Mexico captures notorious drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero


MEXICO CITY — Notorious drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, who was behind the 1985 assassination of a US DEA agent, was captured by Mexican forces on Friday, nearly a decade after he left a Mexican prison and returned to drug trafficking, according to the Mexican government’s national arrest register.

A Mexican Navy official who was not authorized to speak publicly and agreed only to confirm the action if not named, also confirmed the arrest. The registry office listed the time of Caro Quintero’s arrest as around noon and said he was in transit, but no further details of the capture were immediately available.

Caro Quintero was released in 2013 after 28 years in prison when a court overturned his 40-year sentence for the 1985 kidnapping and murder of US Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. The brutal murder marks a low point in US-Mexico relations.

Caro Quintero, the former leader of the Guadalajara cartel, had meanwhile returned to the drug trade and unleashed bloody turf wars in the northern Mexican border state of Sonora.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has claimed he is not interested in arresting drug lords, preferring to avoid violence.

But the arrest came just days after López Obrador met US President Joe Bien at the White House.

Tensions had arisen between the Mexican government and the DEA after Mexico enacted a law restricting the US agency’s activities. But recently the new head of the DEA was granted a visa in Mexico, which US officials took as a sign of progress in relations.

Later Friday, the Red Cross in the western state of Sinaloa said it was responding to the crash of a Mexican Navy helicopter. It was unclear if it was involved in the operation to capture Caro Quintero.

An appeals court overturned Caro Quintero’s verdict, but the Supreme Court upheld the verdict. By then it was already too late; Caro Quintero was taken away in a waiting vehicle.

He was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, with a $20 million reward for his capture through the State Department’s Narcotics Rewards program. He was included in the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted Lists in 2018.

Caro Quintero was one of the major suppliers of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana to the United States in the late 1970s. He blamed Camarena for a 1984 marijuana plantation raid. In 1985, Camarena was kidnapped in Guadalajara, allegedly on the orders of Caro Quintero. His tortured body was found a month later.

The DEA did not immediately comment.

Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations, said Caro Quintero was probably the last to operate independently, despite rumors that he was back with the Sinaloa cartel.

Caro Quintero was from Badiraguato, Sinaloa, the same area as Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the former leader of the Sinaloa cartel who is now serving a life sentence in the United States. He eventually became one of the “godfathers” of the Mexican drug trade.

Vigil called Caro Quintero’s arrest a surprise given López Obrador’s stated disinterest in prosecuting the drug cartel leaders, but added that the DEA would never stop looking for someone who killed an agent.

“We haven’t done much[to capture Caro Quintero]in recent years, especially when[López Obrador]came in and immediately began dismantling much of the infrastructure and bilateral US-Mexico ties related to drug trafficking,” Vigil said.

After seeing Caro Quintero get out of a Mexican prison before, Vigil said he hoped the government wouldn’t risk a repeat – Guzman had escaped twice from Mexican maximum-security prisons – and would agree to a likely US extradition request.

In Sonora, one of the states hardest hit by Caro Quintero’s efforts to reclaim his territory, there was hope his arrest could help.

“I think there might be calm in Sonora in general, and yes, relief for us because I think the disappearances are going to slow down,” said Cecilia Duarte, an activist with a team of volunteer searchers in Sonora who are searching for the secret graves search for the missing. Some activists have been threatened and even killed in Sonora amidst Caro Quintero’s turf wars with the sons of “El Chapo”.

But, Duarte said, Caro Quintero “is only part (of the conflict), the conflict does not end.”

Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson and María Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report. Mexico captures notorious drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero

Dustin Huang

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