Rafael Caro Quintero has been captured. The narco of drug traffickers during the eighties, on which the highest reward of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) weighed for a criminal, has been arrested this Friday. One of the founders of the legendary Guadalajara cartel, later called the Sinaloa cartel, has been arrested for the second time, near his land. In 1985 he went to prison after the brutal murder of an infiltrated DEA agent, Kiki Camarena, and in 2013 he was released in Mexico due to a judicial scandal, when he still had 12 years of sentence left. The United States never forgave the crime and pressured the Mexican authorities to recapture him. The old drug lord, who far from retiring, had a cartel in his name in the north, returns to prison this Friday at the age of 69. It is the largest capture of a drug trafficker during the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The American justice affirms that they seek that the extradition is imminent.
In a video leaked by the authorities that have participated in his capture, Caro is seen with his hair dyed black, an image that is far from the last time he was guarded by the police at the time of his release, where he looked like a man much older. In the images that circulate on social networks, a marine hands him a bottle of water and the sweaty capo is observed, taken by the arms, not subdued, nor handcuffed. In a statement from the Secretary of the Navy it is reported that it was a dog, Max, who managed to locate the drug trafficker “between the bushes” in the municipality of the Sierra de Sinaloa, San Simón (Choix).
Shortly after the news was announced, a Navy helicopter with 15 soldiers on board has collapsed on the Sinaloa coast, near Los Mochis. 14 have died. The first official hypotheses suggest that the group may have participated in the capo’s capture. But the reasons for the possible accident are still a mystery and an investigation has been opened to determine the causes of the fall of the aircraft. “There is no information that the plane crash is related to the arrest of the alleged drug trafficker,” the statement ends.
The US government has celebrated the capture as a success of its own. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has insisted that the arrest is “the culmination of tireless work by the DEA and its Mexican partners.” “There is no possible hiding place for anyone who kidnaps, tortures and murders a US agent,” the statement added.
The operation was carried out two days after the meeting in Washington between López Obrador and Joe Biden. During the president’s visit, the issue of security and arms trafficking was one of the main issues, in addition to the migration crisis. With the capo’s capture, one of Mexico’s pending debts with the United States Government is settled. “A priority objective” for both governments, says the Navy, although the capo spent nine years operating in freedom.
Although he is not considered the powerful drug trafficker that he was in his day, an FBI file from October warned that he continued to be a threat to drug trafficking. Which leaves the door open for a possible extradition, as well as in his day another of the most wanted capos, Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán was extradited to New York weeks after Donald Trump took power in January 2017.
Caro Quintero served 28 years of sentence in Mexico and when he was 12 years away from serving his sentence, he was released by a court, a judicial scandal that the US government would never forget. In August 2013, the appeals court overturned the 40-year prison sentence for the murder of Camarena and the pilot who accompanied him, Alfredo Zavala. The court argued that a state court should have handled the case, not a federal one, and ordered his immediate release from a maximum-security prison. The capo stepped onto the street on August 9 of that year, a Friday morning.
Months later, the Supreme Court of Mexico annulled the order that released him, pointing out that Camarena was an agent of the US government and, therefore, his murder was a federal crime, so that he had been properly prosecuted. A new arrest warrant was then issued against Caro Quintero, but it was too late. The capo had fled from justice and was a fugitive for nine years.
The brutal murder of Kiki Camarena shattered the power that Mexican drug lords had acquired for decades. The DEA’s pursuit of all the founders of the Guadalajara cartel sent a harsh message to drug traffickers, who found themselves cornered for the first time. Pablo Escobar’s Medellín cartel also suffered the consequences of the DEA’s wrath against the narco a few years later. Those involved in Camarena’s murder were not extradited — a drug trafficker’s greatest fear — and Mexican authorities failed to prevent Caro’s release, dealing a second blow to the credibility of the fight against drug trafficking.
