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The U.S. House Homeland Security Committee chair says “it’s in the best interest of Mexico” if they hand over Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera for trial in the United States. But he adds our southern neighbor might resist if its leaders perceive pressure from Washington as an insult to its national sovereignty.  

by JULIÁN AGUILAR

Mexican sovereignty and how that country responds to pressure from the United States to hand over Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera may determine if the head of the ruthless Sinaloa cartel will be extradited to American soil, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said on Sunday.

Guzmán was apprehended early Saturday morning in the Mexican city of Mazatlán and faces multiple charges in several U.S. states. But even though McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, sees extradition as the best decision, that is ultimately Mexico’s call. Guzmán was able to bribe his way out of a Jalisco prison in 2001 and had been wanted since, all the while expanding his empire to become the largest and one of the most feared in the world.

“I wouldn’t want them to resist because I am pressuring them, but I think it’s in the best interest of Mexico if they did that, and our relationship” McCaul, who also chairs Congress’ U.S.-Mexico Interparliamentary Group, told the Tribune. “Chapo Guzmán has a lot of ties in Mexico, a lot of corruption. That’s how he escaped in 2001. We just want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Historically, Mexico’s perception of undue pressure and meddling from its northern neighbor has been a frequent hurdle in diplomatic relations between the two countries. On Saturday, at least publicly, both governments congratulated each other after Guzmán’s arrest, which McCaul said was aided significantly by U.S. intelligence.

“The cooperation couldn’t have been better with Mexico,” he said. “We were very helpful in terms of the manhunt for him. We were able to penetrate (his inner circle). From the U.S. side, compromising their communications helped lead us directly to El Chapo Guzmán.”

The arrest is the second major blow to organized crime during the 15-month old tenure of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Miguel Treviño Morales, the alleged leader of the Zetas Cartel, said to be even more ruthless than his rival Guzmán, was captured in July. But the administration’s short time in office might also come in to play with respect to extraditing Guzmán.

“It is a sovereignty issue, and I think this Attorney General (Lic. Jesús Murillo Karam) wants to establish his jurisdiction,” McCaul said, citing sources in the U.S. State Department. “But according to [the Department of] Justice, there are some positive signs they may extradite him first.”

McCaul said it was obvious that a spike in violence could occur following Guzmán’s arrest, due to a power struggle within the group or perceived signs of weakness by rival cartels. But he added a third concern needed to be addressed.

“You can’t underestimate also the possible retribution on the part of Sinaloa against officials in Mexico,” he said. “So that is something we’re obviously taking safety precautions against.”

JULIÁN AGUILAR reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

COVER: U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, talks about cyber security at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy in 2009. PHOTO by ED SCHIPUL

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