On Jan. 20, as the United States bid its farewell to the Barack Obama administration, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, arrived quietly at MacArthur Airport in Long Island after being extradited from a maximum security prison. Escorted by DEA officers, the arrival of the Kingpin marks the end of a drawn-out narrative comprised of seemingly impossible escapes and a total of 200 metric tons of cocaine imported into the U.S., after which the name “El Chapo” became synonymous with the drug trade.
After El Chapo’s capture in the aftermath of a third successful escape attempt involving a series of intricate tunnels, U.S. and Mexican officials quickly opened talks regarding extradition. In past cases such as the Pablo Escobar Crisis in Colombia in the early 1990s, extradition to the United States was seen as the maximum form of legal consequence due to the influence cartels wield in the criminal justice system. This influence includes not only bribery but also violent means of intimidation, with the most recent example being the assassination of Vicente Antonio Bermúdez Zacarías, a Mexican Judge involved in the Loera case, on Jan. 17, 2017. After the most recent capture, legal proceedings leading up to extradition to the United States were expected to take six years due to the inability of President Nieto to use an executive order to immediately extradite Loera.
The fear behind extradition is tied to the possibility of the implementation of the death penalty under U.S. law if found guilty of homicide charges. Under the current brokered deal, regardless of the charges that are successfully levied against Loera and his legal team, the death penalty will not be implemented. El Chapo has charges against him in the states of California, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York and Florida. The impact of the Mexican Kingpin was so enormous in Chicago that a crime commission declared him the first Public Enemy Number One since the notorious mobster Al Capone.
Despite the bevy of charges against him in numerous states, Loera will fight his legal battle in the city of Brooklyn. Federal prosecutors cited the number of available witnesses among the factors that resulted in Brooklyn being the chosen legal battleground. On the eve of Loera’s extradition, the Mexican government released a formal statement indicating that the fifth appellate criminal court elected to deny Loera the protection of the Federal Justice System on May 20, 2016. Insofar as the legal action that has taken place since Loera’s arrival in New York, the proceedings are still in their early stages. At the arraignment, Loera was charged in six separately filed indictments with the charges including kidnapping, money laundering, drug trafficking, and murder across multiple U.S. cities.
The completion of a process that was initially expected to take a minimum of six years was completed in a little under one year. However, the legal proceedings in the U.S. court of law have yet to take place. While there is no doubt that Loera will be serving multiple life sentences, his words upon being captured stress that his removal from the drug trade would do nothing to halt trafficking serve as a sobering reminder to the power cartels still wield.