Drug War Extradition Tests US–Mexico Relations

By Tony O'Neill 04/02/13

The US hopes for continued cooperation as they await the extradition of a Sinaloa cartel boss.

José Sánchez-Villalobos will be tried in the
US, if all goes according to plans.
Photo via

US officials are hoping that the spirit of co-operation between the US and Mexico will continue as they wait to see if Sinaloa Cartel “Chief Financial Officer” José Sánchez-Villalobos will be extradited to the US. Villalobos would face a number of serious charges north of the border, including conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and financing a pair of sophisticated drug-smuggling tunnels on the Southwest border. US officials were buoyed in March when Mexico extradited César Alfredo Meza-García to face charges that he masterminded a Tijuana-based drug smuggling cell. The extradition was the first under the auspices of newly elected Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and US officials quickly took this a sign that Mexico would continue its record of extraditing scores of cartel operatives to face charges in the US. However the Villalobos case may prove to be more problematic. A formal request was made to send Villalobos to San Diego to face prosecution nearly a year ago, and the US is still awaiting an answer. Having grown accustomed to the support of the Calderón administration, these kinds of delays point to an uncertain future for US-Mexico relations in the matter. Sherri Walker Hobson, the US Attorney prosecuting Villalobos’ case in Sand Diego, says: “We’re in a wait-and-see period.”

President Nieto has vowed to carry on in the steps of his predecessors, but his Institutional Revolutionary Party has long prided itself as “a defender of Mexican sovereignty…against US influence,” according to David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of California, San Diego. Before Mexico made its transition from one-party rule in 2000, extraditions were often seen as politically taboo as the country was determined to fight drug traffickers free from US influence. It wasn’t until the election of Vincente Fox that extraditions became the norm and this co-operation was rewarded with generous aid packages to fight the cartels. The number of extraditions to the US more than doubled under President Calderón’s tenure, during which time at least 63,000 people were killed as he escalated the war against the cartels. 

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.