Narcos: Mexico may add some fictional characters and narrative flourishes, but the series tells a pretty accurate story about the real-life rise of the Mexican cartel leaders and America's ongoing and convoluted War on Drugs. One character who comes more into focus in Season 2 is Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán (played by Alejandro Edda), the leader of the Sinaloa cartel and one of the most infamous drug traffickers in the world. He's bribed his way out of Mexican prisons several times, but currently El Chapo is serving a life sentence, plus 30 years, at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, aka the high-security "Supermax" prison ADX, in Florence, Colorado.
El Chapo is one of the most notorious criminals of the last 100 years, both a brutal cartel leader and a clever businessman. Per the New York Times, he smuggled more than $12 billion worth of drugs into his country, thus fueling decades of bloody conflict. Though his criminal deeds were readily apparent to everyone, El Chapo was known for always evading capture or escaping from prison, thanks to his deep connections with law enforcement and government officials. And knowing how to dig a tunnel, as depicted in Season 2.
Per Reuters, El Chapo was first captured in 1993 and sentenced to 20 years in prison in Mexico for murder and drug trafficking, but he escaped the maximum security prison in 2001, and then again in 2015. He was finally extradited to the United States in 2017 to face U.S. charges. A Brooklyn jury convicted him of drug trafficking and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies as the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, and thus began his sentence at ADX — and unlike the prior jails he was in, ADX has never had an escape since it opened in 1994.
Keegan Hamilton at Vice did a deeper dive into El Chapo's prison term, writing in a Feb. 11 article that El Chapo "spends his days alone inside a 75-square-foot cell" that only contains "a concrete slab with a flimsy mattress, a stainless steel toilet and sink" and a "narrow slit of a window" with no view to the outside Rocky Mountains. Hamilton describes the prison as full of steel doors, concrete walls, maze-like corridors, tons of surveillance camera, and layers of electrified fence — essentially, it's unescapable.
El Chapo is expected to live the rest of his life behind bars, but as Hamilton details, the War on Drugs continues to rage on even with one of its major kingpins behind bars. Several high ranking officials have been accused of accepting bribes from El Chapo: Mexico's top law enforcement official Genaro García Luna, former presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón, and current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Furthermore, the arrest of El Chapo and other leaders has splintered the cartels into warring factions, causing an estimated death toll of over 34,000 people in 2019. And while El Chapo is out of commission, it appears that his sons Ovidio, Iván, Alfredo, and Joaquín — collectively known as Los Chapitos — simply picked up where their father left off.
DEA agent Ray Donovan told Hamilton that Chapo’s conviction “sent a message to every other cartel leader” that they could also face justice in the U.S., but “it’s hard to say the Sinaloa cartel is weaker — it’s hard to put metrics to what that really means.”
The fact that El Chapo's actions ripple into today means that Narcos: Mexico is unlikely to run out of material any time soon. Both El Chapo's actor Alejandro Edda and Narcos showrunner Eric Newman actually attended El Chapo's trial last year; per the New York Times, Newman was excited about the opportunity to hear first hand accounts of El Chapo's exploits, and pieces from the trial could filter their way into future scripts.
“At this point of our story, [El Chapo's] a bit player,” Newman told the NYT. “But he will continue to rise within the cartel.”
Newman even hinted at a possible El Chapo-themed spin-off. “Every season of ‘Narcos’ is a spinoff, in a way,” Newman explained. “We’re in a constant state of spinoff, because that’s what the drug business does."