Pablo Escobar's chief assassin reveals the 2 things that spook drug lords like 'El Chapo' Guzmán

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Judge Gives 'El Chapo's' Extradition to the US a Green Light

When drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán was spirited from a high-security jail in central Mexico to one just miles from the US border under the cover of darkness on May 7, many saw it as a step toward the fate that terrifies drug traffickers: extradition to the US.

According to Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez — Pablo Escobar's top hitman — extradition to the US is the fate that drug barons like Escobar and Guzmán fear most.

In the jails of Latin America, kingpins can often exercise a great deal of influence.

While detained at Puente Grande Federal Prison from 1993 to 2001, for example, Guzmán was allowed to host his family for a vacation inside the prison grounds, held multiple parties for friends, and had female inmates brought to the all-male jail for his enjoyment, Mexican journalist Anable Hernandez said in an interview.

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Pablo Escobar's chief assassin reveals the 2 things that spook drug lords like 'El Chapo' Guzmán
Mexico's top drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted as he arrives at Long Island MacArthur airport in New York, U.S., January 19, 2017, after his extradition from Mexico. Picture taken Janaury 19, 2017. U.S. officials/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Wife of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Emma Coronel, exits following his court appearance at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Mexico's top drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as he is extradited to New York in this handout image made available January 19, 2017. Faces of soldiers obscured and image watermarked at source. PGR - Mexico's Attorney General's Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Mexico's top drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as he is extradited to New York in this handout image made available January 19, 2017. Faces of soldiers obscured and image watermarked at source. PGR - Mexico's Attorney General's Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A motorcade carrying Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman crosses the Brooklyn Bridge following his court appearance in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Federal Police patrols park outside of Federal Prison Cefereso number 9 where Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'El Chapo Guzman' was jailed before being extradited to the United States in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on January 19, 2017. Mexico extradited drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman to the United States -- handing over one of the world's most notorious criminals on the eve of US President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration. / AFP / HERIKA MARTINEZ (Photo credit should read HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JANUARY 8: Joaquin Guzman Loera, also known as 'El Chapo' is transported to Maximum Security Prison of El Altiplano in Mexico City, Mexico on January 08, 2016. Guzman Loera, leader of Mexico's Sinaloa drug Cartel, was considered the Mexican most-wanted drug lord. Mexican marines captured 'El Chapo' on Friday in Sinaloa, North of Mexico. (Photo by Daniel Cardenas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALMOLOYA DE JUAREZ, July 16, 2015-- Security forces stand guard in the surroundings of the alleged house where was built the tunnel, through which escaped from prison Mexico's drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, in Almoloya de Juarez, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, on July 15, 2015. Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, disappeared from the maximum-security Altiplano prison outside of Mexico City Saturday night, according to the National Security Commission. (Xinhua/Alejandro Ayala via Getty Images)
A Mexican soldier speaks with a man at the International airport in Mexico City on July 16, 2015. The Mexican government has offered a $3.8 million reward for fugitive drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's capture, double the amount it usually offers for the country's most wanted criminals. AFP PHOTO/ YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A Public Safety Secretary of the Federal District (SSPDF) police officer stands next to a patrol car with a picture of fugitive drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's on its window, in Acapulco, Guerrero State, Mexico, on July 14, 2015. Mexico's government offered a $3.8 million reward for the capture of 'El Chapo' Guzman on Monday and sacked top prison officials amid suspicions that guards helped him escape. Guzman vanished from his cell late Saturday even though he was wearing a monitoring bracelet and surveillance cameras were trained on the room 24 hours a day, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said. AFP PHOTO / PEDRO PARDO (Photo credit should read Pedro PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexico's Attorney General Arely Gomez shows a picture of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman during a press conference held at the Secretaria de Gobernacion in Mexico City, on July 13, 2015. Guzman managed to escape from his cell despite a monitoring bracelet and 24-hour security camera surveillance, and likely was helped by prison officials, authorities said. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A poster with the face of Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, reading 'Wanted, Again', is displayed at a newsstand in one Mexico City's major bus terminals on July 13, 2015, a day after the government informed of the escape of the drug kingpin from a maximum-security prison. Mexican security forces scrambled Monday to save face and recapture 'El Chapo' as authorities investigated whether guards helped him escape prison through a tunnel under his cell. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: View of pipes near the Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after the confirmation of the escape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washes his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
A Federal Police officer stands guard outside the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A group of journalists remain close the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A Federal Police officer stands guard outside the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture of the yellow tape put by security forces of the Office of the Attorney General around the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: Federal Police men patrol near of the Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after the confirmation of the eescape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: View of a tunnel terminated in a house under construction in a neighborhood near the prison which was allegedly used Joaquin El Chapo Guzman to eescape, during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after confirming the escape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Picture of the yellow tape put by security forces of the Office of the Attorney General around the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: View of a tunnel terminated in a house under construction in a neighborhood near the prison which was allegedly used Joaquin El Chapo Guzman to eescape, during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after confirming the escape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Picture of the yellow tape put by security forces of the Office of the Attorney General around the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: Arelly Gomez General Attorney of Mexico walks during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after te confirmation of the eeescape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Security forces of the Office of the Attorney General secure the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Guatemalan Interior Deputy Minister Elmer Sosa shows a picture of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman Loera during a press conference in Guatemala City on July 12, 2015. The security authorities of Guatemala are in alert after the escape of the leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, reported Sunday an official source. AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
View of the covers of Mexican newspapers in Mexico City, on February 23, 2014, after Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman' was arrested yesterday by Mexican marines. Guzman is the Sinaloa cartel leader and the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A semi-submersible which was seized with seven and a half tons of cocaine, is exhibited at a military unit in Tegucigalpa on February 24, 2014. Hoduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez congratulated the Mexican government for the capture of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, who had extended his power to Central America, linked for over two decades to groups that control vast territories for the passage of drugs to the US. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman escaped his captors by walking along this drainage canal and tunnel behind a house in Culiacan, Mexico, last week. Guzman was finally captured on Saturday in the nearby city of Maz. Photo was taken Feb. 24, 2014. (Tim Johnson/MCT via Getty Images)
Members of the press take photographs as drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman is flown by a Federal Police helicopter, blue helicopter in center, from a Navy hangar at Mexico's International Airport in Mexico city, Mexico, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Mexico's apprehension of the world's most-wanted drug boss struck a blow to a cartel that local and U.S. authorities say swelled into a multinational empire, fueling killings around the world. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
View of the inside of a semi-submersible -seized with seven and a half tons of cocaine- exhibited at a military unit in Tegucigalpa on February 24, 2014. Hoduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez congratulated the Mexican government for the capture of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, who had extended his power to Central America, linked for over two decades to groups that control vast territories for the passage of drugs to the US. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman escaped his captors by walking along this drainage canal and tunnel behind a house in Culiacan, Mexico, last week. Guzman was finally captured on Saturday in the nearby city of Maz. Photo was taken Feb. 24, 2014. (Tim Johnson/MCT via Getty Images)
View of the covers of Mexican newspapers in Mexico City, on February 23, 2014, after Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman' was arrested yesterday by Mexican marines. Guzman is the Sinaloa cartel leader and the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
Jesus Murillo Karam, attorney general of Mexico, center, stands next to Vidal Francisco Soberon Sanz, an admiral of the Mexican Navy, right, and Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexican secretariat of national defense, left, while speaking about the capture of drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman to members of the press outside a Navy hangar at Mexico's International Airport in Mexico city, Mexico, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Mexico's apprehension of the world's most-wanted drug boss struck a blow to a cartel that local and U.S. authorities say swelled into a multinational empire, fueling killings around the world. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Members of the Mexican Navy stand guard during an operation to present Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman' to the press, on February 22, 2014 in Mexico City. The Sinaloa cartel leader - the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies - was arrested early this morning by Mexican marines at a resort in Mazatlan, northern Mexico. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Mexican Navy stand guard near a helicopter transporting Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman', on February 22, 2014 in Mexico City. The Sinaloa cartel leader - the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies - was arrested early this morning by Mexican marines at a resort in Mazatlan, northern Mexico. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
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The US legal and prison systems, however, strip drug barons of their power.

