MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Mexican prosecutor said there are indications an old-guard drug lord released from prison in 2013 is apparently trying to get back into the drug trade.
Jorge Gonzalez, the attorney general of the northern state of Chihuahua, said Tuesday there is evidence that Rafael Caro Quintero may be trying to muscle in on the Sinaloa cartel's operations. The area on the border between Sinaloa and Chihuahua states has seen an upsurge in violence in recent weeks.
Caro Quintero, 63, was a founding member of one of Mexico's earliest and biggest drug gangs, the Guadalajara cartel. He helped establish a powerful cartel based in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa that later split into some of Mexico's largest drug organizations, including the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.
"At the national level the possibility has been recognized that one of the country's best-known drug traffickers, Rafael Caro Quintero, may be invading Chihuahua, and we have information that he is planning to come here," Gonzalez told reporters. "We are taking care and protecting against a possible advance by this man who could want to come here and fight the Sinaloa cartel for part of the criminal work they carry out."
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and other associates ran the Sinaloa cartel for decades after Caro Quintero was imprisoned in the 1980s. But Guzman's re-capture in January may have encouraged other traffickers to retake parts of his territory.
Caro Quintero walked free in 2013 after a Mexican federal court overturned his 40-year sentence in the kidnapping, torture and murder of U.S. DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena. The three-judge appeals court in the western state of Jalisco ordered Caro Quintero's immediate release on procedural grounds after 28 years behind bars, saying he should have originally been prosecuted in a state court instead of federal court.
Mexico's Supreme Court later annulled the order, saying Camarena was a registered U.S. government agent and therefore his killing was a federal crime. An arrest warrant was issued for Caro Quintero, but he had gone underground after his release.
Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said the Mexican military has information that Caro Quintero has aligned with members of what remains of the Beltran Leyva drug gang to try to wrest control of Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, and the surrounding area of Chihuahua state from the Sinaloa cartel.
Vigil said Mexican authorities have intercepted phone calls in which callers have described the fight for control of the profitable drug trafficking routes. Mexican authorities attribute a recent spike in killings in the area to the fight, Vigil said.
In late 2013, Caro Quintero sent a letter to the Mexican government describing himself as "a man who only wants peace and relief for himself and his family,"
The letter asked Mexican officials not to give in to the United States' demand for his capture and extradition. "The justice the United States seeks for your fellow Mexican was already paid in Mexico," the letter said. "It is trying to justify an extradition that is tinged with revenge."
Camarena's murder had escalated tensions between Mexico and the U.S. to perhaps their highest level in decades, with the Reagan administration nearly closing the border to exert pressure on the Mexican government to punish those responsible and crack down on the drug trade.
Caro Quintero's release, and apparent return to the drug trade, awakens concerns about older drug lords who now may come up for release because of age or fulfilling their sentences.
Aging capos Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, two of the founding fathers of modern Mexican drug trafficking, are also serving terms for the Camarena case.
Last month, drug lord Hector "El Guero" Palma, another of the founders of the Sinaloa cartel, was returned to his native Mexico after serving almost a decade in a U.S. prison. He was immediately taken to a Mexican maximum-security lockup to await trial on organized crime charges.
Associated Press writer Alicia Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report
This story has been corrected to say the Chihuahua state attorney general issued statement Tuesday.