Q REPORTS – Mexico’s navy on Friday captured drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, convicted of murdering a U.S. anti-narcotics agent in 1985, in a law enforcement coup that came at a heavy cost when a helicopter used in the mission crashed, killing 14 military personnel.
Quintero, a historic Mexican drug lord, was charged in 2018 by the US Justice and included among the 10 most wanted fugitives by the FBI.
During an operation in Guachochi, Chihuahua, special forces of the Mexican Navy detained the capo in a far-flung corner of the northwestern state of Sinaloa, one of Mexico’s drug-trafficking heartlands.
The arrest comes after pressure from the United States, according to a Mexican official, and the same week that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador met with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington.
Caro Quintero rose to prominence as a co-founder of the Guadalajara Cartel, one of Latin America’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations during the 1980s, and had been among the most prized targets for U.S. officials.
Detention in Costa Rica
The Mexican capo took refuge in Costa Rica on March 17, 1985, after the death of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, one of the most notorious killings in Mexico’s bloody narco wars.
Days later, on Friday, April 4, 50 police officers from the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ) entered the Quinta California, in Alajuela, located just two kilometers south of the Juan Santamaría (San Jose) International Airport.
Caro Quintero entered Costa Rica via the air terminal without showing a passport, without going through customs for the suitcases loaded with weapons and jewelry and in the company of Sara Cosío Vidaurri, a 17-year-old from Jalisco high society, with whom Caro was madly in love, and who, allegedly, had been kidnapped.
The young girl was the daughter of Octavio César Cosío, former Secretary of Education in Jalisco and also the niece of Guillermo Cosío, who was governor of that territory from 1989 to 1992.
In addition, he had planned his stay in the country with the acquisition of various assets, including the Quinta La California, a luxurious house, previously acquired by collaborators of the drug trafficker, located three kilometers south of Juan Santamaría airport. It had an area of 7,757 square meters (83.000 square feet), and had a swimming pool.
The Mexican press reported that the investigation showed that the narco paid US$800,000 at the time for that mansion. The same day Caro was arrested, April 4, 1985, the property was invaded by squatters.
During his short stay in Costa Rica, Caro had four properties here valued at US$1.9 million at the time: in San José de la Montaña, Bello Horizonte de Escazú, Vázquez de Coronado and the Quinta California.
Seized in the Alajuela farmhouse was a firearm, US$300,000 in cash, jewelry worth US$1 million, and two luxury vehicle.
During Semana Santa, Cosío managed to talk to her mother in Mexico. The girl’s family, after her alleged abduction, had alerted the Americans, who had tapped the telephone line. This is how they found his location and managed to arrest the drug trafficker in Costa Rica.
La Nación would later publish the following: “Caro Quintero and his girlfriend Sara Cosío were in a bed with almost no clothes. When they saw his room filled with men in fatigue suits, balaclavas and assault rifles, they thought it was a robbery. They were scared, they did not know what was happening until an OIJ agent read the decision of the judge, Jorge Meza, who allowed the search for an alleged kidnapping. The policemen asked the couple to get dressed. Caro Quintero never said a word, although he showed astonishment, recounted a former OIJ agent who participated in the raid. ‘I am not kidnapped. I am in love with Caro Quintero,’ Cosío,” said in her statement to the Police.
The next day, Good Friday 1985, a Mexican government plane took off with the “Narco de narcos” to Mexico.
But, at the airport, before boarding, something unprecedented happened that was also published by La Nación: Caro Quintero offered $1 million to a Costa Rican police agent in exchange for knowing the name of the DEA agent who, according to him, had discovered his presence in Costa Rica.
The bribe offer was made while both walked a short distance from the San Jose airport runway to the Mexico government airplane.
What has never been clarified is who gave permission for Caro Quintero to enter the country so easily at that time. An investigation carried out concluded that a “superior political authority” would undoubtedly have had an influence, but was never identified. The commission said that it was of “the idea – although without proof for it – that Caro Quintero had contacts with industrialists and merchants” in Costa Rica.
A very curious fact is that on March 17, when the plane Caro and company were on landed at the Juan Santamaría, there was a police operation at the terminal, that included Luis Barrantes, then head of the Drug Control Directorate. He was there given that the previous day an anti-drug operation had been carried out in coordination with the DEA.
Álvaro Cantero, a former police officer from that Directorate, questioned the way in which the Mexican group entered through the airport. “That day there was a special operation at the airport, a suspicious plane was waiting. Doesn’t it strike you how that group passes in the middle of all the security at the airport, in the middle of 70 police officers?”, he told OIJ investigators, according to a police report dated June 8, 1987.
Caro Quintero: “El Narco de Narcos”
After his arrest in Costa Rica, Quintero spent 28 years in a Mexican prison, after being sentenced to 40 years in prison. The capo did not complete his entire sentence and was released in 2013 by the Mexican authorities, due to a legal technicality.
After his release, the United States government demanded his capture for extradition purposes, on charges of kidnapping and murder of a federal agent, violent crimes, and possession and distribution of cocaine and marijuana, among others.
Agent Camarena was tortured and murdered in 1985 after spending four years infiltrating the Guadalajara cartel, founded by Caro Quintero, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, the uncle of Sandra Ávila Beltrán, “The Queen of the Pacific”. The events are dramatized in the 2018 Netflix series “Narcos: Mexico”.
Known as “El Narco de Narcos”, Quintero is originally from La Noria, Sinaloa. His heyday was in the 1980s when he began to traffic drugs, mainly marijuana, with his associates, on a large scale to the United States, which catapulted them as drug lords in Mexico. At that time, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera was a hit man for the cartel and his teachers were the men who would later be considered legends in the history of drug trafficking in Mexico.
The reward for the 69-year-old drug trafficker amounts to US$20 million, a record the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) offers for a Mexican criminal, surpassing capos in full activity such as Nemesio Oseguera, “El Mencho”, leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
Last year, he lost a final appeal against extradition to the United States. “It is probably one of the most important captures of the last decade in terms of importance to the DEA,” said Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said he would seek Caro Quintero’s immediate extradition.
“There is no hiding place for anyone who kidnaps, tortures, and murders American law enforcement. We are deeply grateful to Mexican authorities for their capture and arrest of Rafael Caro-Quintero,” Garland said in a statement.
Before extradition, Caro Quintero will be held in Altiplano prison, the notorious penitentiary in which his old Sinaloa Cartel associate Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped in 2015.
While the 69-year-old Caro Quintero is no longer considered a major player in international drug trafficking, the symbolic impact of his capture is significant.
With files from Reuters and La Nacion