McCain Wants Answers On Release Of Former Cartel Leader

Our Fronteras Desk reporter at Marfa Public Radio, Lorne Matalon reports.

Rafael Caro Quintero had served 28 years of a 40 year sentence for his role in orchestrating the 1985 murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.

His release on a technicality this past summer infuriated U.S. law enforcement, in particular the DEA.

Now Arizona Sen. John McCain is asking Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Holder to revisit the case and explore legal options to bring Caro Quintero to the United States.

An excerpt from McCain’s letter to both:

Quintero’s henchmen kidnapped Agent Camarena at gunpoint outside the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara on February 7, 1985. They blindfolded him and brought him to Quintero’s hacienda five miles away where they brutally tortured him for over thirty hours. The torture Quintero perpetrated shocks the conscience of all decent human beings. Quintero and his associates crushed Camarena’s skull, jaw, nose, cheekbones and ribs with a tire iron. They used a power tool to drill a hole in Camarena’s head and repeatedly stuck him with a cattle prod. As Camarena lay bloody and dying, Quintero summoned a cartel doctor to keep him alive so the cartel could torture him longer. The doctor injected the anesthetic lidocaine directly into Camerena’s heart and the torture endured for several more hours. Camarena’s battered and bloodied body was discovered in a shallow grave 70 miles north of Guadalajara several weeks later.

The torture and murder brought an unprecedented response from the United States. After unsuccessfully pressuring Mexico to deliver Caro Quintero for extradition, President Ronald Reagan sealed the border until the Mexican government took action.

Caro Quintero was not handed over but a Mexican federal court convicted him. Even by the standards of lax Mexican justice, the explanation given for his release is considered salt in the wound.

Mexico’s Federal Judiciary Council says he was set free because Caro Quintero should have been tried in state and not federal court and therefore that he must be released.

The Attorney General’s Office of Mexico asked the Mexican Supreme Court to review Caro Quintero’s case  because the court’s arguments are “absurd and illogical.”

The United States Department of Justice says it has maintained an interest in having Quintero extradited to be prosecuted in the U.S.

“The Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration learned today that early this morning Rafael Caro Quintero was released from prison in Mexico. Caro Quintero had been serving a 40 year sentence in Mexico for Mexican charges related to the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder of U.S. DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. Caro Quintero was convicted and sentenced in Mexico in December 1989. A Mexican court granted his petition for early release after serving 28 years of his 40 year prison sentence. We understand that the Mexican court found that Caro Quintero should have been tried in Mexican state court rather than federal court, and this factor may have contributed to the court’s decision to release Caro Quintero early.

In May 1987, the Department of Justice, through the United States Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California, indicted Caro Quintero and several others for conspiracy and racketeering charges related to the kidnapping, torture and murder in Mexico of Agent Camarena. In the years since, the Department of Justice has continued to make clear to Mexican authorities the continued interest of the United States in securing Caro Quintero’s extradition so that he might face justice in the United States.

The Department of Justice, and especially the Drug Enforcement Administration, is extremely disappointed with this result. Caro Quintero was convicted and sentenced in Mexico to serve a 40-year sentence and his early release is deeply troubling.”

The 61-year-old Caro Quintero is considered to be one of the founder’s of modern Mexican drug trafficking. He created a powerful cartel based in the Mexican state of Sinaloa that later split into some of Mexico’s largest cartels including the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.

The White House issued a statement Aug. 11 that reads, “We are deeply concerned by the release of Rafael Caro Quintero from prison in Mexico. … We have seen reports that another individual connected to Camarena’s killing could also be released.”

This is another excerpt from Sen. McCain’s letters to Kerry and Holder:

“While the Mexican government refused to extradite Quintero in 1985, that decision does not eliminate all of the United States’ options to assert extraterritorial jurisdiction in this case. First, the United States can request Quintero’s extradition within sixty days of his recapture. Second, even if the Mexican government once again refuses extradition, the United States can pursue alternative measures. The Supreme Court held in 1992 that the United States could try Humberto Alvarez-Machain – allegedly the doctor who prolonged Agent Camarena’s life so that others could further torture him—despite the fact that Alvarez-Machain had not been extradited to the United States. There is ample precedent, therefore, for the United States to hold Quintero responsible for his actions even if the Mexican government does not extradite him.”

Here’s a take on the move from the Mexico City daily Milenio.

Here’s the way McCain’s move was explained today on Radio MVS in Mexico City

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