As the world prepared to witness Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Mexican government decided that Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, a commanding official of the Sinaloa Federation, would be extradited to the United States. Though more breaking news about this extradition is bound to overwhelm the media approaching his upcoming court date, videos of Mexicans protesting the gasolinazo are still being livestreamed as one of the country’s most notorious narcolords awaits to fulfill the narco fear invested in the saying: “preferimos una tumba en (Latin American country) a una cárcel en los Estados Unidos”.
The timing of El Chapo’s extradition coincided not only with the Mexican president’s severe loss of legitimacy, but also with the inauguration of the president who has criminalized and threatened Mexico’s national dignity. Arrested a little over a year ago, the fate of this narcolord was intended to be dependent on the timing of decisions made by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration because his actions had been fueling the social discontent discrediting Peña Nieto’s authority. The Mexican president who shamelessly invited the then Republican presidential candidate that demoralized his nation’s citizens is now desperate for any example of justice he can manipulate, with the intention of polishing his image in the midst of national chaos and bilateral hostility.
Three weeks ago marked a year since Mexico’s manhunt for Joaquin Guzman Loera, notoriously known as “El Chapo,” ended with his third capture whose operation drew applause, but also fierce criticism. For countries suffering from merciless drug wars, the arrest, extradition, and even murder of a high-profile drug trafficker is a way for governments to earn the restoration of civil trust from their afflicted constituencies. When Pablo Escobar Gaviria was killed in December of 1993, Colombian President Cesar Gaviria was able to recover some citizen support he lost due to his management of the narco-crisis. While national security officials were waiting for the outcome of this judicial process, the value of this extradition was diminishing because this act had not immediately taken place after El Chapo’s third capture. For many afflicted by this man’s regional control, El Chapo’s presence in a North American cell had long been awaited. Although this specific extradition was an attempt to sway and appeal to the new US presidential administration, it will most likely only be utilized by Trump to boast the superiority he feels towards his southern neighbor since it has not been enough to replace his demand for border construction recompensation.
Confining El Chapo to a cell in the border-city of Ciudad Juarez has only encouraged rival factions to challenge his control of profitable drug trafficking routes, clashing with the rise of another regional cartel. With his extradition, there is the possibility that other cartels may be more motivated to assault and weaken the Sinaloa Cartel, inciting more violence and prolonging the war on drugs.
President Enrique Peña Nieto’s announcement of El Chapo’s second arrest in February, 2014 sought to make the statement that it is the PRI and not the PAN, the political party that declared Mexico’s war on drugs, that will produce greater results with less blood spilled. However, the narcolord’s astonishing second escape from his prison in July of 2015 caused President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration to be heavily scrutinized for the shocking corruption that permitted the construction of the tunnel directly connected to El Chapo’s cell. Announcing the third arrest of the Sinaloan capo and will to oversee his extradition, unfortunately, became another sensational meme that mocked the presentation of diluted justice.
The start of the new year in Mexico consisted of Mexicans taking over gas stations and challenging the governmental order that oversaw its elected officials approve a salary raise for legislators. As Enrique Pena Nieto is being heavily pressured to resign, what must be anticipated is how the current administration is intending to value the extradition of the infamous drug lord now unable to govern or escape within Mexico. What must also be considered is how the current attempt to destabilize the hierarchy of El Chapo’s cartel is either intentionally or unintentionally strengthening the rise of another violent and dangerous cartel: Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG).
At the end of September of this past year, the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense, which manages the country’s Army and Air Forces, essentially declared a war on the Sinaloa Cartel as a means of avenging five soldiers who were murdered in Culiacán, Sinaloa. The arrest and transfer of a ranked member was intercepted by members of this cartel and they proved themselves capable of challenging military presence. Although a more determined offensive has been pledged by the government, they are either knowingly or unconsciously also assisting the territorial interests of the CJNG, whose intentions are not to promote citizen security, but to eliminate the cartel that is currently struggling to maintain its most profitable drug routes. The formation of this unintended alliance is assaulting the Sinaloa Cartel and is a direct consequence of the Mexican government boasting their incarceration of the man who has severely tarnished the international reputation of Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration. Consequently, the deadly trade-off of this militarized strategy is the weakening of only one of many cartels that aspire to control arguably the most crucial transshipment point in the geography of the global drug trade.
The Mexican government has not yet publicized more details since this breaking news was communicated through the Foreign Ministry. Many Mexicans will applaud and others may continue to question its purpose, but what cannot be overlooked is how the destabilization of the Sinaloa Cartel has fueled a violent clash. Drug trafficking organizations, as cynical as it may sound, produce a social order distinguished by the code of conduct each cartel values. Community order caused by fear of disturbing narco oversight is different in each regional occupation, especially for those neighboring the United States-Mexican border. Tijuana ended the year of 2016 with 136 more homicide cases than the previous as the CJNG voiced themselves through narcomantas, written announcements, hung throughout the city. According to the DEA’s latest mapping of cartel territorial control, they acknowledge the presence of the CJNG in San Ysidro and Tijuana which is definitely correlated with the surging violence. The debate on whether it is best to combat one or multiple cartels at a time will continue, but one thing for certain is that the moment El Chapo arrived to his North American cell, shockwaves were felt in Mexican drug trafficking hierarchies.
The extradition of El Chapo has no value of justice. Since his third capture, the Mexican government continued to lose support in the midst of financial scandals, denials of truth findings, and journalist assassinations as this incarceration proved incapable of reducing drug-related homicides and advancing citizen security. This depressing parallel brings into question how the Mexican government will continue combating drug trafficking organizations without advancing the regional power of others and most importantly, when they will gain the judicial capacity to bring narcolords to justice within their own borders.
El Chapo had been accustomed to living large behind bars, often transforming his prison into a base of operations where commands were still given and luxurious lifestyles were consumed. Stripped of this impunity, Joaquin Guzman Loera has not only fallen as a drug-trafficking legend, but has also risen as the political time bomb whose detonation the Mexican government should fear. When extradited narcos arrive onto North American soil, it is inevitable that officials from the government and DEA will interrogate them for the information they have on the drug trade, bribed government officials, and narco fronts operating throughout the world. The absence of profound justice prevents this extradition from being a worthy distraction from the social uprisings challenging the legitimacy of Enrique Peña Nieto’s governance. And if this Sinaloan-born Mexican citizen decides to detail how his federation corrupted political and social institutions for over two decades, it is possible that this testified evidence could convict current government officials.