Why did Mexico extradite El Chapo to the US the day before Trump’s inauguration?
Although the Mexican government is pretending that the timing was merely the product of its judicial machinery operating, the extradition of drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo, was sudden and unexpected:
Mr. Guzmán’s extradition came suddenly, after nearly a year of appeals and legal procedures. Even his own lawyer was surprised. In an interview after the announcement by the Mexican government, the lawyer, José Refugio Rodríguez, said he had only just learned about the extradition. Indeed, he was at the prison where Mr. Guzmán was being held, planning to see his client, when it was locked down for two hours.
“I was supposed to visit him today,” he said. “I know nothing of this.”
The Mexican government’s official statement portrays it differently:
“The government of the Republic announces that today the Fifth Appellate Criminal Court in Mexico City ruled to deny the protection of the Federal Justice system to Joaquin Guzman Loera against the agreements made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 20, 2016, which permitted his extradition to the United States of America in order to be tried for various crimes, after finding that those agreements complied with constitutional requirements, the requirements of bilateral treaties and other legal rulings that are in effect and that his human rights were not and have not been violated by these proceedings,” Mexico’s government said in a statement.
This is just eyewash. At the very last opportunity to credit Obama with getting him here for trial, Mexico acted without warning. CNN acknowledges that the timing needs explanation:
The extradition may have been timed. Mexican authorities wanted to turn over Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel, before Friday's inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, a US official told CNN. Trump angered Mexico during his campaign by demanding it pay for a border wall.
But Mexico pretends otherwise:
A Mexican deputy attorney general, however, said Trump's pending inauguration "had nothing to do with it."
"It was resolved today, and in terms of the international treaty, we had to immediately hand over the person requested by the United States," Alberto Elias Beltran said. "Not doing so would generate a nonfulfillment to the international norms, specifically with the treaty shared between Mexico and the United States."
So what does this tell us about the negotiations ahead over NAFTA; the border barrier system, aka the wall; and countless other issues?
Mexico has given up on trading extradition for concessions to Trump. Quite possibly, they realized that any attempt to use El Chapo as bargaining chip would be met by derision from a president who uses Twitter. Mexico knows that one source of leverage would be playing to the American public, cloaking itself in the mantle of an aggrieved party cruelly mistreated by a tyrant. The media is eager to feature heartrending stories of families torn apart by deportations and other horrors of any change in bilateral relations. This may be a card that it prefers to hold in reserve as it has its first official discussions with the Trump administration.
The coming talks with Mexico will be an extremely complex deal-making exercise. Both sides have the ability to hurt the other. But both also have a lot to protect and would be reluctant to damage their own interests in order to hurt the other.
Donald Trump got rich by striking complex deals that appeared to benefit all sides. Otherwise, they would not have signed the contract, granted the zoning variance, or taken other voluntary actions on the expectation of benefit.
Mexico’s action yesterday signals a willingness to make a deal that will preserve its own vital interests while providing sufficient acceptable benefits to the United States. This represents an opportunity for the Trump administration.