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Caro Quintero: captured El Narco de Narcos, one of the historical bosses of Sinaloa

Rafael Caro Quintero has been captured. Whoever was called El Narco de Narcos in the eighties, on which weighed the highest reward offered by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for a criminal (20 million dollars), has been arrested this Friday in the Sinaloa mountains . Founder of the legendary Guadalajara cartel, later called the Sinaloa cartel, this is the second time that the authorities have arrested him. 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 after a scandalous judicial decision, when he still had 12 years to serve. The United States never forgave (or forgot) 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, now returns to prison 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 his extradition will be imminent.

The authorities have transferred him on Friday night to the maximum security prison of the Altiplano, in the State of Mexico. The prison became famous after the second and last escape of Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, who escaped in July 2015 through a tunnel connected to the shower in his cell.

Elements of the Navy escort Caro Quintero on the runway of an airport to continue with his transfer to the Altiplano prison.
Elements of the Navy escort Caro Quintero on the runway of an airport to continue with his transfer to the Altiplano prison.SEMAR

In a video leaked by the authorities, Caro is seen with his hair dyed black, an image that is far from the last time he was seen in custody, where he looked like a much older man. 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, the Secretary of the Navy 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).

Max, the navy hound who helped locate Rafael Caro Quintero.
Max, the navy hound who helped locate Rafael Caro Quintero.RR H.H.

Shortly after the news was released, a Navy helicopter with 15 soldiers who had participated in the operation against Caro Quintero collapsed on the Sinaloa coast, near Los Mochis. 14 sailors died. The causes of the possible accident are still a mystery and an investigation has been opened to clarify what happened. “There is no information that the plane crash is related to the arrest of the alleged drug trafficker,” the Navy statement said. López Obrador has lamented the death of the officers in a message on social networks.

The US government has celebrated the capture as its own success. 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 said.

Red Cross paramedics next to the helicopter that fell in Los Mochis (Sinaloa), in the accident that left 14 sailors dead, this July 15.
Red Cross paramedics next to the helicopter that fell in Los Mochis (Sinaloa), in the accident that left 14 sailors dead, this July 15.STRINGER (REUTERS)

The operation was carried out two days after the meeting in Washington between López Obrador and Joe Biden. During the president’s visit, security and arms trafficking were one of the main issues, in addition to the migration crisis. With the capo’s capture, one of Mexico’s pending debts with the White House is settled. “A priority objective” for both governments, says the Navy.

Although he no longer has the power of yesteryear, the FBI file warns that he continues to be a threat to drug trafficking. Which leaves the door open to a possible extradition, just like in his day another of the most wanted drug traffickers, 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 heard the case, not a federal one, and ordered his immediate release from a maximum-security prison. He stepped onto the street on August 9 of that year, a Friday morning.

Elements of the Navy sitting on both sides of Rafael Caro Quintero (third from left to right) on a plane to transfer him to the maximum security prison, this Friday.
Elements of the Navy sitting on both sides of Rafael Caro Quintero (third from left to right) on a plane to transfer him to the maximum security prison, this Friday.SEMAR

Months later, the Mexican Supreme Court annulled the order that released him, stating that Camarena was an agent of the US government and, therefore, his murder was a federal crime, so 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 kingpins 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 Gift Net, He was placed under house arrest due to his age, 91, and his health problems. Caro, also nicknamed 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 Process 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, ”she pointed out.

Members of the Navy and the Federal Ministerial Police carry out an operation in the hangar of the Attorney General's Office to transfer the capo from Mexico City to the Altiplano prison (State of Mexico).
Members of the Navy and the Federal Ministerial Police carry out an operation in the hangar of the Attorney General’s Office to transfer the capo from Mexico City to the Altiplano prison (State of Mexico).Jose Mendez (EFE)

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 in 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. from a young age with his family, northern Sonora. Small places, hardly accessible, surrounded by his people. This Friday they have captured him 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. He succeeded Joaquin El Chapo Guzmán, who was last arrested in a house in Los Mochis (Sinaloa, in 2016) and it is assumed that the same happens with the only great narco of the old school that has never been arrested, Ismael The May 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. The shot did not miss 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 pointed out last year 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 to their father’s criminal empire who have disputed total control of the organization with another of the founders, The May 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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