The war for the territory that betrayed Caro Quintero, El Narco de Narcos

A local policeman stands guard on one of the avenues in the city of Caborca, Sonora, where a curfew was imposed
A local policeman stands guard on one of the avenues in the city of Caborca, Sonora, where a curfew was imposedHector Guerrero

The capture this Friday of Rafael Caro Quintero has been preceded by years of bloody clashes over territory in northwestern Mexico. After spending 28 years behind bars, the so-called Narco of Narcos He was released from prison in 2013 due to a procedural error and set out to rebuild the criminal empire that made him the most powerful drug trafficker in the 1980s. The return of Caro Quintero led to a trail of blood and violence in strategic places in Sonora, Sinaloa and Baja California. The fight for the territory led to an open war with Los Chapitos, the faction of the Sinaloa cartel headed by the sons of Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, former partner and friend of Don Rafael, one of his many aliases. The narco most wanted by the DEA has not been able to recover the throne of crime but his ambition, which put him back on the radar of the authorities, has ended up condemning him.

The forecast of the majority of security analysts is that the arrest of Caro Quintero will result in more violence. The possible extradition of the capo to the United States opens a free field for a stark struggle for succession within the criminal organizations themselves, as well as among the groups that survive and had been displaced by the expansion of the Caborca ​​cartel, the group headed by Caro Quintero and that made the coast of the border state of Sonora its main stronghold. Most specialists predict a reconfiguration of the game board, a new line on the criminal map of the multimillion-dollar business of drug trafficking to the United States.

After leaving prison, Caro Quintero sought the protection of Ismael The May Zambada, historical leader of the Sinaloa cartel together with El Chapo. The capo, identified as the mastermind of the murder of DEA agent Enrique kiki Camarena in 1985, was on the verge of death and settled first in the south of the northern state of Chihuahua under the promise of not continuing his criminal career, according to reports in the Mexican press. In any case, the country’s authorities issued new arrest warrants and Caro Quintero ended up in Surutato, a small community north of Badiraguato (Sinaloa), a town famous for being the birthplace of several of the most wanted drug traffickers in Mexico and the United States. where The May offered him shelter.

The alliance was short-lived. Caro Quintero moved to El Batamote, a tiny town in southern Sonora, and patiently hatched a plan to reclaim the territories he controlled during his heyday and get back into business. The 69-year-old capo affirmed that he was entitled to a seniority right and in 2017 summoned relatives who were already in the ranks of organized crime, created an armed wing to deal with the coming battles – La Barredora 24/7 – and closed ranks with La Línea, a group of hitmen originally associated with the now-defunct Juárez cartel. Thus began a war between the heirs of El Chapo and the old guard that dominated during the 1980s and 1990s, between the dominance of the Sinaloa cartel and the ambition of the cells that were cast aside.

The plan was to win Sonora first. Then take the Golden Triangle, the mountainous region that makes up Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango, the drug epicenter in Mexico. And later, dispute control of the border.

“We are people from Caro Quintero, this plaza belonged to us.” The message was placed in May 2020 next to the bodies of two dismembered men in Caborca, Sonora. The violence buried the city of less than 60,000 inhabitants and turned it into hell: corpses left inside coolers, people murdered and abandoned in trailers, shootings, kidnappings, forced disappearances, collection of floor fees, curfews, open challenges. to authority, suspected collusion with authority, late-model luxury cars in a community of farmers and ranchers. Caro Quintero felt untouchable again.

The violence spread throughout the Northwest. For example, just last May, a hitman associated with Caro Quintero was shot in Mexicali, the second most important border city in Baja California and another of the places in dispute by criminal groups.

In one of the multiple accusations that exist against Caro Quintero, the United States justice makes an x-ray of his criminal organization. Above all is the command, the leadership that has the last word on drug trafficking, money laundering and corrupt agreements to guarantee the impunity of the group. Below are those in charge of security, the armed cells that are in charge of protecting the leaders and getting involved in confrontations with the authorities to allow the capos to escape from the capture operations.

At a third level are the plaza bosses, who control specific territories and are responsible for receiving and distributing the drug from those points. Further down are the carriers: nautical crews, light aircraft pilots and truck drivers, in a vast network that extended from Colombia to the United States. There are also straw men in charge of funneling the money back to Mexico and hired assassins, who are in charge of assassinating, kidnapping and torturing.

All this to “defend the prestige, reputation, and position of Caro Quintero’s criminal organization” and “impose discipline among its members and associates by punishing disloyalty and failure,” state the US authorities. The New York Prosecutor’s Office characterizes him as a specialist in the trafficking of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine with a resume that spans four decades: “His organization generated millions of dollars in profits from the sale of drugs in the United States” .

All in all, Caro Quintero could not recover the power that earned him the nickname of the drug dealer, but his plans to return to the top eventually gave him away. Analysts hope that the capture will give the authorities a break, especially in Sonora, but the peace is expected to be tense and short-lived. The State opened 727 investigation files for intentional homicide in 2017, when it is presumed that the capo began his offensive, according to official data. Last year closed with 1,600 murder investigations, more than double, and in the first five months of 2022 there were 583 open cases. Just this week, hit men and agents clashed in Caborca, after an armed group launched an attack on the headquarters of the Ministerial Agency for Criminal Investigation and a manhunt broke out throughout the city. No deaths were reported, but neither were any arrests.

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