Mexico arrests Caro Quintero, drug lord convicted in death of DEA agent

Mexican Marines on Friday captured fugitive drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, a top target of U.S. law enforcement who was convicted in the 1985 killing of a DEA agent, an event that transformed the American government’s war on narcotics traffickers, according to Mexican authorities.

Caro Quintero, 69, is considered one of the architects of the kidnapping, torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena in Mexico. 

The co-founder of the Guadalajara Cartel had served 28 years of a 40-year prison sentence for that killing and other crimes when he was suddenly released before dawn on Aug. 9, 2013, on orders of a judge citing administrative reasons.

Since then, Caro Quintero’s recapture has been an obsession for the DEA and a top priority for successive U.S. administrations. In 2020, then-attorney general William P.

Barr urged Mexico’s government to track down the drug chief in a reciprocal gesture as the Trump administration dropped narcotics charges against former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda and sent him back to Mexico, according to several officials. But Caro Quintero repeatedly escaped as agents closed in.

“There are hundreds of [DEA] agents that went to Mexico to defend the national security of this country, but also to bring RCQ to justice,” said Terry Cole, a retired DEA agent who served in Mexico.

After Caro Quintero was released in 2013, Mexico issued a new arrest warrant for him.

American authorities had offered a $20 million award for information leading to Caro Quintero’s arrest, and he was on the FBI and DEA lists of most wanted fugitives.

His detention Friday came days after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador met President Biden at the White House. Mexico has recently sharply stepped up its anti-drug efforts, particularly against producers of the deadly opioid fentanyl.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland expressed thanks to the Mexican government on Friday, saying the arrest was “the culmination of tireless work by DEA and their Mexican partners.” 

He added that American authorities would seek Caro Quintero’s immediate extradition. He faces cocaine-trafficking charges in New York, where he would likely be tried, officials said.