The days of Caro Quintero were always linked to the powerful DEA’s thirst for revenge. Few dared to go as far as the founders of the Guadalajara cartel, the father of all cartels that were born later. The only one who remained in prison for the crime of the DEA agent was Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, the boss of bosses. Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, Don Neto, was placed under house arrest due to his age, 91, and his health problems. Caro, also nicknamed The Prince, and the youngest of the group, had managed to get away with it and return to the field at the age of 60. From his lair, he offered an interview to the magazine Proceso where he stated: “I am no longer a danger to society. I don’t want to know anything about drug trafficking. If I did something wrong, I already paid for it, ”he pointed out.
The outstanding debt he had for the crime that landed him in jail in 1985 haunted him night and day. The sentence against him considered it proven that on February 7 of that year, when Camarena left the United States consulate in Guadalajara, he was kidnapped by police officers and handed over to the Guadalajara cartel. On a farm belonging to the organization, the American policeman was tortured over and over again while a doctor kept him alive. When his body was recovered, it was discovered that he had been castrated and buried alive.
Camarena was an American agent who, infiltrated the Guadalajara cartel, dismantled a gigantic marijuana plantation, located in the so-called Buffalo ranch. The official version indicates that, in retaliation, the drug traffickers murdered him and the pilot with whom he inspected the drug crops, Alfredo Zavala. Their bodies appeared, a month after being kidnapped, in a ditch 150 kilometers from Guadalajara.
The narco clinging to his land
Despite being the criminal with the highest reward offered by the DEA, 20 million dollars, no one on his land doubted a few months ago what his refuge was. The towns where he grew up, the dusty mountains of Sinaloa and the desert where he lived as a young man with his family, the north of Sonora. Small places, hardly accessible, surrounded by his people. This Friday he was captured in Choix, a rural municipality north of Sinaloa, a few kilometers from there.
Returning to the homeland has been the strategy of Mexican drug traffickers for decades, even if they were on their heels. It happened to Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, who was arrested for the last time in a house in Los Mochis (Sinaloa, in 2016) and it is assumed that the same happens with the only old-school narco ever arrested from the Sinaloa cartel, Ismael El Mayo Zambada. When Caro Quintero managed to get a judge to release him, the first thing he did was return to his town. Reorganize his people, negotiate a piece of the pie and without the eccentricities of his time, continue the business quietly. The FBI located him in Badiraguato (Sinaloa), the town from which almost all the drug lords in Mexico are from, and announced: from there he operates his own cartel. He did not miss the shot by many kilometers.
In addition to Badiraguato, there is another place where the neighbors had located Caro Quintero before the DEA or the FBI. In the municipality of Caborca (Sonora) besieged for more than a year by violence between local cartels, his name began to sound. It was not strange, because those who remember the time of the eighties, have in their imagination the arrival of Caro Quintero’s family to this town in the Sonoran desert. When not even the streets were paved, a reporter with more than two decades of work in the area, who prefers not to give her name for fear of reprisals, has an image recorded that she still has not forgotten: a pink limousine. “Caro brought a lot of money to the town, the people highly esteem him and his family. Many stayed to live here and it is something known that comes and goes from Sinaloa to these directions, ”she pointed out in an interview.
In Caborca, 100 desert kilometers from the US border and with little control from the authorities, he maintained another of his shelters. Some narcomantas last year indicated the arrival of their gunmen in this area. And some local media pointed to a fight for the square of some who claimed his name. Mexican intelligence leaked to the local press that Caro Quintero was working in coordination with the Juárez cartel and its armed wing, La Línea, to recover areas of Sonora that, while he was in prison, had been taken over by another cartel, that of the children of El Chapo, known as Los Chapitos.
A war between Los Chapitos —heirs of their father’s criminal empire who have disputed total control of the organization with another of the founders, El Mayo Zambada— and local gangs that revive the name of Caro Quintero keep northern Sonora under siege. But while they have unleashed terror in the region due to their new ways of intimidating their rivals, much bloodier, reluctant to agree or the slightest code of honor, the old capo continued to represent the golden age of drug trafficking.
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