MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico has agreed to expedite the extradition of drug lords and suspected criminals to the United States, a senior official said Thursday, a day after the country sent two top traffickers and 11 others to its northern neighbor.
Jose Alberto Rodriguez, head of the international section of Mexico's Attorney General's Office, denied that the extradition of the 13 was a response to the embarrassing July 11 escape from prison by Mexico's most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
Rodriguez told The Associated Press that the extraditions had been in the works independently of Guzman's escape and that U.S. and Mexican authorities had earlier reached an agreement to streamline and speed-up the extradition process.
"With or without the escape of 'Chapo' Guzman, these extraditions were going to happen," he said.
Rodriguez said that Mexican prosecutors have "pending extraditions" being analyzed in light of the agreement, though he declined to provide names or say when any more extraditions would happen
A U.S. Justice Department statement said Wednesday's extraditions were part of a new coordination effort between Mexico and the U.S. to fight organized crime, which arose from a June meeting between U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her Mexican counterpart, Arely Gomez.
Among those sent to the U.S. were Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as "La Barbie," a top lieutenant to the late Arturo Beltran Leyva who later led his own faction of the Beltran Leyva cartel, and Jorge Costilla Sanchez, known as "El Coss," an alleged former leader of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas.
Under the agreement, for example, some administrative steps that took 15 days will now take five, but Rodriguez added that because suspects have the right to appeal, the extradition process will not take less than a year. He also said that Mexico will still make sure that national authorities have obtained all the information from the suspects needed to solve local crimes before sending them north.
The United States filed an extradition request for Guzman about 2½ weeks before his escape. His lawyer told several media outlets in August that his flight was a direct result of learning that extradition had become imminent.
For some analysts, the recent extraditions cannot be understood without considering Guzman's escape.
"It's clearly a recognition on the part of the Mexican government that they can't depend on their prison system after Chapo, they don't want a future embarrassment ... they're being forced to accept that it's better for them if their criminal are in the U.S," said Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center.