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Column 081913 Wall

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Unbelievable and Appalling Release of a Mexican Drug Boss

By Allan Wall

Rafael Caro Quintero, a 1980’s-era Mexican drug baron, was released from prison on August 9th, 2013, to the shock and amazement of many.  The United States Department of Justice called the release “deeply troubling,” and the Mexican Attorney General expressed discontent.  Why was Caro Quintero released, and will this provide a precedent for the release of other dangerous narco criminals?

To understand why Caro Quintero is so infamous, and how he fit into the big picture, it’s necessary to go back in time several decades, as Caro Quintero was one of the founders of the now-extinct Guadalajara Cartel.  The story of Caro Quintero and the murder of Enrique Camarena bring back a lot of bad memories. It’s a tragic history with national sovereignty implications which rivals any fictional crime story cooked up by Hollywood.

In 1981, Mexican-American DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agent Enrique Camarena was posted to Mexico where he served as an undercover agent.  Camarena discovered and reported to Mexican authorities the whereabouts of el Búfalo, a 2,500-acre marijuana plantation, worked by thousands of farmers and belonging to Caro Quintero.  It’s been calculated that the plantation’s annual production was valued at US$8 billion.

As a result of the intelligence provided by Camarena, el Búfalo was raided by 450 soldiers with helicopter backup, who burned 10,000 tons of marijuana.

Caro Quintero and other Guadalajara Cartel leaders were furious and sought revenge.  They discovered Camarena’s role and had the DEA agent and his pilot kidnapped (with the help of corrupt policemen).  To torture and kill Camarena, a doctor (Humberto Alvarez Machain) was apparently brought in to extend Camarena’s life so he could be tortured longer.

The DEA responded with Operation Leyenda, an investigation which discovered corruption and cover-up.  Frustrated by the difficulty to extradite, the DEA had Alvarez Machain and others involved kidnapped and taken to the United States to be tried. This provoked a diplomatic dispute with Mexico, as those detained had not been properly extradited.

Nowadays, the U.S. and Mexico have coordinated their extradition procedures and  high-profile cartel bosses are often extradited to the United States.  In fact, one gets the impression that the Mexican government prefers to get these individuals off its hands and out of the country.

As for Caro Quintero, he had escaped to Costa Rica but was soon arrested and returned to Mexico.  In 1989, Caro Quintero was convicted for the murder of Camarena (and other charges), and sentenced to 40-years in prison.

Fast forward to 2013, when a court ordered Caro Quintero’s release on the grounds that he was not tried under the proper jurisdiction. The argument is that since Camarena did not technically occupy a diplomatic post, Caro Quintero should have been tried for his murder under state, and not federal, jurisdiction.  So the prisoner was released on August 9th.

The news was shocking, objected to by the U.S. government, and criticized by the Peña Nieto administration.

The question can also be raised, if this argument worked for Caro Quintero’s release, might it also work toward the release of other dangerous Mexican narco barons?

It’s hard to see how the Caro Quintero release helps the Peña Nieto administration.  And in fact, the Mexican federal government may have found a way of getting Caro Quintero out of the country.

On August 14th, 2013, the government announced a new provisional arrest warrant for Rafael Caro Quintero, with the option of extraditing him to the United States (and thereby getting him out of the country).

The Mexican Attorney General, though, has pointed out that Caro Quintero cannot be extradited for the Camarena murder because he’s already been tried for that crime in Mexico.

However, given Caro Quintero’s long rap sheet, it shouldn’t be hard to find evidence of at least one other crime he’s committed.

On the other hand, I don’t think that Caro Quintero is just sitting around waiting to be extradited, either.  If they plan to capture him, they might consider doing it very soon, if they can.

As for the other founders/leaders of the old Guadalajara Cartel, also charged with Camarena’s murder, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo are currently imprisoned in Mexico.

Note: I was recently a guest of Silvio Canto, Jr., on his “Canto Talk” radio program.  We discussed the Caro Quintero release, the controversy over Mexico’s state oil monopoly PEMEX, and other topics.  You can listen to the interview here.


Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at

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