Joaquin Guzman Loera: Forbes's brutal billionaire

Joaquin Guzman Loera is Mexico's elusive drug baron, whose place on the Forbes's list of otherwise respectable tycoons has been greeted with dismay.

It's been quite a month for Joaquin "El Shorty" Guzman Loera, but Mexico's "one-man war zone" was nowhere to be seen, says The Sunday Telegraph. The 52-year-old drugs 'warlord' has "been sighted more times than Elvis", but still eludes the paramilitary apparatus charged with catching him. In his absence, Guzman has achieved quite a distinction: appearing for the first time on the Forbes list of billionaires (category: 'self-made'), wedged between a Swiss oil tycoon and an heir to the Campbell soup fortune.

With his gore-spattered record, Guzman's place on the list of otherwise respectable tycoons has been greeted with dismay. One Forbes contributor has resigned; the Mexican government called it "an outrage". Yet if cash generation is all that counts, his inclusion was a no-brainer, says Time. Guzman's empire has been thriving. Since being smuggled out of prison in a laundry van in 2001, his Sinaloa Cartel has become the dominant drug-running outfit between central America and the US. In the past eight years, he is thought to have laundered $20bn in wholesale profits.

Guzman's supremacy achieved by the ruthless elimination of rivals, intimidation of the police and the corruption of the justice system has left tens of thousands dead and frontier cities ravaged. As a recent Pentagon report notes, Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state with a collapse of civil government. But while the big boss remains at large, his cartel's image of invincibility is hard to demolish.

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El Shorty's mystique is partly driven by his "anti-hero aura": he is described as "wildly charismatic" and "irresistible to women" (barely literate, he is said to employ a ghostwriter to compose flowery love poems to his conquests). In his home province of Sinaloa he is seen as a folk hero: a "social bandit" along the lines of Robin Hood, who "fixes up the towns... and cemeteries", says the Chicago Tribune. Yet his main weapon remains fear his top enforcer, known as "El Soupmaker", specialises in dissolving victims' bodies in acid.

Born in 1957, to a poor farming family in La Tuna near the Pacific coast, El Chapo (the short one) was probably exposed to the narcotics trade at an early age, says Forbes. He honed his drug-running skills with several gangs, notably as an aeroplane logistics expert for Miguel Felix Gallardo in the 1980s. When Gallardo was arrested in 1989, Guzman inherited some of his territory and swiftly emerged as Mexico's "narco-kingpin". His own arrest in 1993 had little impact on business. Until his escape, he managed the operation from behind bars, "while enjoying a lavish prison life with access to booze, women and a home entertainment system".

Things haven't always run smoothly for Guzman: last year his son Edgar was gunned down by a rival cartel and he is said to have been arrested twice since 2001, although both times the authorities, reportedly still in his pocket (see below), allowed him to escape. Last week, the Obama administration announced it would spend a further $184m to fight the traffickers. Few believe that will be sufficient, says The Sunday Telegraph. Some even suggest they will eventually have to militarise the entire Mexican border, "unless they can catch El Shorty".

How Joaquin Guzman manages to stay on the run

Joaquin Guzman isn't the first international criminal to make the Forbes list Colombian drugs baron Pablo Escobar was included before he died in a police shoot-out in 1993. But Guzman, says Time, has achieved near-mythical status in Mexico for his smuggling ruses (including hiding cocaine in fire extinguishers and cans of chilli peppers) and his sheer effrontery. Last year he arrived at a popular restaurant in Culiacan, with ten bodyguards, who locked in the other customers and confiscated their mobile phones, so Guzman could eat his steak without fear of ambush. Upon leaving, he paid for everyone's meal. When news of his visit leaked out, the restaurant was burned down.

Guzman's brutality is legendary, notes The New York Times, and ordinary Mexicans long ago lost their faith in the power of police and judicial authorities to tame him. He is reckoned to spend millions annually on bribes. In 2007, when he married his third wife, hundreds of worthies, including state politicians, attended the wedding; the local military commander handled security. Guzman is "very agile", notes local newspaper editor Ismael Bojorquez, "but he cannot survive without the support of the state, its institutions, policy or army".

Over the past year, Mexico's top criminal prosecutor has been arrested for receiving cartel cash, as has the director of Interpol in Mexico. Local police forces are frequently disbanded and rebuilt in an effort to "cleanse" them of cartel influence. It rarely works. "The cartels bring in billions of dollars more than the Mexican government spends to defeat them."