The arrest of drug lord Caro Quintero is a Mexican gift to Biden

On it Ten most wanted list from the FBI, Rafael Caro Quintero stood alone at the top for years. For most of the fugitive criminals on the well-known list, the American detective offers $ 100,000 in gratuity. For the Mexican drug lord, that amount was two hundred times higher: $ 20 million for “information that led to the arrest or conviction of Rafael Caro Quintero,” his investigative poster promised until Friday.

In the mountains of the western Mexican state of Sinaloa, the now 69-year-old Caro Quintero was pulled up by the bushes after a Navy sniffer dog tracked him down during a search. It put an end to a nine-year flight for the Mexican, but especially the US authorities, who had long put pressure on relations between the two countries.

Although the drug lord is no longer as powerful as he was in the 1970s and 1980s – when he smuggled large batches of weeds, heroin and cocaine into the United States with the Guadalajara cartel he founded – neighbors in the north were very keen on his arrest. and extradition. . Caro Quintero ordered the assassination of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985. This undercover agent from the anti-drug agency DEA had infiltrated the Guadalajara cartel and helped the Mexican authorities assemble a huge cannabis plantation a year earlier.

Controversial release

The assassination of the DEA agent seriously strained the US-Mexican relationship. Caro Quintero fled the country by bribing Mexican authorities, but was arrested in Costa Rica later that year. In Mexico, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder of Camarena. He had served 28 years of this when a judge in the state of Jalisco released him in early 2013 due to a suspected formal error: he could walk out of jail in the middle of the night. The Supreme Court was supposed to overturn the lower court’s decision, but by then Caro Quintero had already disappeared without a trace.

The founder of the Guadalajara cartel was the first drug lord to become a billionaire (in dollars) with his trade in the 1980s

The Americans never escaped and continued to pressure Mexico in recent years to reincarnate him. Friday’s arrest comes at a special time: a few days earlier, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (nickname: AMLO) was still visiting his colleague Joe Biden in the White House.

During that meeting, bilateral cooperation in the fight against drugs and crime was also on the agenda. Relations between the two neighboring countries have always been tense. Mexico is very keen on its sovereignty and does not accept too much interference. It points out that there would be no drug trade without US demand, and complains about lax U.S. gun laws that allow Mexican criminals to smash heavy weapons into the neighboring country with their narcodollars. In December, Mexico passed a law restricting the DEA’s freedom of movement in the country.

The United States sees endemic corruption in Mexico as a major obstacle in the fight against drug trafficking and Caro Quintero as a notorious example of this. He bought his safe behavior from the cell when he had bribed authorities all his career. In the 1980s, he was known as the first cartel boss to become a billionaire (in dollars) thanks to the export of drugs to the United States. At the time, the Mexican press even reported on his offer to the then government to pay the entire government debt if only it would leave him alone.


The U.S. judiciary wants to prosecute Caro Quintero for more drug shipments in 2018 and 2019, but compared to the current generation of top narcos, he remains a relatively small player. With its arrest and probably prompt extradition to the United States, the AMLO Biden administration is doing a service.

Caro Quintero was transferred under heavy guard to the Altiplano prison in central Mexico.
Photo by Jose Mendez / EPA

However, relations between the two countries remain sensitive even after this arrest, it also emerged on Friday. Washington, for example, had some trouble receiving the Mexican gift properly. DEA chief Anne Milgram issued a jubilant media statement praising how “our incredible DEA team in Mexico cooperated with the Mexican authorities in the capture and arrest of Rafael Caro Quintero.”

Such (allegations of) American aid are very sensitive to the Mexicans, and Biden’s ambassador to Mexico City had to quickly ‘clarify’ the DEA statement. “To be clear,” he said, “no U.S. personnel participated in the tactical operation that led to Caro Quintero’s arrest: his detention was the exclusive work of the Mexican government.”

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