The infamous drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, convicted of killing a U.S. DEA agent in 1985, was arrested Friday nearly a decade after walking out of a Mexican prison and returning to drug trafficking, an official with Mexico’s navy confirmed.
The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, agreed to confirm the action to The Associated Press if not quoted by name. No further details about the capture were immediately available.
The U.S. had offered a $20 million reward for help finding Caro Quintero, who was nabbed during a special operation of the Mexican marines with the Secretary of the Navy, called SEMAR.The brutal murder marked a low point in U.S.-Mexico relations.
Caro Quintero had remained on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Most Wanted list for years for a variety of crimes, including drug trafficking and orchestrating the kidnapping and murder of Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. The U.S. closed the Mexican border for several days until public pressure inside Mexico led the cartel to return the agent’s body to American officials.
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“Kiki Camarena has been a North Star for DEA agents since his murder and torture,” Chris Evans, who retired last year after overseeing DEA agents globally, told the Louisville Courier-Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, on Friday. “His sacrifice has never been forgotten and runs through the blood of the agency.”
The kidnapping is depicted on the Netflix TV series “Narcos,” Season 4.
Quintero had served 28 years of a 40-year prison term when a Mexican court ordered his release on Aug. 9, 2013, on procedural grounds, according to the DEA. He is a fugitive from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on felony murder, felony kidnapping and other criminal charges.
Caro Quintero was one of the primary suppliers of heroin, cocaine and marijuana to the United States in the late 1970s.
Before Camarena’s death, DEA units in Mexico destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of marijuana grown on farms for the Guadalajara Cartel, named for the city in Jalisco, a state in western Mexico.
Camarena served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was a 10-year veteran of the DEA. Gunmen positioned themselves on the streets surrounding his office at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara on Feb. 7, 1985 and were ready to block the young federal agent if he tried to escape.
The men, who worked for one of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels, forced Camarena into their car and drove him to a cramped guest house nearby, where he was beaten, burned and eventually killed.
Through the decades, even agents who never met Camarena have expressed the importance of bringing Quintero to justice in the U.S., and a bust of the 37-year-old agent remains on display at the U.S. Embassy in Guadalajara.
Caro Quintero, the former leader of the Guadalajara cartel, had since returned to drug trafficking and unleashed bloody turf battles in the northern Mexico border state of Sonora.
In Sonora, one of the state’s hit hardest by Caro Quintero’s efforts to reclaim his territory, there was a hope his arrest could help.
“I believe in Sonora, in general, there could be calm, and yes, relief for us, because I believe the disappearances will diminish,” said Cecilia Duarte, an activist with a team of volunteer searchers in Sonora who look for the clandestine graves of the disappeared. Some activists have been threatened and even killed in Sonora amid Caro Quintero’s turf wars with the sons of “El Chapo.”
But, Duarte told the AP, Caro Quintero “is only part (of the conflict), the conflict doesn’t end.”
Contributing: Karol Suarez, Special to The Courier-Journal; Brad Heath, USA TODAY; The Associated Press