Catching Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Gúzman late last month was a coup for Mexican authorities, who were quick to credit the assistance of the United States. Indeed, it is a high point of cooperation between the two nations’ counternarcotics agencies.
Gúzman’s arrest also was a victory for Mexican President Enríque Peña Nieto, whose commitment to fighting Mexico’s drug cartels had been subject to question in some quarters. As for that conflict, it is nothing less than a war, one whose turf battles and firefights with authorities have claimed some 80,000 lives in the last seven years.
Gúzman, who ran the Sinaloa cartel, isn’t the only Mexican drug lord arrested in recent months. Another is Miguel Treviño Morales, who leads the Los Zetas gang, one of Sinaloa’s rivals.
Mexican and U.S. officials are under no illusions that the war is over. Rather, other members in these and other gangs will vie for leadership and possibly be more ruthless than their predecessors while smuggling cocaine, marijuana and heroin into the United States. Gúzman’s Sinaloa cartel is said to be responsible for one-fourth of the illegal drugs consumed in the United States and as much as 80 percent in Chicago, which has declared him its first Public Enemy No. 1 since Al Capone.
Understandably but unfortunately, Mexico has little interest in extraditing Gúzman to the United States, where he is wanted both by federal authorities and by a handful of states. He’s already escaped from a Mexican maximum-security prison — in 2001 — and even while there, he continued to run his cartel.
Despite the Mexican government’s efforts, corruption remains rampant in the judiciary and law enforcement, and assurances of Gúzman’s lengthy incarceration mean little.
He wouldn’t likely escape from a U.S. prison, however. Colombian drug lords learned that a generation ago, and their extradition to the United States and prosecution here helped undermine both the Medellín and Cali cartels. Their experiences gave birth to the saying of Colombian drug lords: “Better to be in a grave in Colombia than in a prison cell in the United States.”
In this country, Gúzman not only would find running his cartel considerably more difficult — which could, at least for a while, disrupt the flow of illegal drugs into this country — he also could forget about escaping.
That is why his lawyers were so quick after his arrest to file motions blocking extradition.