Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is concerned that another obscure release from a drug dealer is about to make Mexico the target of international ridicule
MEXICO CITY – Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was concerned on Monday that another obscure release from a drug dealer was about to make Mexico the target of international ridicule.
Almost eight years ago, drug dealer Rafael Caro Quintero came out of a Mexican prison late at night with an improperly ordered release order. Since then, he has returned to the drug trade and sparked bloody territorial battles in the state of Sonora, in northern Mexico.
On Saturday, another important head of the Sinaloa cartel was about to walk in similar circumstances.
Hector “El Güero” Palma was hours away from freedom after a judge’s secretary sent a letter – on a Saturday and a national holiday – saying that the government should release him immediately after he was acquitted of organized crime charges.
“It is a matter of national import,” said López Obrador on Monday. “Imagine the suspicion, the jokes, the memes.”
“Something similar happened when Mr. Caro Quintero was released,” recalled López Obrador. “They accused us from abroad, they accused the government of complicity. No foreign government should accuse the Mexican government, and we must not give them an excuse to do so ”.
On Sunday, the judge sent another notification saying that Palma had to be released by 4 pm. López Obrador said prosecutors were given a 48-hour extension to look for any pending warrants that could justify his arrest. This ends on Tuesday. The president said that if none are found, Palma should be released.
Mexico is beginning to gain the reputation of a government that, under López Obrador, has freed more traffickers than it has captured, part of the president’s stated policy of no longer arresting traffickers to prevent violence.
Former US Ambassador Christopher Landau said in April that López Obrador sees the fight against drug cartels “as a distraction … So he basically adopted an agenda with a very laissez-faire attitude towards them, the which is quite worrying for our government, obviously. “
López Obrador’s policy has done little to reduce drug violence in Mexico, and Palma’s release, like that of Caro Quintero, may only cause more bloodshed.
Known as “El Güero” or “Blondie”, Palma was the founder and leader of the Sinaloa cartel, along with arrested drug dealer Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. He and Guzman drew unwanted attention in 1993, when a Roman Catholic cardinal was killed in a shootout between Sinaloa snipers and rival gang Arellano Félix at an airport in Guadalajara. The snipers apparently confused the cardinal’s luxury car with that of a rival.
Palma was arrested in Mexico in 1995 and served 12 years in Mexico for bribery and possession of weapons before being extradited to the United States in 2007, where he served nine years of a 16-year sentence for cocaine trafficking, before being sent from he returns to Mexico, where he was put on trial on charges of organized crime from which he was acquitted last week.
The Mexican judicial system is already underestimated, and the orders for release at dawn or at the weekend do not help its reputation for alleged corruption. López Obrador said he would push for reform so that such release orders cannot be issued on weekends.
Although the release of Caro Quintero predates the López Obrador government – the president took office in December 2018 – the president recently said he was “justified” because no verdict was supposedly handed down against the trafficker after 27 years in prison.
In fact, there was a verdict; an appeals court unduly annulled him, but the verdict was later confirmed by the Supreme Court. It was too late; Caro Quintero was taken away in a waiting vehicle, he is now a fugitive and tried to rebuild his former drug empire by fighting other drug gangs in Sonora.
The issue is particularly thorny for López Obrador, because in 2019, López Obrador ordered the release of Ovidio Guzman, one of the sons of “El Chapo” Guzman, to prevent bloodshed.
López Obrador said that his “hugging, not bullets” policy aims to prevent violence. But homicide rates have declined only slightly since the peak in 2019.
Caro Quintero was released while serving a 40-year sentence for the murder and torture of US Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985, and has since apparently resumed his role as a violent drug dealer.
Caro Quintero tops the DEA’s most wanted list, with a $ 20 million reward for his capture.