Merchandise featuring cartel leader at fashion fair is condemned as a glorification of crime.
Just months after the conviction of the Mexican narco-lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán for drug trafficking and control of a murderous criminal enterprise – the Sinaloa cartel – comes a new beer: El Chapo lager.
Mexico’s thirst for a good cerveza is matched only by the apparently unquenchable one for El Chapo merchandise. Last March Guzmán’s wife, Emma Coronel, launched a fashion and leisurewear line, licensed by her husband.
Now the beer, bearing the drugs boss’s image and name, has been launched at Mexico’s most prestigious fashion fair, Intermoda, staged last week in Guadalajara, Jalisco.
Meanwhile, within hours, 15 miles away at Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Jalisco, a mass grave was found containing 29 bodies believed to be the victims of the continuing drug-traffic wars.
While forensic investigators tried to identify the dead, a booth at the nearby Intermoda fair urged visitors to taste the Chapo brew, from special Chapo mugs, beside a Chapo hip-flask for sale. It comes in two editions, lighter and darker ales with white and brown labels accordingly, both bearing a portrait logo of Guzmán. They come at 70 pesos (£2.90) a bottle.
The cynicism with which his family conducts its business is because there are people willing to buy Anabel Hernández, author
Browsers and drinkers apparently saw no ethical problem with sampling the beer. One, interviewed by Univision television, said: “I see no bad in this, I think it’s fine.”
The impromptu bar was next to another stand that sold multicoloured shirts, baseball caps and other attire from the fashion range Chapo 701, towards the design of which Coronel herself reportedly contributed.
A licence to brew the lager was registered in June last year, with copyright – so-called conservación de los derechos – filed by Guzmán’s daughter, Alejandrina Gisselle Guzmán Salazar by his first marriage to Maria Alejandrina Salazar. Guzmán Salazar Jnr was deported to Mexico from the US in 2012, deemed a security risk.
State authorities in Jalisco have a number of open files investigating money-laundering in the state by cartels, including the Sinaloa cartel, and the matter remains: what happens to the profits of these ventures?
Prosecutors in the US are hunting for $14bn in Mexico by way of forfeiture after the trial and conviction of Guzmán in New York but are refraining from investigating funds that major American and British banks have admitted to handling north of the border.
Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan specialising in money laundering, has said he thought “the registration of the [El Chapo] company could be something that the state could seize” under US legislation known as Son of Sam laws, designed to prevent a defendant from making money out of their crimes.
Only last October, Sinaloa cartel gunmen mobilised to neutralise the Mexican government’s attempted arrest of El Chapo’s son, Ovidio, in the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacán. Writers and reporters who have seen colleagues murdered, and themselves been threatened as they report on Guzmán’s cartel, reacted with indignation to what they see as “commodification” of the drug boss.
Anabel Hernández – whose award-winning book Narcoland detailed the Guzmán cartel’s connections to authority in Mexico – has just published a further volume on the inner workings of the cartel, El Traidor (The Traitor) – about the son of Guzmán’s closest partner, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, and his connections to US agents.
Hernández said: “Although Guzmán was sentenced to life imprisonment in the US, so far neither the American nor the Mexican government has been able to confiscate any money. The cynicism with which his family conducts its business is because they are immune, and because there are people who are willing to buy these products that make an apology for crime. Even companies controlled by Zambada, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, have contracts – now, at this moment – with the Mexican government. I have the documents. So of course this Chapo cerveza can exist in Mexico.”
Sandra Rodríguez Nieto, a reporter on the local paper in Ciudad Juárez, El Diario, covered at close range the hyper-violent years of El Chapo’s war for the city and its smuggling conduits to the US. The theme of her book is how impunity corrodes Mexican society, and she says of this latest gimmick: “I think this is just another example of how impunity contributes to the glorification of crime. Since cartel members rarely see legal punishment [in Mexico], they become a sort of role models for thousands of people that feel betrayed government.
“This message, an open impunity policy, was reinforced maybe like never before, when federal forces released Ovidio after allegedly threatened massive violence in Culiacán.”
Presenting the beers at Intermoda, however, the commercial director of Chapo 701, Adriana Huarte, preferred to stick to the matter in hand: “This lager is 4% volume”, she said, “not super-rich, but excellent with seafood.”