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Alma Guillermoprieto Exposes the Harsh Truth about Drug Lords, Victims, and Ideologies during UM Lecture

By UM News

Alma Guillermoprieto Exposes the Harsh Truth about Drug Lords, Victims, and Ideologies during UM Lecture

By UM News
Alma Guillermoprieto Exposes the Harsh Truth about Drug Lords, Victims, and Ideologies during UM Lecture

The drug trade in Mexico has been an ongoing saga since the 1960s, a torrid tale rife with sprawling criminal networks, murders, and government corruption. Acclaimed journalist Alma Guillermoprieto has been a leading voice in telling this story, offering insightful and nuanced articles that transcend stereotypes and assumptions.

Guillermoprieto shared her perspectives on “The Drug Wars the ‘War on Drugs’ Created” as a Henry King Stanford Distinguished Professor. Her lecture was sponsored by the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences Center for the Humanities.

Guillermoprieto’s talk focused on Joaquín Guzmán – “the biggest drug lord of all time,” according to Forbes magazine – who was peacefully arrested in a Mazatlán vacation condominium in February 2014.

Alma Guillermoprieto

Forbes ranked Guzmán as one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world every year since 2009, Guillermoprieto said, but his life began far from money and influence.

Known as “El Chapo” due to his short stature, Guzmán was born in a small town in the Sinaloa region of Mexico sometime between 1954 and 1957; the nearest school was 40 miles away.

Guzmán came of age as then-U.S. President Richard Nixon officially declared a “war on drugs,” and urged the Mexican army to fight farmers who were growing illegal crops.

Guillermoprieto said, “He grew up in an atmosphere of violence, and all that mattered was if you were on the winning side.” The violence continued in the 1980s, when local drug traffickers fought viciously for territory in the region.

Throughout this time, Guzmán built a thriving empire involved in production, smuggling, and distribution of local drugs and substances from countries throughout South America, bringing the drugs through Mexico and to the United States.

Guillermoprieto said, “He was a very powerful and visible figure. Everyone knew where he was except the government.” She added that Guzmán travelled frequently on commercial flights, undetected by the authorities.

He was arrested in Guatemala in 1993, and spent eight years in a Mexican maximum-security prison before escaping in 2001.

‌‌In the years since, Guzmán has increased his power and his activity, and maintained loyalty in his region.

Even since his capture – an event which Guillmeroprieto called “unlikely” – she said there are people “willing to go to jail and risk death for a man who may be guilty of thousands of murders.”

Guillermoprieto said, “A war on drugs based on ideology is doomed to failure. The harm done so far is so deep that there are few possibilities for a good outcome.”

Center for the Humanities Director and Professor of English Mihoko Suzuki said it Guillermoprieto’s work highlights “the importance of making visible the invisible victims of the drug trade.”

CLAS Director and Weeks Professor in Latin American Studies Ariel Armony added, “The challenge is not to write a story that becomes repetitive. How many murders can one fit into a story, week after week, month after month?” He added that Guillermoprieto “continues to write without defining the region by crime and drugs.”

For more information on the Center for the Humanities, please visit

For more information on the Center for Latin American Studies, please visit

Alma Guillermoprieto is a highly acclaimed Mexican journalist, who has written extensively about Latin America for the British and American press, including The Guardian and The Washington Post. She has been investigating and writing about the drug wars in Latin America for many years. Guillermoprieto has also been South America bureau chief for Newsweek. Her articles have been collected in two books – The Heart that Bleeds (1994) and Looking for History (2001) – and she is the author of memoirs Samba (1990) and Dancing with Cuba (2004). Guillermoprieto has received a MacArthur Fellowship, and served as the Tinker Visiting Professor at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago.