Many people have been eagerly waiting for the Narcos franchise on Netflix to introduce the character of drug lord El Chapo. Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is only a bit character in Narcos: Mexico because he was a bit player in the Guadalajara Cartel it chronicles. (Warning: This article contains spoilers for Narcos: Mexico).
However, the rise and fall of the Guadalajara Cartel around him was crucial to the rise of El Chapo himself. Although he was not a co-founder of Guadalajara, he learned aspects of the drug trade by working within it, and, when the cartel fell, he used that knowledge to create what became the Sinaloa Cartel, which eventually locked down the American drug trade.
Here are some of the moments that El Chapo appears in Narcos: Mexico.
El Chapo First Appears as a Driver for a Minor Drug Lord
You see El Chapo first as a driver for a Sinaloan leader who bites the dust to make way for Felix Gallardo, the mastermind behind the scheme to meld Mexico’s fractious drug trafficking groups into a singular cartel, Guadalajara. He has a gun pointed to his head by Gallardo, who decides to let him live. We are introduced to him as, simply, “Chapo.”
El Chapo then vanishes from the series and reappears, but he’s always kind of around. In another telling scene, a man who looks a lot like him slouches on a sofa with Rafael Caro Quintero as the more powerful player. He and El Chapo watch the classic movie Scarface together. You have to rewind that frame to make sure you didn’t miss it because the moment flies by so quickly and without comment. A young El Chapo watching Al Pacino’s iconic role? Perfect.
He shows up again in an episode where Rafa is in hiding out in a mansion after a love affair with a politician’s daughter threatens the cartel. Chapo’s role in that scene? He helps set up a Christmas tree, and then tries to talk Rafa out of calling his love interest, clearly still deferential at that point. He appears in many other similar scenes as one of the men who is on the inside of the Guadalajara cartel but clearly not in charge.
You get the sense of El Chapo hanging around the fringes but close enough to the action that he’s absorbing the inner workings of the trade. Showrunner Eric Newman told THR: “Chapo was there at the beginning, in a way. He was one of the younger guys in the Guadalajara cartel before it splintered and he and another guy were given Sinaloa as territory.” He’s played in Narcos: Mexico by Mexican actor Alejandro Edda. He’s been transformed into El Chapo through the drug lord’s signature haircut, and he’s been posting about the role on Instagram.
Fans were thrilled that El Chapo has finally made an appearance in the show:
According to the U.S. State Department, “Joaquin Guzman-Loera, aka El Chapo, became involved in drug trafficking in the late 1980s as a trafficker and air logistics expert for the once powerful Miguel Angel Felix-Gallardo. Guzman-Loera eventually became the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.”
The Guadalajara Cartel’s downfall came when Gallardo and two other cartel leaders (but not El Chapo) murder American DEA agent Kiki Camarena. Until that point, the American government wasn’t paying much mind to the drug dealers south of its border. That changed, and the heat brought down the cartel and created a vacuum that El Chapo helped fill.
The State Department added: “Guzman-Loera was arrested on June 9, 1993, in Mexico on charges related to murder and drug trafficking and was sentenced to a 20 year prison term. However, on January 19, 2001, Guzman-Loera escaped from the federal maximum security prison in Jalisco, Mexico. While on the run from Mexican authorities, Guzman-Loera reestablished himself as a top ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel and leader of the Mexican drug trade, becoming the world’s #1 fugitive and a Forbes-listed billionaire. He was rearrested on February 22, 2014, in a modest resort hotel in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico as a result of a sustained operation. On July 11, 2015, he again escaped from Altiplano federal maximum security prison in the State of Mexico.”
According to Biography.com, El Chapo came from an abusive and underprivileged background. He was “born in the rural Mexican town of Badiraguato” and his father was described as a “violent man who was in the drug trade.” In his teenage years, Guzman was on his own and had little education, so he began selling marijuana, Biography.com reports.
He was more than a driver in his early years, even back into the 1970s, though, in real life. He was working for another drug dealer named Héctor Luis Palma Salazar in the decade before Gallardo’s cartel took off. “Guzmán oversaw the movement of drugs from his home district of Sinaloa,” the site reports. He then moved on to the Gallardo circle.