MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The government of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has stepped up extraditions of suspected drug cartel leaders to the United States, official data shows, as Washington presses for increased bilateral cooperation on security.
Last year, Mexico’s government extradited 58 people wanted in the United States, according to figures from the attorney general’s office seen by Reuters. By Feb. 21, Mexico had already sent 30 people across the border in 2020, the figures showed.
“Mexico has reiterated the need to implement a new approach to reduce the access to weapons and the financing capabilities of criminal organizations that operate in our country as a result of the exorbitant profits resulting from drug trafficking into a restricted market, and with very large arsenals that are mostly, around 70% trafficked from the U.S.,” Mexico’s foreign ministry told Reuters.
“The Mexican government has expressed its willingness to cooperate with the United States under the aforementioned understanding that the security of the region is a shared responsibility,” the ministry said, adding the extraditions comply with Mexico’s legal framework and respond to the national interest.
The latest extraditee was Ramon Villarreal, aka “El Mon”, a senior figure in the Beltran Leyva Cartel, who was flown out at the weekend to be tried in Texas for the murder of a lawyer of incarcerated former Gulf Cartel boss Osiel Cardenas.
Based in northwest Mexico, the Beltran Leyva Cartel was once allied to the Sinaloa Cartel of kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, now in a U.S. prison. The two gangs later became bitter enemies.
U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed Mexico to increase cooperation in the fight against drug gangs, especially since the massacre of nine U.S-Mexican women and children in northern Mexico by suspected cartel hitmen last November.
Early this year, Mexico drafted a judicial reform including measures that would have made it harder for lawyers to delay extraditions of clients to the United States. That draft bill met with heavy criticism from the opposition and civil society groups, and a far less radical reform proposal was ultimately put forward.
In 2017, Mexico extradited 57 people to the United States and 69 the following year, official data show.
Reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by David Gregorio and Alistair Bell