House Hearing on Cartels and Extraditing El Chapo

The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on “Taking Down the Cartels” this week. Predictably, several committee members called for the quick extradition of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

There were four witnesses at the hearing: James Dinkins, a director of Homeland Security Investigations for ICE; John Feeley, a deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Dept; Alan Bersin, an assistant secretary of international affairs and diplomatic officer at Homeland Security; and Christopher Wilson, from the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

I just read the transcript of the hearing (available on A Republican from Georgia named Paul Broun really stood out — and not in a positive way — repeatedly referring to El Chapo as “an animal.” Here are some of his remarks:[More…]

…if we’re going to stop the influence of El Chapo and his cartel and any other cartels, we not only have to get people like him extradited to the United States and put him in a supermax, as the chairman has suggested, as well as get their underlings also brought to the United States where they can be prosecuted, where we will know that we can chop the head off of this poisonous snake. (my emphasis)

…my whole message is that we've got to get this drug kingpin extradited to the United States so that he can be prosecuted and that he can be dealt with because he's a killer, he's one who has not only been involved in outright killing of individuals within the cartel's function, but he's a killer of American citizens and promoting their drug and their alcohol — well, not alcohol, but their drug business here. He's killing children's lives with the sex trafficking and other things that this animal is doing.

…Get him here, get him here quickly so that we can try this animal in our courts and so that he gets his just due.

He also lambasts the government witnesses and Justice Department for not having made a formal extradition request.

I think it's absolutely unconscionable that this administration has not already asked for the extradition of El Chapo. I think they're not doing so, you all not doing so, ranges from just irresponsibility all the way up to incompetence. (my emphasis)

When Feeley tries to respond, Broun cuts him off:

FEELEY: We will be in discussions with the Mexicans regarding the extradition of El Chapo Guzman. I assure you of that. Those discussions may not produce the immediate transfer of him for the following reasons. He has also committed the same atrocities on the Mexican people and the Mexican —

REP. BROUN: …I'm going to have to cut you off because my time is limited. I have one minute left.

What did Broun have to add in his last minute? More of the same:

I'm an addictionologist. I treat people that have been affected by this animal. We've got to get him here and try him and have — go through the due process. But once that due process occurs, let's get him here….Get him here, get him here quickly so that we can try this animal in our courts and so that he gets his just due.

I don't think a Congressman who repeatedly refers to another person, even one charged with crimes, as “an animal” belongs in Congress or should represent Congress at televised hearings the whole world might be watching. It's people like Broun who tarnish the image of the U.S. abroad. He sounds like a nutcase.

As to his sex-trafficking claims: There is not a single indictment against Chapo Guzman for sex-trafficking, here or in Mexico. Broun apparently got his cartels mixed up. Two witnesses tried to set him straight:

Feeley: Of the major trafficking groups, this is the cartel that most exclusively focuses on drug trafficking as opposed to expanding into other areas such as sex trafficking. The ones most associated with that tend to be the Zetas who operate in and fight for territory all throughout Mexico.

Another witness says:

The Federation or the Sinaloa cartel is perhaps the most developed and most organized of all of the cartels. And as I said earlier, it sticks very closely to what it does best, and that's moving drugs. And it's not the most shockingly violent, it's not the one that gets involved in human trafficking. It is depraved and it will use violence and intimidation when it has to.

As for killing American citizens, witness Bersin said:

BERSIN: ….there are two types of spillover violence, one that would involve having Mexican organized criminals come over into the United States and actually shoot up the town. With an exception, quite a while ago now, we have not seen that kind of spillover violence.

REP. RICHMOND: So the cartels, it's not a norm then for the cartels to either have direct involvement or to order violence in our communities, I guess is —

MR. BERSIN: That's correct, Congressman. In fact, the crime records on the U.S.-Mexican border measured by FBI statistics are the lowest that they've been, as Mr. O'Rourke will tell you.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's odd suggestion: Let's try Chapo in the U.S. for the crimes he committed in Mexico and sentence him here for them. Mexico shouldn't mind.

One Congressman asked a valid question:

REP. O'ROURKE:….apart from bringing him to justice, apart from the symbolic value that Mr. Wilson talked about…I really want to know what, if anything, is going to change.

