NEW YORK – A turncoat witness against Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán testified Thursday that the alleged Mexican drug lord personally interrogated, tortured, and shot some of his enemies – and ordered one buried alive.
Isaias Valdez Rios, a former security guard, personal aide and pilot for Guzmán, gave jurors at his former boss's narcotics conspiracy trial a riveting view of the violence that convulsed Mexico in 2006 and 2007 as rival drug cartels vied for supremacy in smuggling narcotics to the United States and elsewhere.
Some of the battles involved teams of gunmen known as "pistoleros" and hit men called "sicarios." But Valdez, testifying through a Spanish interpreter, said Guzmán at least twice took a hands-on role in murderous violence.
Valdez recounted the day when he said other members of Guzmán's Sinaloa drug cartel called the boss with news of "a gift." The unexpected present, the witness said, was two men from the Zetas, a rival drug gang based further north in Mexico.
The men had been "picked up," the cartel's shorthand for captured, Valdez said. Like other such gifts, he said, the men were securely bound up when they were brought to Guzmán's Sinaloa campsite.
The boss ordered his crew to put the men in a wooden shed nearby and "start heating them up ... so they can start saying things ... revealing some information," Valdez told jurors. He described a savage beating.
Afterward, Valdez said, Guzmán told his men to take the tortured Zetas to a secluded area nearby. Next, he said, the boss asked for a large wooden stick or branch.
"He didn't request that to be affectionate with them, obviously," Valdez said.
He said Guzmán beat the men for as long as three hours, leaving them "like ragged dolls. All their bones were broken."
But the beating wasn't over, he said.
The boss next beat the wounded men with either his AR-15 or M-15 rifles, Valdez said. Guzmán was angry, he said, because the men had been born in Sinaloa, but went to work for a drug cartel elsewhere.
"You m----- f------, how is it possible that you're working for these people and betraying us?" Guzmán demanded, according to Valdez.
Valdez said a Guzmán aide nicknamed Bravo told him that the boss had ordered his men to dig a large hole, fill it with wood, and light a bonfire.
Guzmán next ordered his crew to drive the men on the back of all-terrain vehicles to the blaze, Valdez said. Then the boss chambered a bullet in one of his rifles, he said.
The wounded men "were seeing the bonfire, their faces looked like they were scared," the witness said.
Guzmán put his rifle to the head of one of the men, said "f--- your mother" and shot him, Valdez said. He did the same with the second man, the witness said.
The boss ordered his team to put the bodies into the fire, Valdez said.
"I don't want any bones to remain," Guzmán said, according to Valdez.
Guzmán's men added wood that kept the fire burning all night, Valdez said, and then "ground up the bones."
Guzmán, seated at the defense table in a dark suit and plaid tie, showed little emotion during the testimony. Valdez is the last in a series of former Guzmán associates to testify against their former boss.
The alleged drug lord is accused of smuggling tons of cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the United States. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. He is not charged with murder.
Valdez told jurors he saw his boss personally participate in a second execution. On this occasion, he testified, the target was a member of the rival Arellano Félix drug cartel.
The man arrived at Guzmán's camp, bound and blindfolded, courtesy of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, an ally and fellow leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Valdez said.
Guzmán was angry because the man had been badly beaten before delivery, Valdez said. His body was covered with burn marks from a household iron and a cigarette lighter, he said. His tee shirt was "stuck to his skin."
"What am I going to do with him like that?" Guzmán asked, according to Valdez. But the boss allegedly answered his own question. After ignoring the man and his injuries for two days, Valdez said, Guzmán started an interrogation.
"I heard him asking about what had happened to the members of that (rival) cartel," Valdez said.
Guzmán ordered Valdez and others from his group to dig a hole in a nearby graveyard, and to take the still-bound-and-blindfolded man there.
Guzmán interrogated the man again, Valdez said. As the man answered, the boss yelled m----- f-----, and then shot him with a .25 caliber pistol, Valdez said.
The man was still gasping for air when Guzmán ordered his men to bury him in the freshly dug grave, Valdez testified.
They obeyed, he said.
Valdez later told jurors he himself narrowly avoided being executed on Guzmán's orders.
He is expected to complete his testimony on Monday as the trial that began in November enters what could be its final week.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Witness: El Chapo cursed, tortured and shot enemies, ordered one buried alive