistakenly thought that Guzman was in the car, when in fact it was the Cardinal and Archbishop of Guadalajara. The Mexican government launched a manhunt to find the Cardinal's killers, and pictures of Guzman begun to circulate for the first time.
How did he escape prison?
He was first arrested in 1993, but escaped prison in 2001 after bribing prison employees and being wheeled out in a laundry cart (his height clearly working in his favour). The ten years following his escape made him something of a legend, as he somehow avoided arrest - but in February 2014 he was caught and arrested in a hotel in Mazatlan, a beach resort in his native state of Sinaloa. He spectacularly escaped from prison via motorbike, this time only months after his arrest. Finally, in January 2016 he was arrested once more, and returned to the prison from which he had escaped.
What to expect from the Netflix series?
The series is a dramatisation spanning over three decades, starting in the 1980s and starring Marco de la O as Guzman. It is about as violent and gory as one might expect from a narcotics drama - The Guardian has compared it to both Narcos and The Wire. Guzman's real life has been so drama-filled that there was little need for exaggeration or embellishment in the series. However, Guzman isn't happy with his portrayal in the show and it was announced in June that he is set to sue for "moral damage". His legal team dispute the claim that it's a "true story" and Guzman is concerned that the programme will damage his image ahead of his trial in a US federal court next April. Previously Guzman's legal team threatened to sue Netflix because neither they nor the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision paid for the rights to the story - a risky move considering Guzman is dangerous and, obviously, alive. Interestingly, the series was filmed in Colombia as, following Guzman's rearrest and the consequent power struggle for his drug cartel, it became too dangerous to film in Mexico.
Is it worth a watch?
What is clear is that Guzman is a very, very interesting character. Bizarrely, he was interviewed by actor Sean Penn (for Rolling Stone magazine) before he was captured and returned to prison, and authorities later said that this interview helped lead them to Guzman. There are just so many odd and intriguing elements to Guzman's story that it's kind of amazing that this dramatisation wasn't made sooner, especially given our appetite for drug-related tv shows. So in a nutshell, yes, it's worth a watch.
What's happening now?
Guzman is in jail awaiting his trial next year. He was moved to a Manhattan jail in January this year, and his lawyers have complained about his living conditions, claiming that they violate his rights.
Series 1 of the show is currently on Netflix, and the second series is estimated to arrive around September this year. Something to while away those Autumn evenings with, then.
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