And just by way of context — and my colleague Mr. Richmond talked about this earlier — you know, we've had a 40-year war on drugs, we had Crockett and Tubbs battling the, you know, cartels and drugs coming in from the Caribbean. We mentioned Pablo Escobar and Colombia. I think we spent $8 billion on Plan Colombia and they were cultivating and shipping more cocaine at the end of that than at the beginning of the $8 billion. We suppressed that to some degree, moved it to Mexico. We've captured Chapo Guzman, and good for all the reasons that we've stated.

What's going to change in all reality?…. We're spending … it's 2.1 billion (dollars) with Mexico and Plan Merida.

…We've sent them Black Hawk helicopters, you know, kind of law enforcement material. We're now focused on this last pillar, which I think is far more productive, improving civil society, their system of justice, their system of rule of law.

And all those things are great, and I think that especially that last part is a smart investment in Mexico. But from what we measure coming into the U.S., you said this capture makes the U.S. safer. How are you measuring that? Because of his capture, are fewer drugs getting in? Because of Plan Merida, are fewer drugs coming into this country? What are we really doing to address the reasons behind why we began to spend this money in the first place?

…How are we measuring these vast sums that we're committing to border security, 18 billion (dollars), to Mexico, 2.1 billion (dollars), what do I as a taxpayer get out of it at the end of the day?

Rep. McCaul, continued to tout the U.S. active involvement in Chapo's arrest, which the Mexican Government continues to deny. (We tracked him, they captured him.) From his opening statement:

I applaud Immigration and Customs Enforcement for their participation along with DEA, U.S. Marshals, State Department and Mexican authorities for this capture.

Feeley, when it's his turn, lays it out differently (and more accurately.)

We congratulate the Mexican people and their government on the capture of El Chapo Guzman. This was a Mexican operation conducted by Mexican marines and supported by U.S. law enforcement agencies, among them the Marshals, DEA, FBI and my colleagues at HSI. This is how it's supposed to work.

As does Bersin:

BERSIN: we salute the government of Mexico for the capture and apprehension of Chapo Guzman..there indeed was strong U.S.-Mexican collaboration that led to the arrest.

But … this was, as Mr. Feeley indicated, a Mexican victory won by Mexican marines and Mexican law enforcement officials.

McCaul must have had earplugs in. He follows up with:

Let me just say first to Mr. Dinkins, I want to thank or congratulate you and your agents for a job well done, taking down the largest drug kingpin that we've ever known, one of the biggest threats to the world. … I just want to say, you know, thank you to you and your agents for what you did.

In closing the hearing, McCaul does it again:

REP. MCCAUL: I also want to thank Department of Homeland Security, HSI, ICE for their efforts in this historic take-down and all federal law enforcement. You are to be commended. This was, again, a very historic event in the war against the drug cartels.

Then he remembered Mexico was watching the hearing, and thanks them for “their cooperation” in the endeavor.

I also know that the government of Mexico and their officials are watching this hearing, and I want to take the opportunity to thank them for their cooperation and encourage this new administration to continue its efforts as we took down the leader of the Los Zetas, or they did, and they also took down El Chapo Guzman who has been on the most-wanted list for decades.

Rep. McCaul, along with Rep. Duncan, also tried to connect the cartels to Iran and Hezbollah. McCaul trotted out this old horse:

McCaul: And the past arrest of an Iranian national suspected of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the United States allegedly involved Mexican cartel members.

Rep. Duncan asks:

And it's highlighting the growing operation of Mexican drug cartels with street gangs. So have you seen Iran or Hezbollah seeking to exploit this growing relationship through mosques or cultural centers in the U.S.?

No sale. Feeley responded to McCaul:

The case to which you referred, Manssor Arbabsiar, … he was in fact a lone agent.

…. again, when he came through he thought he was dealing with Zetas. In fact, he was not. He never — there is no evidence to indicate that he ever made contact with them. He in fact made contact with a DEA undercover agent.

Same answer from Dinkins to Duncan:

No, we have not seen that in the United States. And I think a driving factor behind that is it's not in the interest of any drug trafficking organization or any type of criminal enterprise to introduce somebody that's going to do harm to the consumer. And ultimately, so it's — while they're probably not beyond it, it's not in their interest to do so and so we have not seen that type of association.

Bottom line: There was nothing to learn from this hearing other than that Rep. Broun is an embarrassment to his constituents and all of us.

