How Mexican Drug Lord 'El Chapo' Guzmán Was Killed, and Then Wasn't

Guatemalan officials incorrectly said the Mexican drug lord had been killed.

ByABC News
February 22, 2013, 5:16 PM

Feb. 22, 2013— -- It seems that Mexican drug boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán is alive and well, and probably laughing at those thousands of Twitter users, as well as some government officials, who suggested on Thursday that he was dead.

The rumors of his demise started slowly on Thursday afternoon, as journalists in Guatemala and Mexico exchanged emails about an incident in the remote jungle region of El Peten that might have involved Guzmán.

See Also: The Zetas Cartel's Most Violent Acts

News of the supposed death of El Chapo, which means "Shorty" in Spanish, spread like wildfire Thursday evening when the Interior Minister of Guatemala told journalists in that country that a firefight between drug dealers and Guatemalan military personnel had resulted in the death of two suspected criminals. The conflict took place in San Francisco, a small town located in the El Peten region, the official said.

"There was a clash between Guatemalan security forces in San Francisco," Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez said on Thursday. "Two died. One of them is physically very similar to El Chapo."

"We are not sure, but it could be him, " Lopez added, according to Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre. The newspaper also said at that point of the night, the government was getting ready to conduct forensics tests that would help identify the two corpses.

Later on the same night, however, Guatemalan officials said they weren't even sure that a gunfight with drug dealers had occurred. Officials also said that military units were patrolling the area where the clash reportedly happened, to see if they could find any signs of a battle between the army and drug traffickers.

On Monday morning, after no Chapo had been found, Lopez apologized for the government's blunder on local radio station Emisoras Unidas.

"We have no reports so far of a clash between [drug traffickers and] the police or the army," Lopez said on Emisoras Unidas, adding that helicopters were still inspecting the areas where the clash had reportedly occurred.

"I am sorry if there was a misunderstanding," he said.

According to Lopez, confusion over the incident arose because the Interior Ministry relied excessively on the testimonies of local villagers, who said that they had seen a clash between the army and drug traffickers.

He said that too many "contradictory" pieces of information came to government officials at once from the remote region, which is mostly covered by dense tropical jungle and dotted by tiny settlements of cattle ranchers.

Ioan Grillo, a journalist and seasoned drug war analyst, had another theory for the Guatemalan blunder.

"My reading of Chapo Guzman drama: a snitch called up and said Chapo died in firefight, Grillo tweeted. "Guatemala pleased with news tells before confirming."

Such blunders have happened in the past. Just last year, on the eve of Mexico's presidential elections, officials in that country claimed that they had caught El Chapo's son, Jesus Alfredo. But less than a week later Mexican prosecutors announced that the man in their possession was in fact a car salesman from Guadalajara.

With regards to this most recent case, there is some reason though to believe that El Chapo is in Guatemala.

Wikileaks cables released to the press on Thursday suggest that El Chapo is hiding in El Peten, where Mexican cartels have managed to gain a stronghold over drug trafficking routes.

These cables consist of emails written by staffers of Stratfor, a security consulting agency, based in Texas. Previously officials from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have suggested that El Chapo hides in a mountain range in western Mexico, that straddles the states of Durango and Sinaloa.