As suspected. Skeptics insisted last night that the timing was nothing more than coincidence, with the machinery of extradition operating at its usual pace, but Chapo’s lawyers claim that they were caught completely off-guard, with no notice that he was being sent north. Although if the point of doing this now was to make sure it happened on Obama’s watch, it’s strange that Mexico would have waited until the last possible moment, on the eve of the inauguration, when the extradition could also be interpreted as an olive branch to the incoming president. Oh well:
“Mexico wanted to get it done before the proverbial wall was built — both with bricks and bombastic diplomacy by the Trump Administration,” explained a federal law enforcement source familiar with the case.
“Mexico wanted to get this done with a Justice Department it knows and trusts, that understands the gravity and implications of the crimes that ‘El Chapo’ has been apart of,” the source said. “That’s not to say that the next Justice Department won’t be just as competent. But with the Trump Administration, everything is a question mark.”
Trump is vowing to get tough with Mexico on all sorts of issues, from immigration to trade — “bricks and bombastic diplomacy,” as the source quoted above says. If they waited to hand Chapo over until he was sworn in, he would have crowed for days that his toughness was already getting results. That would have made the Mexican government look weak back home, so they hurried it up and sent Chapo north while Obama was still on the clock. Don’t ask me what that bit at the end about trusting Obama’s DOJ more than Trump’s is about, though. Mexico can’t possibly believe that Team Trump might be softer on a Mexican drug lord than Team Obama might be.
A Mexican government official confirmed for WaPo that the extradition was a “farewell gift” to Obama, but said there was a message to Trump too:
Even though the newly appointed foreign minister of Mexico, Luis Videgaray, developed close contacts with the Trump team during the U.S. presidential campaign, the extradition of Guzmán was intended to send a signal to Trump that not all negotiations with Mexico would be as easy as this one, the official said.
The message to Trump, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid, is that “nothing is for free.”
They didn’t want to be seen as making a concession to Trump in return for nothing. Obama gets “gifts,” Trump gets negotiations. One more quote, this from a Mexican security expert:
“It could be a coincidence, but I think that’s unlikely,” Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said, noting it came the last full day of Barack Obama’s presidency and hours before Trump’s inauguration.
“They could not send him after Trump was inaugurated because the interpretation would have been that of a tribute,” Hope said. “But maybe they wanted to do it close enough so that both administrations — the outgoing and the incoming — could really make some political hay out of this.”
If you’re trying to send a message to an adversary and your message can be spun as either a middle finger or a goodwill gesture, that’s, er, not much of a message. But it’s good politics, I suppose. If Mexicans grumble that the government is pandering to Trump by delivering Chapo the night before he becomes president, the government can say, “No, it was a gift to Obama, to deny Trump.” And if Team Trump grumbles that Mexico purposely sped up the extradition to deny them a political victory, the government can say, “No, it was a housewarming gift to you, knowing that you’d claim it was a concession.” Win/win. Or lose/lose, if neither side buys their spin. Good luck, Mexico!