On January 19, 2017, about 14 hours before Donald Trump was sworn into office, the Mexican government abruptly extradited Chapo Guzmán to the United States. Trump’s inauguration has consumed the news cycles and the Chapo extradition was lost in the background noise, although some commentators have issued comments as to why the extradition took place. The two arguments that have been proffered are that the extradition took place because it was either a gift to Donald Trump or a goodbye present to Barack Obama. Like everything involving two countries and the geopolitics that surrounds them, there is context that must be included to better understand why it happened.
In regards to the two reasons for the extradition that has been postured so far; gift to Trump, or goodbye present for Obama, the Obama one is more plausible. I’ll explain why in a minute. However, Donald Trump played a role in the reasoning behind it. But, there are several other issues that need to be discussed to better understand the context behind the extradition.
The first is that Enrique Peña Nieto has a crisis on his hands. Rising energy prices, mainly gasoline, and a shrinking economy are adding to the pressures on his approval polling. Peña Nieto has about a 12% approval rating at this point in his administration. They are the lowest in his administration. There is vast discontent across Mexico because of the economy. And it is only going to get worse as Donald Trump continues through with his promises of making changes to NAFTA and threatening taxes to force companies back to the US as well as to pay for the wall. These pressures will further constrict the Mexican economy.
Enrique Peña Nieto could not afford to have Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán escape a third time. It would destroy the little he has left in his presidency.
Along with this there is the issue of Mexico, as a national policy, avoiding confrontations while dealing with an economic and national crisis. Simply, Mexico cannot afford to allow Donald Trump to suffocate the Mexican economy.
Either by taxing imports to force companies to return to the US, or taxing remittances to force the payment of the wall, Mexico’s economy will be destroyed. Although Mexico has free trade agreements with 45 countries, the logistics of moving exports and the demand of just-in-time supply chains has made Mexico dependent on US exports. In other words, Enrique Peña Nieto is between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, Mexico cannot replace the exports to the United States in time to avert economic disaster and it has very little leverage to force Trump’s hand.
Mexico’s foreign policy has always been negotiation instead of confrontation. Peña Nieto has no other option.
This is why the extradition is Trump related but has nothing to do with giving Trump a gift. Additionally, now that Chapo is out of Mexico, the US government cannot use it as a bargaining chip. Enrique Peña Nieto can rightfully argue that Chapo had to be extradited but Mexico received the promise that Chapo would not face execution for his crimes. This allows Peña Nieto to argue that Mexico’s constitutional requirements were met. Both this and the delivery of Chapo via a Mexican aircraft allows Peña Nieto to promote the illusion of sovereignty.
There is also another factor at play here. Mexico is facing an economic crisis and keeping Chapo incarcerated is an enormous resource drain on the government of Mexico. Troops and federal police were deployed in large numbers to Cd. Juárez to ensure that Chapo did not escape again. The logistics behind such a troop and federal police deployment is expensive. In and on itself the expense is not sufficient to cause an economic crisis but coupled with the other pressures upon the country, it makes sense that the sooner Chapo was in the US, the sooner that problem would go away.
Although the Mexican government has argued that the extradition process followed the letter of the law, anyone that has followed international extradition processes knows that it was highly expedited.
Usually, the receiving country arranges for the pickup and transfer of the prisoner. In the case of Chapo Guzmán, that did not happen.
It was a Mexican aircraft that took and delivered Chapo Guzmán to New York.
This raises the question – what was the urgency?
It is easy to think that it was to avoid delivering a gift to Trump or giving a goodbye present to Obama.
I think the answer is more pragmatic than that.
By waiting until Donald Trump had assumed the presidency, Mexico would have given Trump both more leverage and an opportunity to turn the Chapo delivery into a win for Trump. Instead, Mexico expedited the process and ensured that Chapo Guzmán was in US custody before Donald Trump became president. It may seem like a goodbye present for Obama, but it was the better of only two choices Mexico had.
For Mexico, Chapo Guzmán is now a US problem.
This allows Enrique Peña Nieto the opportunity to not be distracted by him.
Unfortunately for the Mexican president and for the Mexican people, the economic crisis in only beginning. It is easy to argue that the Mexican corruption, or that Peña Nieto is to blame, but the reality is that the geopolitics, the mechanics of supply-chains and logistics have put Mexico into economic distress. Trump was the worst-case scenario and it became a reality for Mexico.
Here is two-minute video of the extradition from Cd. Juárez to New York.