Notorious Drug Lord Rafael Caro Quintero Captured in Mexico

Caro Quintero—a founder of the Guadalajara Cartel and famous for his massive weed plantations—was taken into custody again after being released from a Mexican prison in 2013.
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Rafael Caro Quintero: then and now. Photos: Undated from Mexican government (R) and after he was released in 2013, from the DEA (L).

MEXICO CITY — Rafael Caro Quintero, one of Mexico’s most notorious drug lords who was the mastermind behind the killing of a DEA agent in Mexico, has reportedly been captured. Again.

Caro Quintero—a founder and leader of Mexico’s Guadalajara Cartel— walked free from a Mexican prison in 2013 after serving 28 years of a 40-year-sentence for the torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. 

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His early release infuriated the United States government, which had targeted him for extradition, and has been a sore point ever since between the U.S. and Mexican administrations. 

But reports circulating across the Mexican press Friday said the drug lord—whose life and criminal exploits have been chronicled in Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico and who has a $20 million bounty on his head in the U.S.—had been taken into custody again by the Mexican marines.

No other details were immediately available on his arrest, but sources told VICE World News that he had been arrested in Choix, in the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa, and that the U.S. had been helping Mexico track the drug lord for some time.

Caro Quintero has been on the run since he left prison in 2013. 

The torture and killing of DEA agent Camarena in 1985 continues to haunt U.S.-Mexico relations, which has taken a number of blows in recent years under the presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. 

The arrest of Caro Quintero will no doubt be welcomed by officials north of the U.S.-Mexico border, and comes as part of an uptick in drug boss arrests around the country in recent weeks. Caro Quintero cannot be tried again in the U.S. for the killing of Camarena, but he faces myriad other accusations, including drug charges, racketeering, and violent crime, for which he could be extradited. 

The extradition request for Caro Quintero from the U.S. was reportedly filed in 1987. If he is indeed in Mexican custody as reports state, the U.S. has a further 60 days to request his extradition north.

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The capture comes days after President López Obrador traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Joe Biden. Counter-narcotics strategy was not a prominent topic during the meetings, and one federal law enforcement official, not authorized to speak publicly, noted the curious timing.

"That could be AMLO's really smart little move there to keep everyone off his back about all the drug production,” the official said. “This might be their little carrot out there, right after the meeting they capture him. Very interesting timing." 

Update: The Mexican Marines confirmed the arrest of Caro-Quintero in Choix, Sinaloa late Friday afternoon, as well as news that a military Black Hawk helicopter had crashed near the town of Los Mochis, Sinaloa, killing 14 people on board.

Los Mochis is just 130km from Choix, where Caro-Quintero was arrested, but a statement from the Marines said there was no relationship between the “accident” and the operation around his detention.

Keegan Hamilton and Luis Chaparro contributed reporting.