The legal battle over El Chapo’s potential extradition

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán arrested on January 8, 2016 in Sinaloa. Photo: Alfredo Dominguez, La Jornada.

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán arrested on January 8, 2016 in Sinaloa. Photo: Alfredo Dominguez, La Jornada.

01/23/16 (written by kheinle) — Just two weeks after the January 8th arrest of the world’s most wanted drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, much has been speculated about how his case will unfold. This is the third time El Chapo, head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, has been captured, having twice before broken out of prison in Mexico, once in 2001 and again in 2015. After the most recent arrest, El Chapo returned to the maximum-security prison, Altiplano, from where he escaped in 2015 via an underground tunnel below his cell that stretched nearly a mile long leading away from prison grounds.

When news broke of El Chapo’s arrest in 2016, many took to social media, reacting with questions of how long until he would escape again and how long until another mishandling of a high profile case would embarrass the Peña Nieto administration. Although Mexican authorities reiterated Guzmán is securely detained, many have demanded on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border that El Chapo be extradited to the United States, not only because he faces charges in seven U.S. jurisdictions for organized crime, murder, and drug trafficking, but also to ensure the Mexican judiciary system does not permit another escape. Mexico’s justice system is perceived as being notoriously corrupt, a label it is working to overturn through its implementation of the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). While that system continues to be rolled out, however, critics are quick to note the government’s inability to securely hold El Chapo not once, but twice. For her part, Political Analyst Denise Dresser called for El Chapo’s immediate extradition to the United States “before his legal battle ensnares that possibility… Catching [El Chapo] again,” Dresser continued, “doesn’t mean recognizing or remedying or reforming. So many systems failed during the second escape that it’s too big to be circumstantial. The coincidence is too coincidental. That’s why he should be taken out of a prison, security, information, and criminal investigation systems that has repeatedly shown its weaknesses, even if the President and his team deny it.”

Although the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) did begin the extradition process on January 9, a day after El Chapo’s arrest, that could take anywhere from six months to a year or more. There is also the real possibility that extradition never happens if El Chapo’s legal team, led by Mexican Attorney Juan Pablo Badillo, succeeds in filing motions and injunctions (amparos) to suspend the requests for extradition. Doing so means El Chapo’s case must first be heard before a judge to determine his eligibility for extradition, a process that could be expedited if the Peña Nieto administration intervened, reports El País. However, opponents of Dresser’s calls for immediate extradition argue that doing so would reflect poorly on the Mexican government and its ability to function effectively. “It would be an error to extradite him now,” commented Eduardo Guerrero, a national security analyst and former intelligence analyst for President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). “It would show that Mexico is very vulnerable.” Nevertheless, Guerrero said, the PGR needs to tread carefully in El Chapo’s case to ensure there are no legal missteps.

While the legal battle continues, the three key U.S. jurisdictions pursuing his extradition—San Diego, Chicago, and New York City—continue to vie for position to have his case heard. According to a former high-ranking official in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Carl Pike, the case will likely go to the jurisdiction with “the highest chance of success.”

Sources:

“Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera Recaptured by Mexican Marines.” Justice in Mexico. January 8, 2016.

Beauregard, Luis Pablo. “México no extraditará a ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán en el corto plazo.” El País. January 10, 2016.

Bennett, Brian and Deborah Bonello. “Prosecutors in these seven U.S. courtrooms want ‘El Chapo.’” The Los Angeles Times. January 11, 2016.

Dresser, Denise. “El Chapo(teadero).” Reforma. January 11, 2016.

Translation by Izar-Shea, Ruby. “Mexico Drug War: Arrest of ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Doesn’t End Government Complicity with Criminals.” Mexico Voices. January 11, 2016.

“Mexico starts proceedings to extradite Guzman to US.” The Associated Press. January 11, 2016.

Press Release: Comunicado 020/16. “Como parte del procedimiento de extradición de Joaquín Guzmán Loera, la Procuraduría General de la República informa.” Procuraduría General de la República. January 11, 2016. 

The Associated Press. “Mexico Begins Legal Process Against Guzman’s Security Chief.” ABC News. January 14, 2016.

Servando “La Tuta” Gómez captured in Morelia, Michoacán

Servando "La Tuta" Gómez Martínez. Photo: CNN México.

Servando “La Tuta” Gómez Martínez. Photo: CNN México.

