US urges extradition of 'El Chapo': why this time could be different

Mexican officials vehemently opposed extraditing Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman to the United States after he was last arrested in 2014. But following his July escape, Mexico appears to be seriously considering turning him over to the US.

Eduardo Verdugo/AP
Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman is made to face the press as he's escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by soldiers and marines at a federal hangar in Mexico City, Jan. 8. Mr. Guzman's second prison escape in 2015 from a top security prison though a tunnel had embarrassed President Enrique Pena Nieto and made his capture a national priority.

Mexican and US officials have officially begun talks about extraditing Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States after the drug kingpin was captured last Friday.

Guzman’s arrest last week marked the third time he has been captured by Mexican forces. But as Whitney Eulich reported for The Christian Science Monitor earlier this week, the decision to formally initiate his extradition to the United States is a new tact.

Mexican officials vehemently opposed extraditing Mr. Guzman to the US after he was last arrested in 2014. Instead, they placed him what was supposed to be one of Mexico’s highest security prisons. He escaped from the prison in July, but he’s back there again as he awaits a decision on his extradition.

The extradition process began in earnest on Tuesday at a meeting in Miami between Arely Gómez, Mexico's attorney general, and US Justice Department officials. The meeting was the first face-to-face discussion between US and Mexican officials on the matter, a Justice Department spokesman told Reuters.

Officials from both countries have said extraditing Guzman could take a year or longer. And as Ms. Eulich reported, there’s still no guarantee he will be sent to the US, where he faces at least seven federal court indictments for murder and drug trafficking.

But the government’s change in stance marks a shift in attitudes toward extradition. It also signals a renewed effort by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government to improve relations with the US after struggling through a series of recent low-points, from Guzman’s escape to the high-profile disappearance of 43 teacher’s college students in Guerrero in 2014.

Mexico has long been opposed to extradition in the name of sovereignty. But recent polls show that the practice has gained popularity in Mexico since Guzman’s 2014 arrest. One such poll found that just over 60 percent of respondents believe he’ll escape again if kept in Mexican prisons.

US officials have long sought to bring Guzman to the US for trial. Mexican authorities served him with copies of two outstanding US extradition requests when they arrested him last week.

Prosecutors in San Diego and El Paso have formally staked claims to try Guzman if he is extradited. But it is possible that other US Attorney's offices with cases against him will also bid to try him first after extradition. Federal prosecutors in Chicago; Miami; and both Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York, have open cases on him.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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