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El Chapo’s Surprise Prison Transfer Fuels Speculation About Extradition

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Sylvia Longmire IHSBy Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán dominated the day’s news cycle once more on May 7, 2016. This time, however, it wasn’t because he had been captured or had (once again) escaped a maximum security Mexican prison. Guzmán had been transferred from the very prison he had escaped from in July 2015 in Altiplano to a much less secure facility in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, prompting speculation that his much-awaited extradition to the U.S. might be imminent.

The Mexican government made a statement indicating they transferred Guzmán due to renovations being performed on the Altiplano prison. However, there was no information available about other prisoners being transferred out of Altiplano, and the Mexican government is notorious for being less than forthcoming about the fate of El Chapo.

El Chapo’s Extradition Timeline

After Guzmán’s recapture in January 2016, his attorneys initially claimed they would fight his extradition to the U.S. with every weapon in their arsenal. The Mexican government, despite previous refusals to entertain the notion of extraditing Guzmán, is eager this time around to hand Guzmán over to U.S. authorities after his embarrassing prison break last summer. However, Mexican government officials conceded that the efforts of his attorneys, combined with bureaucratic red tape, could delay his extradition by years.

El Chapo extradition
‘El Chapo’ after recent recapture. Credit: Aristegui Noticias/Xinhua via Forbes

In the meantime, prison officials made it their priority—in parallel with that of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto—to ensure El Chapo didn’t escape again. They moved him to a different cell every day, woke him every two hours, left the lights on continuously, and allegedly maintained him in “subhuman conditions,” according to his wife and attorney. In a strange twist, Guzman’s people announced to the press in March 2016 that he wanted to speed up his extradition rather than continue to fight it, largely due to the unsustainable conditions he felt he was being subjected to in Altiplano.

According to reports about the unexpected prison transfer, U.S. officials have told the media that the U.S. government has been preparing for Guzmán’s transfer for months and have just been hammering out the security details. Once the extradition is complete, he will be tried in federal court in Brooklyn, NY, with the case hinging largely on information garnered by the Department of Homeland Security. Those same reports, however, also indicated Guzmán’s lawyers were claiming they knew nothing about the transfer, and it’s likely El Chapo only found out about it right before it happened. Guzmán’s lead attorney, Jose Refugio Rodriguez, said his client’s extradition is not imminent and will not occur “for some time.”

How Long Will El Chapo Stay at Low-Security Prison?

Ultimately, the only way to determine the real reason for Guzmán’s prison transfer is to wait and see what happens. Of concern to security officials is the length of time the Mexican government plans to keep Guzmán in the lower-security Ciudad Juárez facility. Of course, it is more difficult for him to escape from a place he and his people may be unfamiliar with, and all prison breaks take time to plan. If indeed the transfer was routine and security upgrades are being made at Altiplano, those could take some time to complete. And if Guzmán’s stay in Ciudad Juárez will be very short because of imminent under-the-radar extradition proceedings, then there is no doubt El Chapo will once again dominate the U.S. news cycle in short order.

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