A former Mexican drug lord responsible for the 1985 murder of a US DEA agent has walked free on a technicality after serving just 28 years of his 40 year sentence, sparking outrage from US officials and raising questions over how this decision may affect US-Mexico relations.
Rafael Caro Quintero, once considered one of Mexico's most important drug traffickers, was a co-founder of the now defunct Guadalajara Cartel. In 1985, Caro Quintero and his associate, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, were responsible for the torture and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique Camarena Salazar, who had led an operation that cost the cartel $2 million. After fleeing to Costa Rica, Caro Quintero was captured and tried in Mexico on drug trafficking and murder charges.
Caro Quintero was released from jail early on the morning of August 9 based on a Guadalajara court order, which stated that the drug trafficker should have been tried for a common, and not a federal, crime in relation to the Camarena Salazar murder because the official did not hold a diplomatic post, reported Animal Politico. On separate drug trafficking charges, Caro Quintero had received only a 15 year sentence.
US Department of Justice officials called the release "deeply troubling," and Mexico's attorney general echoed this sentiment. The DEA said it would "vigorously continue its efforts" to have Caro Quintero extradited to the US on drug trafficking charges, though he cannot be tried a second time for the murder.
InSight Crime Analysis
Caro Quintero's release on a technicality reflects weaknesses in the Mexican judicial system, which has proved largely incapable of tackling drug trafficking organizations. According to the Attorney General's Office, only 30 percent of those arrested on drug trafficking charges are ever convicted, while a 2011 study found that only one percent of crimes committed ever go to trial.
The release also raises questions over how the US will respond. Though the two countries work together closely in anti-narcotics operations and Mexico receives a significant amount of aid through the Merida Initiative, there have been signs of building tensions since new President Enrique Peña Nieto declared a change in security priorities, and these tensions may be exacerbated by the release. During the Caro Quintero case, various government-police-cartel connections emerged that were largely swept under the rug; the resurfacing of the case could also bring back ghosts from the past.