Drug Lord 'El Chapo' Extradited By Mexico To U.S. | KUOW News and Information

Drug Lord 'El Chapo' Extradited By Mexico To U.S.

Jan 19, 2017
Originally published on January 25, 2017 6:06 am

Mexico has extradited to the United States its most notorious drug trafficker, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, according to statements from officials of both countries.

A statement by the U.S. Justice Department says Guzman landed Thursday evening at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip, N.Y. The department also says he faces six separate indictments around the country for crimes "in connection with his leadership of the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the Sinaloa Cartel."

Charges against Guzman in the U.S. include murder, drug trafficking and money-laundering.

Guzman is both reviled and storied among Mexicans. In his home region in northwest Mexico, some see him as a success story from a poor background. More widely, he is seen as a symbol of the ruthless drug trade that has killed tens of thousands of Mexicans and helped empower corrupt police and politicians.

Though he has been convicted of crimes in Mexico, he has escaped from prison there twice. In 2015 he got out via a long tunnel with a motorcycle track beneath what was supposed to be the country's most secure prison. During his freedom then, he secretly met with actor Sean Penn, who wrote about the encounter for Rolling Stone magazine. Some Mexican officials claimed that helped lead to Guzman's capture shortly afterward.

When he was recaptured in Mexico last year, officials said they would allow extradition requests by the U.S. Though Mexico frequently extradites drug traffickers, officials there had previously said they wanted Guzman to serve his sentence in Mexico before being sent north.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

An unmarked corporate jet left a Mexican border town last night in great secrecy, bound for the United States. The prisoner on board - one of the world's wealthiest, most ruthless and powerful drug kingpins. His name - Joaquin Guzman. He's also known as El Chapo, and he was extradited and will stand trial in a U.S. federal court. NPR's Carrie Kahn has followed El Chapo's remarkable story for years, and she joins us now from Mexico City. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Tell us more about what we know of what transpired last night.

KAHN: Well, word came down late yesterday afternoon that Guzman was on that plane to the U.S. It was a surprise and not really. He and his lawyers have been fighting this extradition ever since he was recaptured by Mexican marines early last year. So this has been going on for a year. According to Mexican prosecutors, Guzman had lost his last appeal, the last legal maneuver he had, yesterday, and he was already right at the border. He was moved from a maximum security prison last year to that federal facility near the border in Ciudad Juarez, which is right across from El Paso, Texas.

The Mexican government sent out pictures last night showing Guzman dressed in tan prison garb accompanied by many Mexican police. They also showed pictures of him then in the custody of the U.S. DEA agents and boarding that plane. U.S. officials say he landed in Long Island, N.Y., last night, and today they'll announce plans for his arraignment.

MARTIN: Remind us who is El Chapo? He's a legend in Mexico, right?

KAHN: He definitely is. He grew up very poor and started in the family business very young. He climbed the ranks of the drug trafficking syndicate very quickly despite not having more than a sixth grade education, they always say. He's believed to be a billionaire and the head of this cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, which is one of the most powerful in the world, and it has cells throughout the world. Many a Narco ballad, the songs about the drug traffickers, have been written about Chapo's supposed generosity back in his home state. But don't ever forget that this man is responsible for unspeakable murder, torture and violence throughout Mexico and beyond and despite some of his glorification in the press.

But the best part about Chapo to talk about is his notorious great escapes, and he made two - the latest in the summer of 2015. That was the most daring and amazing. It was through a tunnel that began in his prison cell shower, dropped down to a tunnel that ran a mile long. He jumped on a modified motorcycle and went through that mile-long tunnel and out to freedom. And he was on the run for about six months. And during that time, he had that secret meeting with Mexican star Kate del Castillo and actor Sean Penn.

MARTIN: Yeah.

KAHN: And in some way, that led to his downfall. Mexican officials say that he was captured after they caught up with him hearing about this clandestine meeting. And he was captured, but not before he almost escaped from a safe house through a tunnel.

MARTIN: So why now? Why would Mexico have decided to extradite him now?

KAHN: That is the big question, and it's lots of speculation. And I don't have the answer to that. But I can tell you what some of the speculations were is what - that the Mexicans wanted to give him over to the United States while President Obama was still in power, not to President Trump today, but also maybe that this was a signal to President Trump that they are ready to negotiate, and this was their prize to him on his first day in office.

MARTIN: What charges will he face in the U.S.?

KAHN: U.S. officials say there are six separate indictments in courts throughout the United States. He's up for murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, use of firearms. He's got a lot of charges, and the first one up is the federal court in New York.

MARTIN: And just briefly, what - is there a larger significance here? I mean, he was so important in the drug trade in North America. What does it mean for the so-called War on Drugs?

KAHN: It has a lot of significance. El Chapo represents, in some ways, the failure of the War on Drugs. There is just this large drug market in the U.S. You know, even with his capture and his being extradited to the U.S., the drug war rages on. In Mexico, violence levels are as high as they were four years ago, and there probably will be little impact on the drug war with his capture.

MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.