Mexico extradited drug kingpins Osiel Cardenas and Hector “El Guero” Palma along with several other major traffickers to the United States on Friday as part of a major crackdown against warring cartels.
President Felipe Calderon took office in December and quickly sent troops and elite police units to tackle Mexico’s main drug cartels, in an attempt to halt a gruesome surge in violence that claimed more than 2,000 lives last year.
A total of fifteen men arrived in the United States aboard flights from Mexico on Friday.
Osiel Cardenas is considered the leader, or former leader, of the Gulf Cartel. He was arrested and imprisoned in Mexico in 2003. Hector “El Guero” Palma is a top associate of Mexico’s most wanted man Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who heads another powerful cartel.
Guzman infamously broke out of a top security prison hidden in a laundry van and has since evaded arrest.
Tony Garza, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said the decision to send the traffickers to the United States was “a monumental moment.”
“Some of the most brutal criminals in the history of our two countries have been extradited from Mexico to the United States to face justice for the crimes they have committed,” he said in a statement.
Extradition a key tool in limiting kingpins' power
Drug kingpins held in Mexican prisons are often able to keep their cartels running from behind bars, making extradition to the United States a key tool in limiting their power.
“The Mexican state will not tolerate the violence and will respond with total strength against all criminal organizations that damage the interests of the nation,” the president’s office said in a statement.
In recent weeks Calderon has sent thousands of soldiers and federal police across Mexico to clamp down on Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel and its rival Gulf Cartel. The rival gangs are fighting a vicious war in several states for control of trafficking routes and opium and marijuana plantations.
The government swoop is popular in Mexico and with Washington, but crime experts warn the initiative will fail unless it also attacks rampant corruption that puts police and justice officials on the payroll of the cartels.
In the 1980s, a Colombian policy of extraditing cartel leaders to the United States caused a massive backlash, and after a campaign of bombings and assassinations that killed dozens the practice was eventually abandoned.
Calderon’s government also extradited Gilberto and Ismael Higuera, brothers who were key lieutenants in the Arellano Felix family drug cartel based in the violent border city of Tijuana.
Others in the group included lower-level traffickers, as well as a murderer and sex offenders.