Caro Quintero Case Still Roiling US-Mexico Relations

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Mexico’s attorney general has admitted irregularities in the early release of a major drug trafficker, but simultaneously criticized light US sentencing of Mexican criminals, suggesting there are fissures within the Mexican government over US involvement in its affairs.

Speaking on September 10 at a press conference in Washington, Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam admitted there had been “serious violations” in court proceedings which led to the early release of cartel leader Rafael Caro Quintero on August 9, reported El Diario.

According to Murillo, the Mexican government does not know where Caro Quintero is, but would have him arrested if they did.

However, in an apparent broadside against the criticism from the US authorities, Murillo highlighted the much lighter sentences Mexican traffickers receive in the United States. Seemingly referring to the 2010 sentencing of Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, Murillo said: “They only gave him 24 years. And not just that. They will give him consideration and benefits and he will get out much earlier.”

A founder of the Guadalajara Cartel — one of Mexico’s first major drug trafficking organizations — Caro Quintero was released after 28 years of a 40-year prison term handed to him in 1985 for the abduction, torture and murder of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique Camarena Salazar.

InSight Crime Analysis

US officials were strongly critical of Caro Quintero’s early release, which was based on a controversial decision that the Camarena murder case should have been tried at the local, rather than federal level. The Mexican government subsequently filed for Caro Quintero’s re-arrest at the behest of the US, in a seeming attempt to placate US officials.

While Murillo has admitted the dubious circumstances surrounding this early release, it appears criticism from the United States has also ruffled feathers among some within the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Murillo’s attack on the apparent US hypocrisy breaks from the damage control mission his office went on immediately following Caro Quintero’s release.

Frustration may be building within the administration as the US continues to be critical of Mexico’s security strategy under President Enrique Peña Nieto, and the fact that this case has drawn criticism while major Mexican drug traffickers continue to be released early by the United States is likely to be another sore point.

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