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Drug Lord's Arrest Creates New Tensions In U.S.-Mexico Relations


And let's focus on one challenge facing this president and also the next president and likely the president after that. It is the war on drugs, which is once again center stage after the capture this weekend of Joaquin Guzman Loera. He's a notorious Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo. Joining us on the line from Mexico City is Ana Maria Salazar. She was a senior Pentagon drug enforcement official during the Clinton administration. Good morning.

ANA MARIA SALAZAR: Good morning, greetings from Mexico City.

GREENE: Well, greetings - greetings from near Los Angeles, where I'm talking to you this morning here at NPR West. Let me ask you, if I may, if we sort of look at what has happened in the past, the United States has been trying to extradite El Chapo for years. Mexico has refused. But now Mexico seems to have changed its tune. They've begun legal proceedings to send El Chapo to the United States. What has changed here?

SALAZAR: Well, first, it's not clear that the United States has been trying to extradite him for years.


SALAZAR: Actually the requests came very recently, before El Chapo escaped thirteen - about six months ago. Two, what's different is that with the escape of El Chapo, there is - I don't know if the government would recognize it this way. But they say, you know, it's difficult for a government like Mexico to be able to make sure he doesn't escape again. And third - not only in Mexico, but this also happened in Colombia at the time - the threat of extraditions is actually a really good incentive for criminals either to not publicly attack the Mexican government and be so violent - becoming one of their main objectives. So it's used by governments as a threat against these organizations. Now, with that said, I have to tell you something. It could take years for El Chapo to be extradited. Minimum one year, it could take three or four years before he steps in a U.S. court.

GREENE: Well, that raises a question here, does it not? I mean, as you said, he has escaped before. I mean, it was a huge embarrassment to the Mexican government when he got out of that heavily fortified prison...


GREENE: As we all remember last year. I mean, if this is going to take a while, is there a real risk that he could escape again?

SALAZAR: Absolutely. And that, I believe, is one of the main concerns, not only of the Mexican government but also the U.S. government, which has invested a lot of resources in trying to get him back and make sure he's recaptured. So this is going to be the big issue between the bilateral relationship between both countries. How can you keep someone like El Chapo Guzman in a jail, even if it's a high-security prison? How can you make sure he doesn't escape? How can you make sure that you can protect his life? Because there - I'm sure there's a lot of people out there who'd like him dead. And how can you make sure that the trial that is going to take place here in Mexico and the processes by which he's going to be extradited can take place when everybody knows he can probably - he can threaten judges. He can threaten prosecutors. He can make sure that evidence (ph) disappears in Mexico. So this is a major challenge.

GREENE: If I may, we just have a few seconds left. I wonder, could you just sort of describe how important he is? He's been described as the world's biggest trafficker in illegal drugs. I mean, you ran counter drug efforts at the Pentagon. Does this arrest have a big impact on the war on drugs?

SALAZAR: Not anymore, and the reason why I say this is that because he has been - he has been in jail for a while. He has been the most sought-after criminal. It's hard to run an organization from the jungle. So there is other - his deputies are running the organization. It appears that they're doing a very good job in trafficking cocaine and heroin and methamphetamine to the United States. So he's more of a figurehead...

GREENE: All right, forgive me. We'll have to stop there. We're out of time. Ana Maria Salazar, thanks very much for joining us.

SALAZAR: Take care, bye-bye.

GREENE: She's a deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon, a former official at the Pentagon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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