Propelled by greed, desperation, and a sheer lust for power, the world's most notorious drug barons lead contradictory existences: brazenly snuffing out hundreds of lives while fearfully guarding their own. Though many have amassed sumptuous mansions and spectacular fortunes, they have little time to savor the fruits of their labor. Instead, surrounded by armies of bodyguards, they are constantly on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of law enforcement agents and jealous competitors.
Not long ago, the drug world’s aristocracy was largely dominated by Colombians, who imported thousands of tons of cocaine to the U.S. each year. But since the U.S.-supported crackdown on Bogota's drug barons, the action has largely shifted to Mexico, where local police and government officials have proved unable to stem a mounting tide of bloodshed among competing cartels. (15,273 people died here as a result of drug violence in 2010 alone.) Not content to limit themselves to cocaine, Mexico’s drug barons have also branched out into marijuana and methamphetamines, engaging in a brisk cross-border trade that earns them anywhere from 10 to 20 billion dollars every year. According to recent DEA estimates, one out of every five Mexican citizens is directly or tangentially affiliated with the rug trade, which explains why the government has been so powerless to stop it.
But in a world filled with thousands of wannabe gangsters, it takes a special blend of ruthlessness and savvy to get to the top of the heap. Meet the wealthiest -- and most wanted -- drug lords in the world.