Samantha Lee and Christopher Woody 14h 21,941
Since the late 1970s, two men have emerged as the most powerful and most dangerous drug lords in the world.
Pablo Escobar, a farmer’s son from rural Colombia, and Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, a product of Mexico’s rugged Sierra Madre mountains, delivered immeasurable amounts of cocaine and other drugs to the world during their respective reigns – Escobar’s came to an end on a dingy Medellin rooftop in late 1993, and Guzman’s appears to be over as he sits in a US jail and his cartel is consumed by power struggles.
During their respective climbs to the top of the narco food chain, they amassed obscene amounts of wealth and exposed the world to unimaginable levels of terror.
While a direct comparison of Escobar’s Medellín cartel and Guzman’s Sinaloa Federation is difficult – they’ve dealt with different products, competition, and markets – looking at the groups’ leaders side by side gives some idea of their power and influence.
Born to a humble farming family near the city of Medellin in north-central Colombia, Pablo Escobar started his career committing various petty crimes. He graduated to smuggling and soon began carting shipments of marijuana.
By the late 1970s, he and several associates began trafficking cocaine out of Colombia (which is still the world’s biggest cocaine producer), and by the early 1980s, their Medellin cartel – which included a Hitler-obsessed megalomaniac and an American pilot – was shipping hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine north to the voracious US market.
Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman
While Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is not the first drug baron to emerge from the Sierra Madre mountains of Sinaloa state in northwestern Mexico, the state’s namesake cartel rose to global standing under his watch.
As the head of the Sinaloa cartel, Guzman oversaw marijuana and poppy cultivation that covered more than 23,000 miles of Mexico – an area larger than Costa Rica – and at its peak had a presence in 24 of Mexico’s 32 states and in as many as 50 countries, including an extensive network in the US.
At one point, cartel reportedly controlled 35% of the cocaine produced in Colombia, and, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, it supplies 80% of the heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine flowing to the Chicago region of the US each year.
The Sinaloa cartel is also believed to have an immense international footprint. The cartel’s activity has been reported in Australia, Hong Kong, and the Philippines in recent years.