In the Echo Chamber: Two Controversial Figures and Their Dwellings Exposed


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Last Saturday saw two contentious and powerful figures of geopolitical importance find their security dramatically upended.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Mexican drug lord, was arrested by authorities, and Ukrainian former President Viktor Yanukovych, reportedly fled from his post.

These events, and figures, are largely unrelated, however, simultaneous media coverage quickly disseminated about both, and drew on similar themes in their conclusions. A notable component of the coverage investigates the two places they dwelled in before their abrupt parting: the 340-acre estate in Mezhyhirya, outside capital Kiev, and the 12-story Miramar condominium in Mazatlan, a Pacific Coast city.

Their dwellings were supposed to be secretive. Yanukovych’s Ukrainian palace was forbidden from public access–apparently so much so that an aerial view of it did not turn up on Google Maps. Guzman was attempting to hide out in the condo where he was tracked, and his arrest came after thirteen years of living elusively after escaping from prison.

In the wintry setting under grey skies, Ukrainian visitors entered Yanukovych’s former estate through newly opened security gates. Bundled in bulky coats, they strolled throughout its polished grounds lined with bare deciduous trees, verdant pines, and manicured shrubs, or played around on a golf course that’s apparently half the size of the country of Monaco.

Opulence is omnipresent outside, with a floating private yacht restaurant, intricately carved stone or metallic monuments, and monogrammed golden golf putters that read “Yanukovych”–not to mention inside the mansion home, which features a lake-view private hot tub, tremendous chandeliers, and toilet bowls accessorized by golden ornaments. A private palace suddenly transformed into a public tourist attraction, visitors took the chance to snap shots of Yanukovych’s private zoo, with its ostriches, deer, bear, and wild boars.

Though over in the North American continent, in a long-known touristic city on the Mexican Pacific Coast where Joaquin Guzman was caught by Mexican authorities, there was no sign of one of those private zoos you may hear of, or envision, drug lords maintaining. Actually, nothing about Guzman’s temporary dwelling spot seems decadent at all.

The Miramar of Mazatlan is a pretty average-looking vacation condo on the inside and out. Press photos, such as from The New York Times or AFP, portray its pale yellow exterior situated on a city street under clear blue skies as two-way traffic passes by. Palm trees are present and a few people are gathered around, dressed in short sleeves, shorts, or sun-blocking hats. Though the Times reported that bystanders came by and many took pictures, no images that are publicly available really show a huge crowd gathering outside.

Room 401, where Guzman checked in, also seems to be fairly ordinary, in terms of layout and furniture–just messy, probably from the bust. Shots show a rummaged bed with disheveled sheets below a muddle of clothing, suitcases, and toiletries, then a pair of rumpled blue jeans on a red cushion. The drug lord’s Miramar kitchen settings are also documented, portraying a blue bucket full of uncut fruits and vegetables, red Hershey’s syrup, pans, water bottles, and what looks like a bottle of dark liquor–no luxuries, no drugs.

While the still images seem strangely sparse, watching uploaded videos of people exploring the hotel’s grounds, hallways, and room 401 barely illustrate anything more. Actually, even the set of pictures that the Miramar uses to advertise the hotel on its website looks practically the same as those in the news–minus the photo-snapping people outside or mess of belongings throughout Guzman’s rooms. Maybe he chose the Miramar as an inconspicuous place to carry out subtle living practices.

Meanwhile, new videos seem to be mining more and more into the components of Yanukovych’s lavish Ukrainian residence, their footage presenting visitors scouting out tennis courts, reporters poking a stuffed dead pet cat on an elegant couch, fancy pool tables, shiny white pianos, ancient-ruin simulacra sets, and so on. Not only that, but Yanukovych had another, even bigger, mansion being built by the Black Sea in old-growth forest that its workers had to abandon because of the leader’s ouster.

Perhaps a secret estate, or two, of Guzman’s will surface at some point.

Naturally, in the greater scheme, concerns have developed about what changes may entail from Yanukovych’s flight and Guzman’s arrest, and how they will ultimately affect the public. Many questions are now posed about how Ukraine’s political future will transform, and whether Guzman’s arrest will have a notable affect on the drug cartel systems. Though many uncertainties prevail, the mysterious living situations of these two men maintained–being elusively transient or corruptly indulgent–have been exposed to comparison in the eyes of the world.