Monday, February 24, 2014

U.S. to Seek Extradition of Drug Capo “El Chapo”

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán is behind bars in a Mexican prison days after he was apprehended in a predawn raid.  How long he will remain in his native homeland is unknown as U.S. prosecutors and politicians have expressed their desire to see the Sinaloa drug cartel leader extradited north of the border.

“We plan to seek his extradition,” said Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the US attorney's office in Brooklyn.

“This guy, he ran a global enterprise, so he’s big. He’s as big as Pablo Escobar,” Nardoza said to TIME magazine. “He may wind up being charged in Mexico first. We don’t know what the time line is and how exactly this is going to proceed … He’s facing a lot of time in prison based on the charges we’ve brought against him.”

Prosecutors in New York may have to compete with their counterparts in Chicago where investigators in 2013 named Guzmán as “Public Enemy No. 1.”

“I think we have the strongest case,” Jack Riley, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration n Chicago, said on Saturday. “I fully intend for us to have him tried here.”

In addition, Rep. Mike McCaul also advocated for the extradition of Guzmán, which he claims as necessary due to corruption in Mexico and Guzmán’s successful prison escape in 2001.

“This is the largest, biggest drug lord we’ve ever seen in the world,” the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said yesterday.  “I would ask that the Mexicans consider extraditing him to the United States, where he would be put into a super-max prison under tight security, where he cannot escape”.

An obstacle to a possible extradition of Guzmán is that he faces indictments from at least seven U.S. federal district courts on charges related to his leadership of the violent Sinaloa cartel. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder highlighted how “(we) were able to work effectively with Mexico through the cooperative relationship that U.S. law-enforcement agencies have with their Mexican counterparts.”  Yet it’s unknown if Holder would press for extradition to San Diego, Texas, Brooklyn or other areas where “El Chapo” could stand trial.

In addition, Mexican law enforcement officials might be reluctant to extradite Guzmán since he faces charges in Mexico.  Thus far, the Mexican government has yet to respond to any request for extradition though Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Eduardo Medina Mora mentioned, “it is important that (Guzmán) first face the charges against him in Mexico’s courts.”

Ultimately the question of whether to go through with extradition or not could be a political, not judicial, decision:
George Grayson, a professor at the College of William and Mary who studies Mexico's cartels, said domestic politics in Mexico are likely to play a significant role in how Mexico decides Guzman's legal future.
"It's going to be a completely political decision," Grayson said. "It's going to be framed by how does this help ... in next year's congressional elections."

Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, has taken a starkly different approach to fighting the violent drug cartels than his predecessor, Felipe Calderon.
Calderon routinely touted his administration's fight against the criminal gangs and sent thousands of police and military troops to various hot spots around the country to take them on. But Pena Nieto, who took office in late 2012, has been more muted on the criminal enterprises, instead championing other domestic concerns, including the economy and education.
Since escaping from prison in 2001, Guzman led the Sinaloa Cartel to become one of Mexico's most powerful and violent drug gangs.  His personal fortune is estimated to be at more than $1 billion and he was named among the "world’s most powerful people" by Forbes magazine.

Some 80,000 people in the last seven years are estimated to have died due to drug-related violence in Mexico.

Video Source– Reuters via YouTube

Online Sources – Washington Post; The Guardian; San Jose Mercury News; TIME; The Latin Americanist; Chicago Sun-Times

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