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Mexico’s capture of drug lord could signal US

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — The motivation of the United States to find the infamous drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero was never in doubt — hence the $20 million reward for information leading to his arrest — there was less certainty about the deployment of the Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who had made it clear that he had no interest in pursuing drug lords.

But on Friday, three days after López Obrador and US President Joe Biden met at the White House, the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s most wanted target was in Mexican custody.

The man allegedly responsible for the murder of a DEA agent more than three decades ago was awakened from the undergrowth by a bloodhound when Mexican marines closed deep in the mountains of his native state of Sinaloa.

The arrest came at a high cost: 14 Mexican Marines died and another was injured when a Navy Blackhawk helicopter crashed during the operation. The Navy said it appeared to be an accident, the cause is being investigated.

Mexico’s Attorney General’s office said in a statement Friday that Caro Quintero has been arrested for extradition to the US and will be held in the Altiplano maximum security prison, about 50 miles west of Mexico City.

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram celebrated the arrest of a man especially despised by US officials for the torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985. “Our incredible DEA team in Mexico worked with Mexican authorities to Rafael Caro and arrest Quintero,” she said in a message to the agency late Friday. “Today’s arrest is the result of years of blood, sweat and tears.”

The collaboration between the DEA and the Mexican Marines had led to some of the most notable arrests under previous administrations, but not under López Obrador, security analyst David Saucedo noted.

“It seems to me that during the private talks between President Joe Biden and Andrés Manuel (López Obrador), they certainly agreed to re-extradite high-profile drug traffickers who had been suspended,” Saucedo said.

Both presidents are under domestic pressure to do more against drug traffickers. With Caro Quintero’s arrest, “Narcos are being recaptured and I believe it was clear what was actually needed,” Saucedo said.

US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said in a statement Saturday that no US personnel directly participated in the tactical operation that led to the drug lord’s arrest. “Caro Quintero’s detention was carried out solely by the Mexican government.”

Samuel González, who founded the Organized Crime Bureau in Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office and is now a security analyst, said the arrest may not have much of an effect on the organized crime map in Mexico, given that Caro Quintero is not as powerful as it was decades ago, and it could even lead to more violence in areas like Sonora, on the US border.

But he said in favor of López Obrador, the arrest “shows evidence that there is no protection of capos” by his government.

González believes Caro Quintero has long been a thorn in the side of the bilateral relationship, but said his capture was “without doubt” the result of recent negotiations in Washington.

“The Americans never stopped pushing for his arrest,” González said.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Salazar expressed gratitude for Mexico’s arrest of the man blamed for Camarena’s murder – a case that marked a low point in US-Mexico relations.

“This achievement is a testament to Mexico’s determination to bring to justice someone who terrorized and destabilized Mexico during his time in the Guadalajara cartel; and is involved in the kidnapping, torture and murder of DEA agent Kiki Camarena,” Salazar said in a statement late Friday.

Garland said the US government would request his immediate extradition.

“My hope is that with the capture of Caro Quintero, a lot of tensions between the DEA and Mexico will disappear,” said Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former head of international operations.

The Mexican Navy and Attorney General’s Office led the operation deep in the mountains that span the Sinaloa-Chihuahua border, many miles from a paved road. They found Caro Quintero, with help from “Max”, hiding in a bush in a place in Sinaloa called San Simon.

López Obrador said the helicopter that crashed in the coastal town of Los Mochis had supported the operation against Caro Quintero. US officials offered their condolences to the fallen Marines.

Caro Quintero was from Badiraguato, Sinaloa, the same municipality as Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the former leader of the Sinaloa cartel, which was later formed. Caro Quintero was a founding member of the Guadalajara cartel and, according to the DEA, was one of the major suppliers of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana to the United States in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Caro Quintero had blamed Camarena for a robbery of a huge marijuana plantation in 1984. The following year, Camarena was kidnapped in Guadalajara, allegedly on the orders of Caro Quintero. His tortured body was found a month later.

Caro Quintero was imprisoned in Costa Rica in 1985 and was serving a 40-year sentence in Mexico when an appeals court overturned his verdict in 2013. waiting vehicle.

Caro Quintero was added to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List in 2018 with a $20 million reward for his capture.

López Obrador had previously seemed ambivalent about his case.

Last year, the president said the legal appeal that led to Caro Quintero’s release was “justified” because after 27 years in prison, no verdict would have been handed down against the drug lord. López Obrador also portrayed a later warrant for his recapture as an example of American pressure.

“Once he was released, they had to look for him again, because the United States demanded that he should not have been released, but the appeal was legally valid,” said López Obrador.

Presidential spokesman Jesús Ramírez said at the time: “The president only said it was a legal deviation that the judge had not ruled on Mr. Caro Quintero after 27 years … but he did not defend his release.”

Mexican reporter Anabel Hernandez twice interviewed fugitive Caro Quintero in the mountains of northern Mexico without revealing his location. Caro Quintero claimed in those interviews that he was no longer in the drug trade.

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