Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Not Likely To Be Extradited to U.S.

by GREGORY D. LEE February 26, 2014

The capture of Mexican National Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, considered the world's most prolific drug trafficker, in the coastal resort city of Mazatlán, was a result of actionable intelligence and a significant partnership between Mexican and U.S. law enforcement. Now what?

The United States is formally asking for Guzman's extradition to the United States where he has been indicted in seven judicial districts. Members of Congress have called for his extradition and trial here because of his daring escape from a Mexican prison and his responsibility for approximately one third of all drugs smuggled into the U.S.

While a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) assigned to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, I was charged with the responsibility of coordinating all drug related extradition proceedings involving Pakistani Nationals. To its credit, Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world to extradite its own nationals to another country to stand trial. Because extraditing a nation's own nationals is controversial and sometimes embarrassing to the host nation, extradition is always a protracted, arduous process. Mexico is no exception.

Mexico has a long tradition of not extraditing its nationals to another country. However, if an American wanted in the U.S. is captured there, the process will almost always result in a successful extradition. If the U.S. requests a captured third-country national in Mexico, such as a Guatemalan, Mexico would have to weigh damaging relations with Guatemala against honoring the U.S. request for extradition.

Mexico has national pride. It considers all persons born in Mexico to be Mexicans. Even if they later become citizens of other countries, they will always remain Mexicans, as far as the government is concerned. This complicates the extradition process even more.

Many countries around the world do not have extradition treaties with the United States. There is one in Mexico, but many of these treaties have restrictions such as not extraditing someone who might face capital punishment if convicted. Where no extradition treaty exists, capturing and returning even U.S. nationals to face justice can be challenging.

In a perfect world, Mexico would extradite Guzman. Since he is responsible for numerous murders and drug violations in Mexico, the U.S. should not hold its breath waiting for his arrival for trial in Chicago where he was declared by its crime commission, "public enemy No. 1," a moniker not issued since the days of Al Capone.

If nothing else, the capture of DEA's most wanted fugitive makes it clear that the U.S. and Mexico will continue to work in partnership to capture drug lords who have been responsible for much death and misery in both countries. Despite some high profile examples of corruption, I'm told by those who know, that the honesty and professionalism of Mexican law enforcement and its military has improved substantially in the past decade. This is in contrast to in 1985 when DEA Special Agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, while on diplomatic assignment in Mexico, was kidnapped and murdered by members of Rafael Caro-Quintero's drug trafficking organization. Mexico refused to extradite Caro-Quintero to the U.S., and after decades in a Mexican prison, he finally found the right judge last year to declare he was wrongly convicted. He was immediately released and his current whereabouts are unknown.

Mexico was embarrassed by Guzman's 2001 escape because "Gringos" assumed correctly that Guzman paid off the right people to facilitate his escape. This embarrassment alone, and an opportunity to try Guzman for new crimes he committed after his escape, could be reason enough for Mexico to deny any extradition request.


Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Gregory D. Lee is a retired Supervisory Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the author of three criminal justice textbooks. While on DEA diplomatic assignment in Pakistan, he was involved in the investigation of several notable terrorism events and arrests. He recently retired after more than 39 years of active and reserve service from the U.S. Army Reserve as a Chief Warrant Officer Five Special Agent for the Criminal Investigation Division Command, better known as CID. In 2011 he completed a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan while on special assignment to the Special Operations Command Europe. Visit his website at and contact him at

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