MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Mexican authorities have started the extradition process that would eventually send the nation’s most notorious drug kingpin, Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera, to the United States where he is wanted on a bevy of charges, but the process could take over a year.
With a simple post through his official Twitter account, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto informed the nation of the capture of ‘El Chapo.’
“Mission accomplished: I want to inform my fellow Mexicans that Joaquín Guzmán Loera has been detained,” Peña Nieto posted in the early morning hours of January 8.
Guzmán escaped from a high-security prison near the southern city of Toluca in July of 2015, 17 months after being paraded by the Mexican government as its most prized capture.
That same government was then ridiculed and embarrassed after the escape of the world’s wealthiest narcotrafficker, called “the godfather of the drug world” by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and is said to have been even more powerful and influential than legendary Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar at one time.
After several attempts to capture Guzmán in late 2015 failed as the suspect evaded security forces and fled just seconds before their arrival, he was finally captured shortly after a raid on a home in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Guzmán’s home state in northern Mexico.
Units of the Mexican Navy gathered intelligence about Guzmán’s whereabouts and honed in on the home. After weeks of surveillance, the Mexican Marines launched a raid at around 4 o’clock in the morning on the home and a shootout ensued; five members of Guzmán’s security detail were killed while several others were detained and one Marine was injured in the firefight.
As the two sides traded gunfire, Guzmán and his right-hand-man Óscar Gastélum Aguilar escaped through a tunnel that led from a bedroom closet mirror to the storm drainage system of Los Mochis. The two then stole a car, drove for a short distance and stole another car.
As they continued driving, security forces set up several rings of police checkpoints around the city, one of which stopped the car in which the two were traveling and both men were arrested some 90 minutes after the raid began. They were then taken to a cheap motel on the edge of Los Mochis in order not to draw more attention.
When reinforcements arrived, the two men were then taken to the city airport and flown to Mexico City. Shortly afterward, Guzmán surely felt a sense of déjà vu as he was presented to the media yet again and returned to El Altiplano, the prison he escaped from in July.
In the aftermath, it was revealed that Guzmán had a meeting with U.S. actor Sean Penn that culminated in an interview for Rolling Stone magazine and that he also met with Mexican soap opera actress Kate del Castillo in the interest of making a film about his life. His apparent obsession with the actress and the need to communicate and meet in person with her despite the danger involved led to his capture as intelligence agencies were intently watching the developments.
Both meetings led Mexican security forces (who were tracing phone calls and messages sent about the meetings) to a remote ranch near Tamazula de Victoria, a small town in the Durango State near the rugged border with Sinaloa in the Sierra Madre mountains. Near the ranch (and again in Los Mochis), security forces attempted the aforementioned failed captures but were foiled because Guzmán escaped once and was accompanied by a small child the second time; security officials said he used his personal chef’s daughter as a human shield.
Despite the failure of the previous attempts to capture him, they did serve in ‘tightening the noose’ by zeroing in on Guzmán’s location and reducing his circle of support. According to Mexican authorities, it was only a matter of time until he was surrounded and captured.
Many analysts in Mexico warned that the government of Peña Nieto would seem weak and ineffectual in allowing Guzmán’s extradition to the United States. This decision, they say, would show that the administration does not feel it is strong and competent enough to try and punish the druglord. On the other hand, another escape would give the deathblow to Peña Nieto’s credibility, which suffered greatly after Guzmán escaped last year.
As such, members of the Agency of Criminal Investigations, working under the Mexican branch of Interpol, have given the notification that the extradition proceedings have begun.
Guzmán is wanted north of the border by at least six different US States (Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas have open cases) on grave charges related to drug trafficking, money laundering, organized crime and murder, among others, and while Peña Nieto has made the decision to extradite him, he does not have the power to issue an executive order, according to José Manuel Merino, the head of the Attorney General’s International Procedures unit.
Guzmán, as expected, immediately filed several injunctions through his high-paid legal team that seeks to stop the process, which first must pass through the Attorney General’s Office and then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Arely Gómez González, the current Attorney General, explained that the series of legal decisions and subsequent appeals by the defendant could prolong the extradition process. She said that that this process could last at least a year and as long as five years, and her words were echoed by Merino in predicting how long the process would last. The last major extradition of a druglord to the US, which was of Edgar “La Barbie” Valdés Villarreal of the Beltrán-Leyva cartel, took five years and two months (August 2010-October 2015).
The last time Guzmán was arrested, the then-Attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam said that the druglord would serve his sentences in Mexico before being extradited to the United States “some 300 or 400 years later.” Peña Nieto and his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) as a whole were also against extradition, but they have now changed their stance following another escape-and-capture.
Guzmán is not planning on being extradited without a fight, however, as demonstrated by the early use of legal injunctions.
His lawyer, Juan Pablo Badillo, explained his stance on the issue: “Japan, Israel, France, England and countless others, will not extradite their nationals. Why does our Mexico have to sell off their citizens like they were a barrel of devalued oil?”