By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Unbeknownst to even his attorneys, notorious Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán was put on a plane under the cover of night and flown from Mexico to New York on the night of Jan. 19.
Guzmán, through his attorneys, had been repeatedly filing appeals to fight extradition, although based on decisions by the Mexican government, his extradition was becoming increasingly likely. However, the announcement by the Mexican government was completely unexpected, and now all eyes are on the Federal District Court of Brooklyn to see how they will handle Guzmán’s case.
El Chapo Embarrassed Mexican Officials for Years
El Chapo has been a source of frustration and embarrassment for the Mexican government for decades. He was first apprehended by authorities in Guatemala in 1993, then escaped from a Mexican high-security prison in 2001. He was a fugitive for thirteen years until he was found in a Mazatlan residence in 2014. Only sixteen months later, he escaped from prison again in July 2015 through an elaborate tunnel system, much to the humiliation of the Peña Nieto administration which assured he would never escape again. Guzmán’s final arrest came in January 2016 after an intense manhunt in his home state of Sinaloa.
After Guzman’s 2014 arrest and detention, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto fought loud calls for his extradition, assuring the country—and U.S. authorities—that they could keep him behind bars and effectively prosecute him. Those calls were renewed after his third arrest, and extradition proceedings began soon afterwards. However, Guzmán’s legal team immediately began filing appeals to defer the process as long as possible.
El Chapo Tortured?
Then cracks began to show in El Chapo’s resolve to remain in prison in Mexico. Because of the heightened requirement for transparency, government officials went to extremes to prevent another escape attempt, waking Guzmán every two hours, keeping the lights on in his cell at all times, and transferring him every day. His wife started filing complaints that he was being tortured by guards and that his human rights were being violated. Guzmán was eventually transferred to a medium security prison in Cuidad Juárez while security upgrades were supposedly being made at his former prison, provoking rumors that he was set to be extradited across the nearby border to El Paso, Texas.
Also by Sylvia Longmire: Drug and Human Trafficking: Bribery Risk Rises in US and Mexico
When that didn’t happen, all talk of El Chapo’s extradition to the U.S. being imminent died down. So when news broke the night of January 19 that he was on a plane to New York, most were caught off-guard. According to The New York Times, Guzmán’s attorney knew nothing of the transfer, and was actually waiting to see his client when the prison was locked down for two hours. An American law enforcement official said U.S. authorities had not known the Mexicans were about to hand over Guzmán until late Thursday afternoon. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the case, said the “guesstimate” was that the timing of the extradition was “politically motivated.”
U.S. authorities chose the Federal District of Brooklyn to prosecute Guzmán because they had the strongest case likely to bring the greatest punishment. Robert L. Capers, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, added that the sister cases in Texas, California, Illinois and elsewhere would, for the moment, remain open. In its memo issued on January 20, Capers’s office said it would seek a criminal forfeiture of $14 billion against Guzmán and announced it planned to call dozens of witnesses who would testify about the staggering scope of the drug lord’s criminal enterprise: its multiple-ton shipments of drugs in trucks, planes, yachts, fishing vessels, container ships and submersibles as well as its numerous killings of witnesses, law enforcement agents, public officials and rival cartel members.