Inside the flamboyant, violent lives of El Chapo’s sons

When he was arrested in February, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the notoriously reclusive and rarely photographed leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, had little bling around him. Though his estimated wealth was $1 billion, the monthly rent on his spare Spartan Mazatlan apartment was just $1,200, and its kitchen appeared stocked with only a blue bin of vegetables.

His sons Alfredo and Ivan Guzman have been substantially less modest.

In a striking generational divide, El Chapo’s sons and some of his youthful henchmen glorify the cartel life of violence, wealth and general insanity, posting snapshot after snapshot for tens of thousands of fans.

The Washington Post could not confirm the authenticity of these social media accounts. But those operating @AlfreditoGuzman and @_IvanGuzman_ frequently refer to their father, El Chapo. “You search for my dad but he’s at ease right in front of you all and you don’t even realize,” Alfredo tweeted in 2013.

What’s more, they’ve posted pictures of a man who appears to be El Chapo, plus images of gang warfare, stacks upon stacks of cash, many scantily clad women, and small airplanes laden with drugs. And what’s more cartel than that? 

If the accounts are accurate, they would suggest that a new generation of drug lords have discarded some of the staid notions that once governed mafias and drug cartels – discretion, anonymity, omertà – for flamboyance and celebrity.

For instance, when La Familia and Knights Templar leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was shot and killed last March, he was riding a mule – a mule – and living inside a wooden hut in mountainous Southern Mexico. But if these Twitter and Instagram accounts are any indication, the Guzman brothers are not the mule-riding type.

Especially not when they have fleets of Mercedes, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Which are sometimes filled with gold guns and tiger cubs.

According to the Latin Times, both Ivan and Alfredo are children from El Chapo’s first marriage who followed their father into the drug business. Referred to as “El Chapito,” Ivan was arrested in 2005 on money laundering charges, but was released three years later after a judge ruled there wasn’t any proof the cash was drug money — and that it wasn’t illegal to be the son of an infamous drug lord.

Authorities suspect Alfredo, meanwhile, has taken on a powerful role in the drug empire. He “was coordinating the majority of the drug shipments sent to the United States by the Sinaloa cartel, including cocaine and heroin,” a U.S. Navy spokesman said in 2012. He added Alfredo “was taking increasing control of Sinaloa cartel operations.”

With much ballyhoo, Mexican authorities announced they’d arrested Alfredo in 2012, and images of a scruffy, chubby kid were beamed across the world. But days later, it turned out they’d arrested the wrong guy.

The cops were, however, bearing down on Jose Rodrigo Arechiga Gamboa — “El Chino Antrax” — one of the most feared strongmen in the Mexican underworld. Arrested earlier this year, the musclebound enforcer really liked working out, eating protein, gold guns, and various filters, as seen in his apparent Instagram feed.

Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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