Mexico Extradites ‘El Chapo,’ Spurs Debate

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Mexico’s government extradited legendary kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to the United States just hours before Donald Trump’s inauguration, in a move that is spurring debate about what message the Mexican government is trying to send to the incoming president. 

Mexican authorities announced the extradition in a communique issued on the afternoon of January 19, less than 24 hours before Trump was to be sworn in as the 45th US President. 

It came a day after a high court denied hearing an injunction to keep the extradition at bay for several more months. Guzmán and his lawyers had filed numerous injunctions that argued that the extradition was against the Mexican constitution.

For a time this tactic worked for Guzmán, even providing his team enough time to build a tunnel and escape a maximum-security prison for a second time in his criminal career in 2015, after he was captured in 2014. The first time came in 2001, when he allegedly made his way out the front door in a laundry cart.

Guzmán was captured again in January 2016, following a massive manhunt which included using information from the surveillance of actor Sean Penn who, along with the Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, interviewed Guzmán in his jungle hideout for Rolling Stone magazine while he was on the run between stints in prison.

InSight Crime Analysis 

The timing of the extradition is curious and sparked a raucous debate over what message Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto intended to send to the incoming US president.

For some, such as crime analyst Alejandro Hope, it was a clear snub. 

“They decided not to give Trump an early victory with the extradition of Chapo,” he wrote on Twitter. “I applaud.”

Peña Nieto and Trump famously met in Mexico City in August 2016, during the US presidential campaign, after which each tried to spin their own narrative: Trump gave a blistering anti-immigrant speech in Arizona, which included his by then patented promise to build wall along the border that he said Mexico would pay for; Peña Nieto tweeted “there is no way Mexico is paying for the wall.”

The extradition of Guzmán presented the Mexican president with a dilemma. If he had waited to do it during a Trump administration, it would have surely provided the incoming president with a political victory. And for some Mexico-watchers, such as journalist and author Ioan Grillo, the extradition was exactly that: “Mexico extradites Chapo Guzmán to the United States,” he wrote. “READ – Trying to show the Trump government, it is cooperating on security.”

To be sure, Trump and his incoming cabinet appear ready to apply a more blunt and forceful approach as it relates to the war on drugs. But, in a way, the extradition might backfire on Peña Nieto. Guzmán was known to use his information to attack his enemies. It’s not clear if he will be willing to do the same now that he is in the United States. But if Trump is seeking leverage on his Mexican political counterparts in his negotiations about who is paying for the wall, this is definitely a place to start. With close to 30 years in the drug business, Chapo has more kompromat than all the other extradited narcos combined.

Of course, it is possible that the decision was not political but opportunistic. The Peña Nieto administration had to act quickly before Guzmán’s lawyers filed yet another injunction. Along these lines, one of Guzmán’s lawyers told Aristegui Noticias they were surprised by the swift action. 

Guzmán’s extradition is not the end of the Sinaloa Cartel and will unlikely have any lasting impact on the criminal dynamic in Mexico. Even before he was captured for the second time in 2014, his power within the cartel was thought to be waning.

His successors have struggled to keep the vast criminal organization intact. Various splinter groups are controlled by Guzmán’s children and some of his former allies, but the largest faction remains under the firm control of Guzmán’s longtime counterpart Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. 

Guzmán has been indicted in seven different US federal court districts, but he is expected to face trial in Brooklyn in the Eastern District of New York.  

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