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Mexico after "El Chapo's" extradtion

Joaquin Guzman Loera’s extradition at the beginning of this year raised much publicity.

The process as such has been described as politically charged with the release happening just days before Donald Trump’s inauguration. The consequences of the deportation have often been lost in headlines focused on Obama’s unlikely successor. Mexico, however, is shaken up by another wave of violence. Infighting and a generational change have led to the highest number of homicides in the Sinaloa region since 2011. El Chapo’s heirs have become subject to increased scrutiny and they are being tested by former allies and enemies alike.

A politically charged extradition

According to a New York Times article on the extradition of El Chapo neither the timing, nor the actual release were expected by US officials or the crime lord’s representatives at the beginning of the year. Speculation points towards a politically charged action. At the time, president-elect Trump had been threatening Mexico throughout his campaign after years of cooperation with the US government under president Obama. The release came just days before Trump’s inauguration, thus sending an implied message / reward for the incumbent Obama and the president-elect at the time Donald Trump, hinting that cooperation will be rewarded.

Domestically highly debated

Within Mexico the extradition had been a hot topic for a long time. Guzman’s lawyers had delayed his deportation to the northern neighbor for over a year citing that doing so might infringe his human rights. In his native region of Sinaloa the crime lord is highly popular and has established himself as a Robin Hood-like figure, spending some of his fortune on local infrastructure, providing workplaces in the community and relative security within the region his cartel dominated (NPR). This is a vital component in order to first understand the popularity of Mexico’s public enemy number one and also to comprehend the width of his capture and now extradition.

Cartel infighting

With El Chapo extradited to the USA, facing prosecution in a non-death penalty state, the most powerful drug kingpin had been taken out of the picture. Even though cartels are structured in a way that the succesors are somewhat clear from the rank and order system, infights are often the result of a power vacuum. A clear rift within the cartel is highly speculated and confirmed from multiple sources – namely the one between El Chapo’s children, who were the named succesors and a long-standing ally of the infamous drug kingpin – Damso Lopez Nunenz. The former Sinaloa State Police chief and Vice-Director of Puente Grande Prison, allegedly helped Guzman escape his arrest in 2001. With his former ally out of the picture several sources claim he has turned against Guzman’s two sons and even tried to assassinate them, thus setting off a cartel war in El Chapo’s native region. This story can be corroborated by statistical figures mentioned in an Al Jazeera article – according to their source killings in the region have increased from a monthly average of 92 murders over all months since 2011 to more than 120 homicides in February 2017. The stability and relative security from kidnapping, extortion and homicides in the region seems fragile at best.

Generational changes

The new generation leading the cartels is different in character. Most of them are brought up in wealth and are lacking the street smarts of their parents or predecessors. At the same time they care less about traditional values. One former gunman interviewed in an Al Jazeera article stated that “15, 20 years ago, if we wanted to kill you and you turned up with your wife and children, we couldn’t do anything. […] Now, they don’t give a damn”. What he describes as a lack of “honor” is described as disrespect for anyone from a different class by others. Either way, the conduct of the new generation increasingly seems to estrange the local population.

Self-Justificatory Cycle for the escalating drug war

The war on drugs still is portrayed to be one of the top priorities within the US elections and it is the topic dominating US-Mexican relations alongside migration. El Chapo’s extradition and its political timing made that all but self-evident. Local reporters in Sinaloa and experts of the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute, however, come up with a devastating analysis of the efforts. Everard Meade, the programs director, stated that “there’s a negative cycle of violence and it functions as a self-justificatory cycle for the escalating drug war”. What this quote means becomes obvious looking at the spark of violence and infighting that results from any arrest of cartel leaders. Rather than limiting the cartels each act of war, lead to expansion. Each expansion then justifies new strikes from government forces. Hence it is a circle that is self-justificatory.

The taking and extradition of El Chapo, in summary, has not led to an improved situation in Mexico, thus far. Expectations actually are, that improvements are not even within grasp and current observations portray a worsening of the situation within the country. Fights within cartels and between the different factions in Mexico lead to a threatening climate even in the former protected territories. History provides little reason for an optimistic outlook within the country and hence it is strongly recommended to inform yourself about necessary precautions and of course to implement them.

Sources: Al Jazeera, New York Times, Guardian, NPR
Image: México by iivangm (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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