Extraditing El Chapo does nothing other than cost us $27,000 a year to incarcerate him. It shouldn't matter to anyone but Chapo and his family. It's not going to have an effect on drug trafficking or availability or drugs. Sinaloa is not a vertical hierarchy. It has had co-leaders for years. Just as any corporation plans for succession, so undoubtedly have the leaders of Sinaloa.

Contrary to what Rep. Broun thinks, Chapo Guzman is not the devil incarnate. He is a co-leader of an international business that makes a lot of money selling drugs all over the world. He's successful because a lot of people in the world want to use drugs but have no place to get them, since the sale of most recreational drugs is illegal almost everywhere in the world.

His business has to employ a lot of people and retain a variety of service providers to transport its products to the marketplace. It has to pay the manufacturers and suppliers of its products. In addition, it needs warehouses to store its inventory, and regional and retail sales staff. So far, just like General Motors or Amazon.

But because the merchandise is illegal, Chapo and his business can't open stores to sell their wares or advertise their products online. They can't ship their goods via Fedex. They can't use banks to store their profits, pay their suppliers or deposit their sales receipts. They can't use the courts to sue their competitors to enforce or terminate trade agreements. (They have to solve those matters amongst themselves, which usually results in violence.) Just think if Amazon or General Motors couldn't use banks or Apple couldn't sue Microsoft.

They also have a lot of risk, since the global police force known as the DEA is lurking everywhere, either physically or electronically. They can't get take out an insurance policy to assure the safe transit of their products to the marketplace (the streets and corners of every town in the world) and the return transit of the sales proceeds. Instead, the business has to pay a lot of money in bribes to government officials.

Try as they might, the committee members did not budge the hearing witnesses: Sinaloa and El Chapo are not about sex trafficking, randomly gunning down civilians in the U.S., or aligning themselves with foreign terrorists bent on destroying America. (America is their largest customer. Why would they destroy their best market?) El Chapo Guzman and Sinaloa are about selling drugs and making money.

As long as drugs are illegal, and there is demand for their products, this is how Sinaloa and its competitors will operate. They will make tons of money, none of it taxed. Law enforcement can take out the leader, but the band will march on, from suppliers to pilots and shippers and off-loaders, to warehouse owners, regional sales managers, street sellers and corrupt officials. The financial reward is worth the risk to them.

What if instead of outlawing drugs, the Government used part of its enforcement budget to import them directly from the growers or wholesalers in South America, and then gave the drugs away for free to anyone over 18 who wanted them? And spent the rest of its enforcement budget on drug prevention programs and advertising, as it has done with cigarettes? Within 20 years, demand might reduce to a trickle.

That's the theme of “El Capo 3”, which just began airing last week, and will continue every weeknight for a few months. Congress might get more useful ideas from watching it than from holding these hearings. I think Rep. Broun should be sentenced to watch it.

Here's the basics (from my limited understanding of Spanish, as there are no captions or subtitles): El Capo, the (fictional) biggest drug lord in Colombia, surrenders in the U.S. and is sentenced to 30 years. He's there about 4 years, when the wife and son of the DEA chief in New York are kidnapped, apparently by a Sicilian or Russian cartel faction. The kidnappers demand the release of El Capo as ransom, within 48 hours. No one knows why, but they probably want to kill him.

The DEA visits El Capo in prison in Florida, and asks if he can help. He agrees but has some conditions. He's wants lots of money, and 1,000 (or 10,000 or 100,000)kilograms of cocaine. Why? He's had a change of heart in prison, and thinks drug trafficking is bad. He's figured out how to end the cartels world-wide: flood the streets with free drugs and step up prevention funding. The cartels will go out of business. He’s written up his detailed plan, and insists the DEA Chief read it.

The DEA chief has no way to get him 1,000 (or 10k or 100k) kilos of cocaine, but the DEA does get him some money and secures his release from prison (smuggling him out dressed as a Hasidic Jew, after a rival cartel boss inmate stabs him, hoping to kill him and prevent his release). El Capo then flies to NY and reunites with his old crew of enforcers and sicarios (killers), joined by the cop in Colombia who chased him for 20 years and got him to surrender. His crew has safely stored his millions or billions in cash and they and the Colombian cop join in his plan to free the world of drug trafficking.

Does it work? Who knows, they are only on episode 9 (out of probably 70.) But given that every punitive and prohibitionist plan we've tried has cost us a bundle and failed, another approach is clearly called for.