MEXICO CITY -- Battling skepticism about its ability to prosecute the world’s most-wanted drug-trafficker -- and even if it’s really him in jail -- the Mexican government on Tuesday swore it would not allow Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to escape and would consider extradition to the U.S.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, the second-ranking member of the government, said Mexican authorities want a first crack at Guzman, who was captured by Mexican marines using U.S. intelligence on Saturday at a seaside resort after 13 years on the run.
“We would like for him to pay first for his crimes here,” Osorio told reporters.
He said the government had not yet received an official extradition request but would be willing to entertain one. He denied that Guzman, the super-wealthy head of the Sinaloa cartel, had already been offered status as a protected witness by U.S. or Mexican authorities -- treatment that some of Mexico’s more notorious kingpins have received in the past.
Mexicans have so little faith in their government, and its institutions are so weak, that authorities took the unusual step of staging a news conference with the head of the attorney general’s office of forensic experts to prove that the man in custody is in fact Guzman. Sara Monica Medina, in a white lab coat, displayed photographs, handwriting samples, fingerprints and DNA tests that she said established Guzman’s identity.
“We scraped the inside of his mouth, got the genetic profile … and it was a positive match,” she said. She showed pictures of Guzman with a Q-tip in his mouth.
In a survey released Tuesday by the Strategic Cabinet polling agency, which tends to be pro-government, 42.2% of Mexicans questioned said they believed the dark-haired, mustachioed man arrested over the weekend was Guzman and 40.7% said they did not believe it.
A whopping 68.8% said they thought Guzman could escape -- as he did in 2001 from a maximum-security prison just ahead of a U.S. extradition request -- while 70% said they were convinced he enjoyed protection, primarily from federal authorities, while on the lam.
The Mexican government has been pleased with itself for finally arresting Guzman. But it must also counter distrust that comes from incidents like last summer’s embarrassing, surprise release from prison of Rafael Caro Quintero.
Caro Quintero was a former drug lord who headed the once-powerful Guadalajara cartel. He was convicted of the 1985 murder of an American Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Enrique Camarena, and his Mexican pilot, and was suspected in the slayings of several other Americans and scores of Mexicans.
He was freed in the middle of the night after serving 28 years of a 40-year sentence and has not been seen since.
Other Mexicans and international experts, meanwhile, said they hoped Guzman’s arrest would reveal the complex network of support, protections and money-laundering that sustained his mammoth cocaine, marijuana and heroin empire.
“Let’s see if we begin to see hundreds of thousands of legal businesses dismantled,” said Edgardo Buscaglia, an expert on organized crime. “If we see the politicians that Chapo had in his pocket detained … and when we began to see raids, confiscations and seized assets … then I will be the first to applaud.”