MEXICO CITY—Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that he is open to releasing one of the world's most notorious drug lords because of his age and poor health.
The incarcerated kingpin and alleged godfather of Mexico’s contemporary drug trafficking industry, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo has been behind bars for more than over 30 years for his role in the murder of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent in 1985.
Last week Félix Gallardo, 75, gave his first interview since his arrest in 1989 and denied his involvement in the murder of DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. The brazen kidnapping, torture, and murder of Camarena is considered a game-changing moment in the history of the drug trade and Mexican-U.S. relations. Releasing the infamous kingpin now would certainly deal another blow to tense U.S.-Mexico counter-narcotics relations.
The events around Camarena’s murder were recently adapted by Netflix in the series Narcos Mexico. But the Félix Gallardo who reappeared last week was a far cry from the good-looking actor Diego Luna who portrayed the drug lord in the popular series.
The interview with Spanish language news outlet Telemundo showed a frail Félix Gallardo, deaf and blind in one eye, sitting in a wheelchair. The reporter had to write out the questions and hand them to Félix Gallardo, who was unable to hear her.
Days later, López Obrador said he would consider releasing Félix Gallardo “if it is justified.”
Last month the president proposed a plan to release thousands of inmates, including the elderly and those who suffered from serious health issues, in an attempt to clean up the prison system.
While Félix Gallardo claimed in the interview that his reappearance had nothing to do with López Obrador's plan to release elderly inmates, the decrepit former boss of the Guadalajara Cartel’s current state certainly made him look like an ideal candidate.
Retired DEA Agent Mike Vigil, who served with Camarena in Mexico in the early 80s, told VICE World News that he was “shocked at how [Félix Gallardo’s] health has deteriorated” because “this guy during the 1980s was the most feared drug capo that existed in Mexico.”
Félix Gallardo's health issues didn't invoke sympathy from the retired field agent. Instead, he said it would be a “significant injustice” to release him.
“Félix Gallardo is still alive. Kiki Camarena is not, and he was killed as a young man. As far as I'm concerned, an individual like Félix Gallardo does not deserve to see daylight again,” said Vigil. “This is a man who had a very violent, very omnipotent drug trafficking organization that killed many, many individuals in Mexico.”
In his interview, Félix Gallardo not only denied his involvement in Camarena's murder, he also claimed that he was never involved in drug trafficking, nor did he know his two alleged partners in the Guadalajara Cartel—Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca—who were also imprisoned related to Camarena's murder.
Vigil called López Obrador's recent comments about potentially freeing Félix Gallardo “sociopathic” because "we've had major problems in the past with Mexican-U.S. bilateral working relationships in terms of counter-narcotics."
He pointed to the controversial release of Caro Quintero in 2013 who has since allegedly reentered the drug trade, along with Fonseca being placed on home arrest. The release of Félix Gallardo would mean all three of the alleged masterminds of Camarena's murders were no longer imprisoned.
The specter of Félix Gallardo's release also comes after the public debacle connected to the arrest and eventual release of former Mexican General Salvador Cienfuegos in late 2020. The incident caused relations to sour between the DEA and Mexican officials, who passed a controversial security law earlier this year that limits DEA autonomy while working in Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the potential release of Félix Gallardo when contacted by VICE World News.
While López Obrador had a somewhat public bromance with former U.S. President Donald Trump, relations with Mexico have been tense since the Biden Administration entered office in January.
“It almost seems like López Obrador is very protective for whatever reason of the cartels,” said Vigil.