08/28/2015 (written by rkuckertz) – Experts have begun to speculate that the escape of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera on July 11, 2015 was motivated by concerns about his possible extradition to the United States. Sixteen days before his escape from the Altiplano federal prison in the State of Mexico, the United States government submitted a formal extradition order for Guzmán, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel. According to recent reports, Guzmán faced charges relating to murder and drug trafficking in at least seven U.S. federal courts. Prior to the United States’ formal request for extradition, Mexico’s former attorney general suggested earlier this year that Guzmán would never serve time in the United States, emphasizing Mexico’s sovereign right to penalize its own criminals. However, the United States proceeded with a formal request in late-June, which was still under review during the time of Guzmán’s escape.
Despite indications that Mexico intended to keep the notorious drug lord in Mexico, Juan Pablo Badillo Soto, Guzmán’s lawyer, claims that the threat of extradition to the United States may have been a motivating factor in Guzmán’s escape. According to Badillo Soto, the drug kingpin was skeptical about the Mexican government’s claim that he would remain in Mexico. Guzmán’s suspicions were validated three weeks after his July 11th escape when the Mexican attorney general announced that a judge had approved the pending extradition order to the United States.
Since the approval of the extradition order, Badillo Soto filed a request for injunction against the order which contended that Guzmán would not receive a fair trial in U.S. courts. Consequently, the order was suspended and has yet to be lifted. Badillo Soto believes that as a result of the suspension, Guzmán will not be extradited if he is recaptured.
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities announced in early August that they are offering a reward of $5 million for information that leads to Guzmán’s capture. The DEA’s San Diego office has set up a tip line and is working with its Mexican counterparts to locate Guzmán. Chuck Rosenberg, the acting leader of the DEA, acknowledges that while Guzmán could be anywhere, it is also likely that he is hiding out somewhere in Mexico. Rosenberg also posits that Guzmán may have returned to his native state of Sinaloa, where his family resides and where he has access to a large network of contacts.
Aside from analysts’ educated guesses, Guzmán’s location remains unknown. However, experts such as Rosenberg and Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez contend that the drug lord may still possess powerful connections in Mexico. Hernandez, who has covered drug trafficking for decades, asserts that Guzmán continued to run cartel operations from prison. Furthermore, Hernandez speculates that Guzmán also had connections on the outside that aided in his escape on July 11; someone on the outside helped build the 1-kilometer, lighted tunnel that enabled him to flee—something the Peña Nieto administration had pledged to prevent.
Indeed, in a TV interview with Peña Nieto in March 2014, the president himself stressed that a second escape would be “unforgivable” and that the Mexican government would do everything in its power to prevent it. Thus, some analysts such as former head of the Mexican intelligence agency, Guillermo Valdés, now see the Sinaloa cartel kingpin’s escape as a sign of the Peña Nieto’s government ineptitude, or even complicity with Guzmán. Indeed, analysts like Valdés and Hector Aguilar Camín suggest that Guzmán’s escape was a major catastrophe for the Mexican president. In a report published by Milenio, Aguilar writes that “El Chapo has made the Mexican government look ridiculous.”
At the same time, others have criticized Peña Nieto for his supposed indifference to the situation, given his apparent unwillingness to address the escape publicly. As InSight Crime analyst Jeremy McDermott points out, the Peña Nieto administration’s haphazard response to El Chapo’s escape was not the first of its kind. McDermott cites the government’s dispassionate reaction to the forced disappearance of the 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero last year as well as recent accusations of human rights abuses against the Mexican military. Thus, according to analysts such as McDermott and Aguilar, Guzmán’s escape has indeed caused major harm to the administration’s legitimacy.
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