MEXICO CITY — The U.S. Treasury Department called Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman "the world's most powerful drug trafficker" on Tuesday.
The fugitive Sinaloa cartel leader also got a boost from Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo, who said she believed in Guzman more than in the government.
It was the latest in an odd series of accolades for Guzman, who was included this year on the Forbes list of the world's richest people, with an estimated fortune of $1 billion.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City issued a statement saying three of Guzman's alleged associates had been hit with sanctions under the drug Kingpin Act, which prohibits people in the U.S. from conducting businesses with them and freezes their U.S. assets. The two Mexican men and a Colombian allegedly aided Guzman's trafficking operations.
The statement quoted Adam J. Szubin, director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, as saying the move "marks the fourth time in the past year that OFAC has targeted and exposed the support structures of the organization led by Chapo Guzman, the world's most powerful drug trafficker."
Guzman, who escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001 in a laundry truck and has a $7 million bounty on his head, has long been recognized as Mexico's most powerful drug capo. Authorities say his Sinaloa cartel has recently been expanding abroad, building international operations in Central and South America and the Pacific.
Del Castillo, who played a female drug trafficker in the TV series "La Reina del Sur" ("Queen of the South"), offered grudging praise for Guzman in a posting Tuesday on the social media site Twextra, linked to her Twitter account.
"Today, I believe more in El Chapo Guzman than in the governments who hide truths from me," she wrote.
The actress did not specify whether she was referring to the Mexican government, or what she meant when she accused "governments" of "hiding the cures for cancer, AIDS, etc. for their own benefit and enrichment."
Del Castillo's publicist, Marianne Sauvage, confirmed in an email to The Associated Press that the actress wrote the posting, and that the account belonged to Del Castillo.
The 800-word posting ended with an impassioned plea to Guzman:
"Mr. Chapo, wouldn't it be great if you started trafficking with positive things? With cures for diseases, with food for street children, with alcohol for old people's homes so they spend their final days doing whatever they like, trafficking with corrupt politicians and not with women and children who wind up as slaves?"
"Go ahead, dare to, sir, you would be the hero of heroes, let's traffick with love, you know how," the message concluded.
Like late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Guzman has a reputation as a protector of his heartland in Sinaloa, a rugged region that the state still struggles to penetrate, where news of approaching of strangers quickly reaches him and his followers.
"Chapo has allegedly paid for schools, hospitals, and other public projects," his biographer Malcolm Beith told Reuters.
"Second, he's just about the only source of employment in parts of Sinaloa. And he has provided security of a sort. He's been known to apprehend small-time crooks or thugs when they got out of hand. Lastly, the name Chapo pretty much puts the fear of God into people."
With locals watching his back, Guzman has always had just enough warning to get away at the last minute. The exception was when soldiers captured him in Guatemala in June 1993.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.