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Mexico’s capture of drug kingpin could be signal to US

MEXICO CITY (AP) – The United States’ (US) motivation to find infamous drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero was never in doubt – hence the USD20 million reward for information leading to his capture – there was less certainty about the commitment of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who had made clear his lack of interest in pursuing drug lords.

Yet on Friday, three days after López Obrador and US President Joe Biden met in the White House, the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) most wanted target was in Mexican custody.

The man allegedly responsible for the murder of a DEA agent more than three decades ago was rousted from the undergrowth by a bloodhound as Mexican marines closed in deep in the mountains of his native state of Sinaloa.

The arrest came at a heavy cost: Fourteen Mexican marines died and another was injured when a navy Blackhawk helicopter crashed during the operation. The navy said it appeared to have been an accident, with the cause under investigation.

Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said in a statement late on Friday that Caro Quintero was arrested for extradition to the US and would be held at the maximum security Altiplano prison about 50 miles west of Mexico City.

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram celebrated the capture of a man especially despised by US officials for the torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985. “Our incredible DEA team in Mexico worked in partnership with Mexican authorities to capture and arrest Rafael Caro Quintero”, she said in a message to the agency late Friday. “Today’s arrest is the result of years of your blood, sweat, and tears.”

Cooperation between the DEA and Mexico’s marines had led to some of the highest-profile captures during previous administrations, but not under López Obrador, noted security analyst David Saucedo.

Emergency personnel work next to a navy helicopter crashed after supporting those who conducted the capture of drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero near Los Mochis, Sinaloa state, Mexico. PHOTO: AP