A former member of accused Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s cartel testified Thursday that Guzman personally tortured and shot enemies.
Isaias Valdez Rios, a former security guard, personal aide and pilot for Guzman, told jurors in the alleged Sinaloa cartel leader’s drug conspiracy trial about violence that took place as the group competed with other cartels throughout Mexico.
Valdez, 39, joined the cartel in 2004 as a guard at one of the mountain encampments, working for about $100 a week after serving as a soldier in the Mexican special forces.
He testified that Guzman was amicable when they first met, asking him about his service and telling him to “be really on the lookout,” but said the cartel leader also had a violent side.
Valdez said much of the violence among the cartels was carried out by gunmen and hitmen, but he witnessed Guzman personally kill and torture enemies on at least two occasions.
Valdez testified that one day, cartel members approached Guzman with “a gift” of two members from a rival cartel, known as the Zetas, who they had captured and the leader ordered his crew to take the two men to a shed and start “heating them up” by beating them in order to get them to provide information.
Guzman was particularly upset because the men came from his home state of Sinaloa, so he considered them traitors, Valdez said.
After the interrogation in the shed, Guzman told his men to take the two rival cartel members to a secluded area nearby where he beat them with a large wooden stick or branch for at least three hours, leaving them “like ragged dolls” with all of their bones broken.
Valdez said Guzman then ordered an aide to dig a large hole and fill it with wood to create a bonfire. Guzman then shot the two men in the head with a rifle and ordered his crew to throw the bodies on the flames, where they burned all night before Guzman’s crew “ground up their bones.”
Valdez also described another incident in which a man arrived at Guzman’s camp bound, blindfolded and with his shirt “stuck to his skin” as he was covered with burn marks from a household iron and a cigarette lighter.
He testified that Guzman was upset that the man had arrived in such poor condition, asking “what am I going to do with him like that?” before interrogating him.
Valdez said he heard Guzman ask the man what happened to members of a rival cartel and then ordered him and others to dig a hole in a nearby graveyard and take the man there.
Guzman interrogated the man again at the graveyard and then shot him with a pistol and ordered the men to bury him as he was still gasping for air.
Valdez is set to take the stand again on Monday as Guzman’s trial is expected to near its conclusion.