Rafael Caro Quintero Released By Mexico, Lethal Drug Lord Returns to Streets


More than a quarter century ago, Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero ordered the kidnapping, torture, and execution of DEA agent Enrique Camarena, and he was rightfully sentenced to 40 years in prison. Yet it appears that the Mexican judicial system has had a change of heart, releasing Quintero on Friday after he served only 28 years of his punishment. To the chagrin of the United States, especially members of the DEA, Mexican judges have claimed that Mr. Quintero’s trial was not conducted with due process, and he thus must be released.

Although the Mexican government has made a visible effort over the past year to ensure fairer trials and court rulings, and they claim that this decision is reflective of that initiative, those affected by the ruling in the United States charge that Quintero’s acquittal reeks of corruption.

The Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents in the United States is furious at the Mexican government. In an official statement it wrote: “The release of this violent butcher is but another example of how good faith efforts by the U.S. to work with the Mexican government can be frustrated by those powerful dark forces that work in the shadows of the Mexican 'justice' system."

There are likewise members of the Mexican government who disagree with the court ruling, the details of which will not be released, including the Mexican attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam. Responding to the ruling, Karam expressed his own skepticism and believes the first appellate court that made the decision ignored Mexican Supreme Court precedent by dismissing the case rather than referring it to the state level, effectively correcting the previous failure in due process. He has promised that his office will investigate alternatives, but has yet to elaborate on details.  

Those in favor of the new verdict rationalize its outcome as reform in an increasingly fair Mexican judicial system. They hold that the United States’ condemnation is hypocritical, citing both the monetary support and counsel that the U.S. government has offered in pursuit of improving the Mexican legal system.

But it is unethical and unfair for the Mexican judicial system to only favor due process when it is convenient. If Mr. Quintero’s release was in fact intended to rectify previous procedural transgressions, then his case ought to have been transferred to the state courts upon his release and his sentence should continue under their jurisdiction.

If the Mexican government is indeed serious about improving its legal system’s legitimacy, then it cannot undermine its law enforcement by acquitting one of the nation’s most prominent drug lords, not to mention a man who killed a U.S. federal officer.