BUENOS AIRES — Criminal associates used to call him "Florecita" (little flower), Andrés López López recalls. "I was the skinniest in the lab," the former drug trafficker from Colombia, now a resident of Miami, Florida, explains in a telephone interview with Clarín. "I'd ask people to help me lift crates and if I got my clothes dirty I would run off to change. You'd think I wouldn't care considering the business we were in."
Born in Cali in 1971, López began his criminal ways at age 15, when a friend, the brother of Orlando Henao Montoya, one of the heads of the Norte del Valle cartel, offered him work in a drug lab. He thought of his employers as "magicians" rather than mere traffickers because they could "create fortunes in the bat of an eye," he explains.
López worked for the Norte del Valle cartel throughout the 1990s until he was arrested at the age of 29. At that time the cartel brought more than 500 tons of cocaine anually into the United States, or 60% of the supply.
The former trafficker loved to read crime novels by John Grisham. While jailed in Miami, he decided to write his youthful experiences in the world of crime, which yielded the best-selling novel El cartel de los sapos ("The Snitch Cartel"), later made into a television series and then a film.
López launched his latest book, about Mexican trafficker Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, on Jan. 8, the same day, incidentally, that the fugitive head of the Sinaloa drug cartel was napped. The book is titled Joaquín el Chapo Guzmán: El varón de la droga, with a play on the word 'varón,' meaning male or manly, but pronounced 'baron,' as in drug baron.
The work is a biography in novel form, which López began writing in 2012. For this he interviewed relatives of Mexico's premier drug lord, U.S. Federal agents and a selection of "clean" Mexican prosecutors. He also sought out Guzmán's own perspective through intermediaries, only to receive the reply from the drug lord that "should you entertain the absurd idea of writing this book, you'd have to be killed."
That left him with two options: "Either give all this up and stay hidden and frightened for ever because of the gentleman's threat, or just go on," the author explains. López chose the latter, and replied to the threat by saying: "I wasn't asking for your permission. I just want to know your point of view. I shall just go ahead and write if you don't mind."
In 2014, Guzmán changed his mind and suggested an interview, which López refused. First, he says, because the book was nearly complete and second, because he wasn't going to be El Chapo's mouthpiece. "Sitting with a trafficker of that caliber and accepting any type of commercial tie with him means becoming his slave," he says.
López knows what he is talking about. He used to be a minion to another such despot, in Colombia. He says being in a cartel gave him a "clearer perspective" on this trade, but "at the personal level, I think I was a complete idiot."
Andrés López López — Photo: Facebook group
The author's literary agent makes it clear that I have just enough time for two final questions:
CLARIN: What does capturing El Chapo again mean?
ANDRES LOPEZ: Chapo Guzmán still has a lot of cards to play. I don't know if this is the end of Chapo, because we've seen this three times throughout his life ... It remains an open-ended game. Today the winner seems to be the institutions of the Mexican armed forces and government. But that doesn't mean El Chapo is beaten. Still, U.S. justice is pressuring the Mexican government for his extradition. The only thing that's missing right now is willingess [on the part of the Mexican government or president], because with an executive order, he could be sitting in a U.S. jail the next day.
What is the difference between drug trafficking before and now?
In my ignorance I always perceived drug trafficking with a romantic tinge. Even I believed in it. I did not calculate how much harm it was really doing. At the time I think the drug trafficker saw all this as a business: buying drugs cheap and selling them at a high premium. But the thing is, the degradation of the conflict was directly proportional to its duration. And as the years pass, the decomposition has led us to where we are today: beheadings, dismemberments, bodies hanging from traffic lights and bridges and so many other atrocities, which I think will be hard to end.