No country for old narcos


High-ranking Mexican officials say Rafael Caro Quintero, head of the extinct Guadalajara cartel and one of Mexico’s oldest narcos, has met recently with drug godfathers to tell them he’s done his time and wants out of the business (The game has changed, guey). Sinaloa cartel boss Chapo Guzman confirmed those reports after getting captured; he told Mexican authorities that Quintero, who is reportedly ill, is no longer interested in trafficking drugs and is now laying low somewhere in “the mountain ranges.” Narco assisted-living communities are scarce.

Quintero, who’s around 60 (which is like 90 in “narco years”) was released from a Mexican prison last August, despite loud protests from the U.S. government. The judge dismissed a previous sentence handed down by a state court, and quietly freed Quintero on the grounds that he had never been tried at the federal level. After 28 years in prison, the old narco hobbled free.

Quintero allegedly ordered the kidnapping, torture and murder of DEA undercover agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena in 1985. After the killing, Quintero fled Mexico and hid in Costa Rica before being apprehended months later. It’s rumored that before killing the DEA agent, Quintero and his colleague, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, were running drug money and firearms to Nicaragua’s U.S.-backed contra rebels in the 1980s. The murder of agent Camarena strained U.S.-Mexico relations. Now Quintero’s release is having the same effect as the U.S. puts pressure on Mexican authorities to recapture the bad boy from Guadalajara. The U.S. is challenging the reversal of his 40-year conviction.

Quintero is thinking “no mames;” he’s paid for his crime and wants to be left alone. The drug lord recently sent a letter to the Mexican government denouncing his “persecution” as unfair, reminding authorities that he didn’t escape from the prison, rather was freed by a judge and exited through the front door. Mexican authorities ignored his plea and raided a small mountain town in Sinaloa controlled by his family, narrowly missing Quintero who slipped out on a motorcycle. The Mexican government has issued a warrant for his arrest and potential extradition to the U.S., not long ago authorities placed giant billboards in the San Diego-Tijuana border offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Many things have changed in the outside narco world since Quintero was jailed more than a quarter century ago, and the former cartel boss probably doesn’t represent a real threat anymore. Rising narco juniors and ultra-violent groups such as the Zetas have broken the drug monopoly that Quintero helped established, and changed the rules of the trade.

Now he needs help from the whippersnappers. Following Quintero’s released, Mexican authorities acquired a tape where a messenger representing the aging narco tells a kingpin of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which controls the territory in which he’s hiding, that Quintero wants to pay the organization $2 million in exchange for help and protection. The new cartel leader replies: “Screw his money.”

Perhaps the new cartel doesn’t want anything to do with Quintero to avoid the heat of both the Mexican and American governments, or perhaps they think he’s no longer relevant. Or maybe, young narcos just don’t respect their elders any more.

Carlos Loret de Mola is an award winning Mexican journalist and popular news anchor of Televisa’s “Primero Noticias.” He has served as a war correspondent in Afghanistan, Haiti, Egypt, Syria and Libya and writes for a number of news outlets on issues ranging from the drug war to international politics. Carlos has broken many influential stories about the operations that led to the capture of some of Mexico’s most wanted criminals. In 2001 he wrote the book “The Deal. Mexican economy trapped by drug trafficking.” He is a frustrated chef, runner and guitar troubadour… but he keeps trying.

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