Extradition threatens powerful narcos like Escobar and Guzmán because they would be cut off from their cartel business, their family, and corrupt authorities willing to accept bribes.

In the words of Escobar, "better a grave in Colombia than a cell in the United States."

In an interview with Univision, Velásquezelaborated on another thing that scared traffickers: "wanted" posters.

El Chapo Guzman escapeCentro Federal de Readaptación Social

As one of the few surviving members of Escobar's Medellín cartel, Vásquez, commonly referred to as "Popeye," claimed that the "king of cocaine" once told him, "Popeye, we're dead," after seeing his face on a "wanted" poster.

"The 'wanted' poster is very dangerous for us as bandits because you go to a store to buy a drink and there's your photo. Someone sees it on TV and knows you are worth 10 million dollars," Popeyesaid.

For Guzmán, the years-long "wanted poster" portion of his criminal career — which included two brazen jailbreaks — appears to have given way to the extradition portion.

el chapo gif peaceCentro Federal de Readaptación Social

Mexican officials dismissed the possibility of his extradition to the US after Guzmán was captured in 2014, but the government seemed to be changing its mind prior to his breakout in July 2015.

The process for extraditing Guzmán to the US was already in the works, according to the Mexican Attorney General's office — on June 25, 2015, Mexico received the extradition request, but Guzmán slipped out of prison through a mile-long tunnel two weeks later.

Now, four months after Guzmán was reapprehended in January, he sits in a jail outside Ciudad Juarez, miles from the El Paso, Texas. A Mexican judge recently signed off on the legal proceedings involved in the kingpin's extradition, but diplomatic and political hurdles remain.

It seems unlikely that Guzmán will arrive on US territory any time soon, but the move does put him within surveillance range of US intelligence assets in Texas, which could help Mexico prevent or respond to an escape attempt.

And, as Nathan P. Jones of Rice University's Baker Institute has noted, the new location puts Guzmán near El Paso, where he faces indictment and where he can be moved quickly if the Mexican government decides to expedite the extradition process.

Popeye was Pablo Escobar's chief assassin during the final years of the drug lord's life, and he was responsible for more than 300 assassinations and organizing another 3,000 homicides.

He spent 23 years in six different Colombian prisons after he turned himself in to authorities in 1992. He was released in August 2014.

Popeye estimates that Guzmán's 2015 escape could have cost at least $50 million in bribes to authorities and prison staff since "at [Altiplano] they have sensors and cameras to prevent tunnels," according to his interview with Univision, though other sources put that number much lower.

But no amount of money is likely to win Guzmán favor in a US prison, something the Sinaloa cartel kingpin likely knows all to well.

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