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Fugitive Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero pleads for a 'second chance'

The legendary Mexican drug lord denied killing DEA agent "Kiki" Camarena, repeatedly apologized to the US government, and refuted reports that he is currently heading an assault on territory controlled by the Sinaloa cartel.

by Jo Tuckman
Jul 24 2016, 6:10pm

Imagen por Miguel Dimayuga/PROCESO

The legendary Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero has denied he played any important role in the 1985 murder of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, and has refuted reports that he is currently heading an assault on territory controlled by former allies in the Sinaloa cartel.

Instead, the 63-year-old fugitive told Proceso magazine that he has more than paid for his crimes and appealed to the US and Mexican governments to let him enjoy his old age in peace.

"In the name of humanity I believe that I deserve to be left in peace," Caro Quintero said in the interview published this Sunday. "I'm not involved in any problem of this kind and still less in any kind of war."

Caro Quintero's release from prison on August 2013 — after serving 28 years of a longer sentence for the brutal attack on agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena — prompted an angry reaction from the US government and the DEA.

"No, no, no, I didn't order, kidnap, or murder señor Camarena," Caro Quintero said in the interview. He dismissed the official version that the killing 31 years ago was his revenge for a swoop the year before on a massive marijuana farm he ran that employed 7,000 people. "I was just in the wrong place."

With new arrest warrants raining down after his early release from prison on a technicality, Caro Quintero said he had no choice but to disappear into the sierra of the Pacific state of Sinaloa where he grew up, alongside many of Mexico's most famous capos.

Related: El Chapo's hometown may be under attack from a rival, also nicknamed El Chapo

He said that he has been on the run ever since, relying on the solidarity of locals, and a small security entourage of just two.

"It's been very difficult," he said.

This version contrasts dramatically with the many reports that, once free again, Caro Quintero quickly returned to the old business he had helped fuel as a member of the generation of traffickers from Sinaloa who turned Mexico into a major player in international crime in the 70s and 80s.

This renewed prominence reportedly involved teaming up with Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada and Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán — similarly aged capos who were the clear leaders of the Sinaloa cartel at the time of his release.

One commonly-told story detailed the way Caro Quintero and El Mayo acted together to avert an internal power struggle after El Chapo was arrested in February 2014. That was before his spectacular escape through a mile-long tunnel leading to freedom from his cell in July 2015. Similar talk also followed Chapo's next arrest last January.

In recent weeks, however, leaked intelligence has suggested Caro Quintero is actually now heading an incursion into Sinaloa cartel territory having teamed up with another cartel, known as the Beltrán Leyva. This, some reports say, included an assault last month on the mountain hamlets where Chapo grew up, and where his mother still lived.

"It's all false, all lies," Caro Quintero said in the interview.

Related: After El Chapo: The World's Most Wanted Drug Lords

The near-mythical trafficker once known as The Prince instead repeated several times that he no longer has any criminal relevance, and that any information to the contrary stems from informants looking to make money.

"I stopped being a drug trafficker in 1984 and will never be one again," he said. "I don't want anything at all to do with drug trafficking."

Caro Quintero did say that both Chapo and Mayo had visited him shortly after his release, but that he had made it clear to them that he was not interested in going back into trafficking. He said that they had respected his decision. He also said he imagined that El Chapo was very upset by the attack on his mother's home in June, but was quick to add "I know nothing."

The capo, who was known for his good teeth, chose a notably austere setting to make his litany of denials and repeated claims to insignificance.

Proceso said the interview took place somewhere in northern Mexico in an isolated building that was sparsely furnished and contained a small candle-lit altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe. The blingless kingpin himself wore scruffy shoes and did not so much as take a sip of water.

Related: Meet the Up-and-Coming Narcos Who Could Be Worse Than El Chapo

It was a long way from the showiness of the interview El Chapo gave to Hollywood actor Sean Penn in October last year, while he was still on the run, in which he boasted of his importance over tequila and tacos. That interview was published in Rolling Stone magazine the day after he was recaptured on January 8.

In both interviews, however, the legendary narco figures — who were both born and raised in the same mountain municipality of Badiraguato — explained their incursion into the business as a response to poverty.

Caro Quintero said that he started at the age of 14 when his father's death left him responsible for maintaining his mother and 11 siblings. Now, he insisted, he is living in poverty again, holding out hope that the authorities will one day leave him alone.

"I am asking the DEA for forgiveness and the US government as well. It wasn't my intention to do them any harm," he said in one of four apologies he made to them during the lengthy interview. "If I did anything wrong I have paid for it, and everybody deserves a second chance."

Related: A Turf War in a Previously Dreamy Coastal City Points to Split in Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel

Follow Jo Tuckman on Twitter: @jotuckman