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Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Back issues
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Suspected drug trafficking leader extradited from Mexico

Officials said the man is one of the world’s most wanted drug traffickers, but some activists doubt the extradition will mitigate the brutality the drug trade inflicts on local communities throughout Mexico and South and Central America.

(CN) — Mexico on Friday extradited one of its citizens suspected of leading a transnational drug trafficking organization.

The lead defendant in a 22-count indictment, Angel Humberto Chavez-Gastelum "has been designated by the United States government as one of the world’s most-wanted drug traffickers," according to a statement announcing the extradition from the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

Prosecutors say Chavez-Gastelum controlled a supply route from Colombia through Central America and Mexico to the United States, using airplanes, submarines and fast boats to smuggle and distribute drugs worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Chavez-Gastelum also faces charges in two murders, “with one victim’s torture and dismemberment captured on a video that has been obtained by law enforcement authorities,” the indictment said.

Over the course of the investigation, federal agents seized 7,700 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $500 million, according to the indictment. Officials said the drugs were seized from myriad locations, including a plane crash in the Caribbean Sea, a stash house in Tijuana to various drug operations in Southern California.

Michael Lettieri, managing editor of the Mexico Violence Resource Project and a senior fellow for human rights at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego, said in an interview that Chavez-Gastelum is one of the few who get to thrive off the drug trade’s “chain of corruption that breeds a sort of impunity for violence” and deeply harms communities.

“The people who are transporting drugs at the very bottom, the people who are dying over fights for control of the routes are not the people who see the benefits,” said Lettieri. “They're not the people who are walking away with a suitcase full of cash.”

Lettieri said Chavez-Gastelum's extradition will likely be “a lot better for the careers of people in the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice” than for young people on the front lines of drug trafficking’s brutality. He said young people get lured into and exploited by the drug trade, becoming “cannon fodder of this drug war."

It’s these marginalized youth who don't have many options," Lettieri said. "Nintey-nine point nine percent of the time, they're not ascending the ranks, they're ending up in an unmarked grave.”

He said his organization emphasizes putting a “local perspective on harm” from drug trafficking.  While not opposed to the extradition, Lettieri said it encapsulated half a century of America’s war on drugs “chasing the drug lords” rather than focusing on making things better for the youth and poor people coerced and threatened into joining the trafficking rings while receiving few benefits.

“Extraditions are good for the narrative of the drug war, but they don't actually change the underlying dynamics of what's going on,” Lettieri said. “They don't change the underlying dynamics of violence. I don't want to say that top-to-bottom U.S. policy is harmful. But the efforts that are made to support civil society are sort of a feather on [one side of] the scale and on the other side is 50 years of lead, 50 years of a militarized war on drugs.”

Chavez-Gastelum will be arraigned Tuesday, the 22nd defendant arraigned out of the 47 in the indictment. He faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Categories / Criminal, International

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