The Much-Delayed El Chapo Trial Is Now Underway In New York

The notorious kingpin may no longer be in charge of the Sinaloa Cartel, but has anything changed in the War on Drugs?

By Alexandra HartNovember 14, 2018 5:06 pm

For some, Joaquín “El Chapo “Guzmán considered a figure of mythical proportions – a Robin Hood-like character who’s become the subject of Mexican folk ballads. Among U.S. prosecutors, he’s considered a deadly international drug kingpin who amassed a virtual army of his own south of our border while funneling prolific amounts of illicit drugs into the United States and beyond.

Those conflicting narratives are playing out in court right now, as the trial for arguably the most infamous drug runner since Pablo Escobar gets underway in a federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York under “unprecedented” security measures.

That’s hundreds of miles from the epicenter of the Sinaloa Cartel’s operations – even though he’s been indicted in multiple jurisdictions, including the Western District of Texas. Nathan Jones, assistant professor at Sam Houston State university’s College of Criminal Justice, says theres a couple of reasons why that might be the case.

“It could be because that’s where the prosecutors thought they had the best case, or it could be that’s where they thought they have the best security,” Jones says. “Given his propensity for escape – and theres been two major escapes, highly sophisticated ones … likely the U.S.government thought this is the place where we can secure him the best.”

That also may play into why Guzmán was extradited to the U.S., rather than face trial in his home country.

“Drug trafficking is an international crime, it affects the United States insofar as the drugs end up in the United States because of the large consumer market in the US,” Jones says. “It really is a transnational crime. I think the Mexican government immediately saw that after he escaped for the second time that extradition was going to be the way to go.”

And though Guzmán’s extradition may appear to be a blow to the Sinaloa cartel, in reality it might be something of a double-edged sword. Jones says that while Chapo’s arrest certainly disrupted the cartel’s operations to some extent, it also changed up drug trafficking corridors and operations, and bolstered the profile of another cartel, the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación – or Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

“There’s a debate as to which group is the most important. And wherever (the  ártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación) is going, it’s having open warfare, open conflict with other cartels, and that’s driving violence up,” Jones says. “The effect of Chapo Guzmán’s extradition and removal from the Mexican drug trafficking system has definitely had an effect, but there’s a debate as to the nature of what that effect is. Drugs are still flowing, absolutely, the cartels and various drug trafficking organizations are still functioning.”