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Drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman recaptured after latest escape

He was arrested in 2014 after eluding authorities for more than 12 years

The stories surrounding him are almost mythical

CNN  — 

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, already a nearly mythical character in Mexico, added to his legend last year by escaping from prison yet again.

It wasn’t the first time Guzman had slipped the bars that were meant to contain him. He also escaped prison in 2001 in a laundry cart, after which he eluded authorities for more than a dozen years.

Inclusion on the business magazine’s list wasn’t the only mention Guzman got.

So powerful was he, people said, that he could bribe anyone. He commanded so much loyalty, the story went, that he was always tipped off when the heat was close. He was so fearless that he could live his life without concern of being caught.

After his latest arrest, though, it appears his influence might have its limits.

Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman escapes

Immortalized in lyrics

Guzman’s latest cycle on the run can be traced to 2014, when he was arrested in a hotel in the Pacific beach town of Mazatlan, in his home state of Sinaloa.

But prison wouldn’t keep him for long.

In July 2015, security cameras in the maximum security Altiplano federal prison recorded Guzman approaching a shower area in which prisoners also wash their belongings.

Later that day, guards discovered during a routine check that Guzman was missing. He had escaped through a hole in his cell that led to a lighted and ventilated tunnel nearly a mile long, authorities said.

The rumors surrounding Guzman, many of which sprouted during his previous 12 years on the lam, are numerous: With the money he had, he could be hiding anywhere in the world. He was listed by Forbes as one of the most powerful people in the world.

That only added to Guzman’s legend, cultivated after his 2001 escape.

Guzman’s exploits after the 2001 prison break were immortalized in lyrics, such as the corridos, or folk songs, sung about him in Mexico. And the idolization crossed the border to the north. Consider the lyrics of rapper Gucci Mane’s 2012 song:

All I wanna be is El Chapo

Fully automatic slice your auto

All I wanna be is El Chapo

Three billion dollars in pesos

All I wanna be is El Chapo

And when I meet him I’ma tell him bravo

A multibillion-dollar empire

Guzman was born in Badiraguato, Sinaloa, at a time when the drug trade was evolving, and he began his career working for powerful drug lord Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, according to a biography by Time.

He founded his own cartel in 1980 and established outposts in a number of states, eventually inheriting some of his mentor’s territory, according to Time.

His drug empire became Mexico’s most powerful, the Sinaloa Cartel. It was deadly, authorities said. Guzman surrounded himself with ruthless guards and enforcers and reigned over a multibillion-dollar global drug empire that supplied much of the marijuana, cocaine and heroin peddled on the streets of the United States.

In U.S. indictments, the organization has been accused of using assassins and hit squads to maintain its control.

In Mexico, the strength of his enterprise helped unleash an ongoing drug war that has left thousands of his countrymen dead.

Opinion: America’s war on drugs is empowering Mexico’s drug cartels

Guzman was arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and extradited to Mexico, where he was convicted and sentenced to a maximum security prison.

One of the most often retold stories about him is how he escaped from the prison in a laundry cart in 2001. The carefully planned escape required bribes and cooperation that allegedly cost him $2.5 million, according to Malcolm Beith’s book “Last Narco.”

“He’s a fascinating character,” Beith told CNN in an interview in 2013. “He’s the epitome of the problem. He’s a poor kid who had some family connections in the drug trade, no options, no real education … (and) becomes a big-time drug lord.”

The Robin Hood mystique

Even during his time in prison, there was very little doubt that he lived like a king, Beith said.

And, although he dislikes being called the “world’s most wanted drug lord,” it is an accurate description of Guzman, Beith said.

“There’s tons of other drug lords around. But I think the Sinaloa Cartel, given its growth, given its influence … I think it puts him on the top,” he said.

Guzman’s legend only grew during the 2001-2014 run from authorities. Stories proliferated of him helping the poor, or taking everyone’s cell phones at a restaurant while he ate and then footing everyone’s bill for their inconvenience.

“I think probably a lot of them have some truth,” Scott Stewart, vice president of analysis at Stratfor, told CNN last year. “He wants to try to foster that whole mystique.”

The idea that he was some sort of Robin Hood character helped Guzman as he tried to evade arrest, Stewart said.

“I think there’s a false narrative that says El Chapo is kind of this benevolent businessman,” he said.

Guzman is known for not hesitating to use force when he needs to, and for bribing officials who get in his way, Stewart said.

After he was arrested last year, Guzman’s legend, fueled in part by social media, continued to grow.

“Don’t get so worked up,” one person tweeted. “He’s going to escape again in a cart of dirty laundry.”