In El Chapo's birthplace, code of silence reigns

Code of silence reigns in 'El Chapo' birthplace
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    Code of silence reigns in 'El Chapo' birthplace


Code of silence reigns in 'El Chapo' birthplace 02:13

Story highlights

  • Despite populations, Badiraguato and Sinaloa state are some of Mexico's deadliest areas
  • The area has given birth to leaders of Juarez, Sinaloa, Beltran-Leyva and Guadalajara cartels
  • Mayor casts doubt on notion that cartel kingpins are Robin Hoods giving back to communities

Badiraguato, Mexico (CNN)It's the kind of place where everybody abides by a code of silence. If you say too much in Badiraguato, you may lose your life. Your family may be shot and killed.

This much is clear: If you stay silent, don't ask too many questions and mind your own business, you should be OK.
    It's the birthplace of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, so perhaps it's no surprise that the 3,700 people of this town in the mountains of the northern state of Sinaloa have kept their lips tight.
    Mexican media reported 15 homicides in and around Badiraguato last month. An additional seven people were killed in November. Five men were ambushed, shot and killed in June.
    Meanwhile, according to numbers from the Mexican government, drug violence has made Sinaloa, with its 633 murders in 2015, the fifth-deadliest Mexican state. Yet, with 2.8 million people, it's only the 16th-most populous of Mexico's 32 states.
    Badiraguato is also the gateway to the so-called Golden Triangle, an area where the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango meet and, more importantly for law enforcement, where marijuana and poppy production thrive.

    Cradle of kingpins

    More than anything, Badiraguato, which takes its name from the Tarascan word meaning "creek of many mountains," is known for being the birthplace of a long list of drug traffickers, none more infamous than Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel and, until his January 8 capture in Los Mochis, the most wanted drug lord in the world.
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      Rolling Stone's ethical dilemma with El Chapo story


    Rolling Stone's ethical dilemma with El Chapo story 05:25
    Guzman was born in the Badiraguato village of La Tuna, which means "the prickly pear." He says as much on a video provided to Kate del Castillo and Sean Penn, which appeared on Rolling Stone magazine's website with an article recounting a meeting between the actors and the drug lord.
    Guzman also told Penn that he grew up so poor, he would sell oranges and soft drinks, and that his mother still lives on the ranch where he grew up. He has a loving relationship with her, he said.
    The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says Guzman was born in 1954. Interpol says he was born on Christmas Day of that year. Others say the capo was born in 1957.
    El Chapo told Penn that his family grew corn and beans at their ranch. Sinaloa is one of the most fertile states in Mexico. It produces about 30% of the food Mexico consumes.
    A lack of job opportunities in this fertile land pushes many like El Chapo to get involved in illegal but highly profitable crops like marijuana and poppies, he told the actor.
    The fact that he was caught in Los Mochis, on the Sinaloa coast, suggests that Guzman felt safe as a fugitive in his home state. In July, he escaped from the Altiplano maximum-security prison via a 33-foot-deep tunnel that connected his cell's shower stall to freedom. He had been previously caught in February 2014 in Mazatlán, a Sinaloa beach resort.

    Reticence rules

    Among only a handful of people in Badiraguato willing to speak to CNN is Father Jesus Rafael Limon, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Church. He arrived six months ago and says he has focused only on tending to the spiritual needs of his parishioners.
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      'El Chapo's' infatuation with actress Kate del Castillo


    'El Chapo's' infatuation with actress Kate del Castillo 02:27
    "One comes here with the purpose of bringing peace. Bringing God and God's presence is always pleasant, especially for families who are crying and suffering, families who feel discouraged for whatever reason," he said.
    Not far from his church, you can see the name of Badiraguato spelled out in white letters on a hill overlooking the town, a modest attempt to replicate that famous sign in Hollywood, California.
    "A lot of things are said about Badiraguato," the priest said, "but once you get to really know its people, you realize that they have very good hearts."
    Not only Badiraguato, but the entire state of Sinaloa is the cradle of some of the world's most powerful drug traffickers, Mexican author and columnist Jose Reveles said.
    "(Juarez cartel boss) Amado Carrillo (Fuentes) was born in Sinaloa, the Beltrán Leyva brothers (leaders of the eponymous cartel in central Mexico) were also born in Sinaloa. This is a state that has produced some of the most important and relevant chiefs of drug trafficking organizations," he said.
    Add to that list Rafael Caro Quintero, the fugitive founder of the now defunct Guadalajara cartel boss, and Sinaloa cartel leaders Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia, Juan José "El Azul" Esparragoza Moreno and the now deceased Ignacio Coronel Villarreal.
    Together, the capos have supplied most of the marijuana, cocaine and heroin Americans have consumed in the last three decades, taking by storm the role Colombians once had.

    Myth of drug trafficking money?

    Over the years, Joaquin Guzman has gained a Robin Hood-like reputation in his birthplace and its surrounding areas. But Badiraguato Mayor Mario Valenzuela told Excelsior, a Mexican newspaper, that the tales of drug lords giving back to the communities that reared them are overplayed.
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      Lynch: El Chapo should be brought to justice in U.S.


    Lynch: El Chapo should be brought to justice in U.S. 03:57
    "It's a myth that they have created, saying that drug traffickers have invested here in Badiraguato," the mayor said. "I don't see a single building to create jobs. I don't see any public works, an athletic court, a shed, sewer system, school, water plant, house or hospital that you can say was built with drug trafficking money or with resources from drug traffickers."
    Besides the nearly 4,000 residents of Badiraguato, 30,000 people live in rural areas outside the city, deep in the western Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range.
    Residents who did not want to be identified said that's where things happen; things that nobody wants to talk about; things that prudence and a survival instinct have kept hidden from law enforcement and the rest of the world for generations.
    Even when word of cartel dealings does escape this rugged terrain, specifics generally remain elusive. For instance, eight alleged Sinaloa cartel hit men died in a December ambush near La Tuna.
    As is often the case, details are sketchy. They may never be known.