Recapturing El Chapo Is Only a Start
On his way to the U. S. of A.?
Mexico's decision to extradite Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the U.S. is a tacit admission that, for all President Enrique Pena Nieto's groundbreaking economic reforms, his government has been less successful when it comes to law and order.
Consider: The horrific toll of drug and criminal violence continues to rise. Homicides went up 7 percent last year, with even higher increases in Mexico City. Mexico's two biggest cartels -- including the one headed by Guzman -- have grown in size and scope, taking over territory from rival groups. More than a year after the massacre of 43 students in the town of Iguala, the government's investigation into what happened has made little headway, and has become a locus for public discontent. The same could be said of the unconvincing investigation into Guzman's escapade.
States such as Guerrero and Michoacan, both centers of Mexico's budding heroin trade, have been victimized by quasi-official militias filling a security vacuum. More broadly, the government has continued to use the military to go after drug kingpins, and favors building up federal and state police at the expense of credible local police forces -- an approach that weakens engagement and accountability.
There once was an argument -- we made it ourselves -- that extradition would harm U.S.-Mexico relations and that Mexico's criminal justice system just needed time to improve. And in fact the Mexican government is carrying out some important judicial reforms, as well as political changes that will allow mayors and police chiefs to stay in office beyond three years. (Mayors up for re-election are likely to be more responsive to the concerns of their citizens and to exercise greater oversight of the police.)
Mexican officials appear to have changed their minds on extradition as well. Guzman's escape was an inside job that shocked the nation and humiliated the government. His recapture is a moment to celebrate. But the reality is that, when it comes to criminal justice reform, Mexico still has a long way to go.
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