MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Infamous drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, who was behind the killing of a U.S. DEA agent in 1985, has been captured by Mexican forces nearly a decade after walking out of a Mexican prison and returning to drug trafficking, an official with Mexico's navy confirmed Friday.
The source was not authorized to speak publicly and agreed to confirm the action only if not quoted by name. No further details about the capture were immediately available.
Caro Quintero walked free in 2013 after 28 years in prison when a court overturned his 40-year sentence for the 1985 kidnapping and killing of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena. The brutal murder marked a low point in U.S.-Mexico relations.
Caro Quintero, the former leader of the Guadalajara cartel, had since returned to drug trafficking and unleashed bloody turf battles in the northern Mexico border state of Sonora.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has maintained that he is not interested in detaining drug lords and prefers to avoid violence.
An appeals court overturned Caro Quintero's verdict, but the Supreme Court upheld the sentence. It was too late by then; Caro Quintero was spirited off 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 added to the FBI's top 10 most wanted list in 2018.
Caro Quintero was one of the primary suppliers of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana to the United States in the late 1970s. He blamed Camarena for a raid on a marijuana plantation in 1984. In 1985, Camarena was kidnapped in Guadalajara, allegedly on orders from 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 believed to have been operating independently most recently, though there had been rumors he was back with the Sinaloa cartel.
Caro Quintero was from Badiraguato, Sinaloa, the same area as Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the former Sinaloa cartel leader now serving a life sentence in the United States. He eventually became one of the "godfathers" of Mexican drug trafficking.
Caro Quintero's arrest was a surprise, considering López Obrador's stated disinterest in going after drug cartel leaders, Vigil said, but he added that the DEA would never stop looking for someone who killed an agent.
"We didn't see a lot of effort (to capture Caro Quintero) in the last several years, especially when (López Obrador) came in and immediately started to dismantle a lot of the infrastructure and the bilateral relationships between the U.S. and Mexico relative to drug trafficking," Vigil said.
After seeing Caro Quintero walk out of a Mexican prison once already, Vigil said he hopes the government won't risk a repeat — Guzman twice escaped from Mexican maximum security prisons — and would agree to a likely U.S. extradition request.
In Sonora, one of the state's hit hardest by Caro Quintero's efforts to reclaim his territory, there was a hope his arrest could help.
"I believe in Sonora, in general, there could be calm, and yes, relief for us, because I believe the disappearances will diminish," said Cecilia Duarte, an activist with a team of volunteer searchers in Sonora who look for the clandestine graves of the disappeared. Some activists have been threatened and even killed in Sonora amid Caro Quintero's turf wars with the sons of "El Chapo."
But, Duarte said, Caro Quintero "is only part (of the conflict), the conflict doesn't end."
'Long and ovedue'
Patrick O'Toole, Former U.S. Attorney and Federal Prosecutor, described Quintero's arrest as welcoming and long overdue in an interview with CBS 8.
"It's one good development. Drugs are terrible. I mean, they do terrible things and the money and violence behind it are perhaps the worst of all so I applaud the fact that he's been caught," said O'Toole.
O'Toole worked narcotics cases during his time in the District Attorney's office and remembers the brutal murder of agent Camarena.
"I can remember when his body was brought back, I can remember his son, young son at the time, who’s now a judge himself, being there so it was a very sad affair when his remains were brought back to United States," added O'Toole.
Vicente Calderon, Editor of the TijuanaPress.com, says Quintero's arrest is the biggest capture under Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's presidency who has been criticized for not taking a tougher stance against drug traffickers,
But Calderon said, his capture means more to the U.S. than it does to Mexico.
“This arrest is most significant for the US than for Mexico. This is a symbolic operation for the DEA who has been looking for this suspect since 1985,” said Calderon.
Despite his arrest, O’Tool and Calderon think Quintero’s capture won’t do much to put a stop to drug trafficking and drug traffickers.
Quintero was taken to jail in Almoloya, State of Mexico.
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