03/01/15 (written by cmolzahn) — Following an extended period of intelligence gathering, Mexico’s Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) on Friday, February 27 arrested Knights Templar Organization (Caballeros Templarios, KTO) leader Servando Gómez Martínez, “La Tuta,” at a house in Morelia, Michoacán, as reported by Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR). Arrested alongside Gómez were his girlfriend, María Antonieta Luna Ávalos (27), and seven of Gómez’s bodyguards. The same day, a separate operation in Mérida, Yucatán captured Gómez’s brother, Flavio Gómez Martínez, the alleged KTO financial chief.

Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong classified La Tuta’s capture as “the most important objective in the battle against organized crime, the detention of the most sought-after criminal in Mexico.” After La Tuta’s capture, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said that the investigation leading to the arrest began in mid-2014, when authorities were able to identify several people acting as intermediaries between Gómez and members of his family. In September, Rubido said, investigators were able to identify an individual within Gómez’s inner circle, a messenger who communicated orders from Gómez to his area chiefs. On February 2, investigators saw this man and several others enter a home in Morelia, where La Tuta was presumably celebrating his birthday. The same group was identified on February 27 at the same home, upon which Special Forces were notified, and La Tuta was detained as he left the house, without shots being fired. Gómez’s arrest makes ten leaders of major criminal organizations arrested during the past six years, with six of those falling under the Peña Nieto administration, with the highest-priority cartel leader remaining being Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Gómez, formerly an elementary school teacher, had climbed the ranks of the now-defunct La Familia Michoacana criminal organization and, following the disintegration of that group in 2010, joined Nazario Moreno, also currently in government custody, to form the KTO. The new organization retained the pseudo-religious pretext of its predecessor, while branching out into activities including extortion and infiltration into Michoacán’s mining and agricultural sectors. The group’s presence in Michoacán reached its pinnacle in early 2013, when vigilante groups (grupos de autodefensa) emerged in the Tierra Caliente region. Initially sparked by embattled lime producers, the groups decried the government’s failure to address the aggressive tactics of the KTO, which had drastically extended its reach across the state, including Mexico’s second largest port in Lázaro Cárdenas.

It is often the case that when the head of a criminal organization is captured, violence ensues as lower-ranking members fight among themselves for control of the territories of influence, particularly in cases of newer, less-disciplined groups. Some national security experts believe that this will be the case following the arrest of La Tuta, whose group at one time influenced local politics, controlled sectors of the economy, and otherwise made its presence known through violence, threats, and extortion in municipalities across Michoacán. Gerardo Rodríguez, national security and terrorism professor at the Collective of Analysis of Security with Democracy (Colectivo de Análisis de la Seguridad con Democracia, Casede), said that Gómez’s arrest was the “cherry on the cake” that the Peña Nieto administration needed to be able to draw the “low intensity war” in Michoacán to a close. Javier Oliva, a national security expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, said that Gómez’s capture is good news for the government, as well as the citizenry, and particularly for the electoral process in Michoacán. Meanwhile Jorge Chabat, a professor and researcher in the international studies division of the Center for Economic Investigation and Teaching (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, CIDE), agrees that the arrest of La Tuta is a positive development in the short term, but must not distract from the fact that there are long term, structural problems of public security that need to be addressed. He added his doubts about the likelihood of Michoacán’s security situation improving. While recognizing La Tuta’s arrest as an important step, he said that other criminal groups would likely attempt to fill the void. Gerardo Rodríguez foresees a process of fragmentation within the KTO, accompanied by a strengthening of the KTO’s principal rival, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG), as well as attempts by the Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo, CDG) and the Zetas to try to retake lost territory, including the port of Lázaro Cárdenas. Oliva pointed out that this process – particularly the increased activity of the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – had already begun during the time that La Tuta was occupied with avoiding the latest federal operation to capture him. Justice in Mexico Project’s David Shirk warns that it would be a mistake to conclude that the KTO is dismantled after Gómez’s arrest given the staying power it has exhibited thus far, with roots dating back to the 1980s and 1990s.

Sources:

Muedano, Marcos. “Expertos prevén que se desate disputa de crimen por la plaza.” El Universal. February 28, 2015.

Muedano, Marcos. “’La Tuta’: tuve que tomar el poder en Michoacán.” El Universal. February 28, 2015.

“Captura de La Tuta no reduce el narcotráfico, dicen expertos.” La Jornada. March 1, 2015.