A photo of Rafael Caro Quintero from 2016.

The True Story Of The Narcos Drug Lord “Rafael Caro Quintero” Still On The Run

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The True Story Of The Narcos Drug Lord “Rafael Caro Quintero” Still On The Run:

Rafael Caro Quintero was one of Mexico first and most powerful cartel leaders until he was suspected of orchestrating the brutal torture and murder of a DEA agent.

A photo of Rafael Caro Quintero from 2016.
A photo of Rafael Caro Quintero from 2016.

Rafael Caro Quintero was considered the “Narco of Narcos.” The blood thirsty drug lord thought he was untouchable, but he overstepped his bounds when he brutally murdered an Americans agent. Let out of jail on a technicality, the trafficker is still at large — and wanted by the FBI. Now, Caro Quintero is the central figure of season four of Netflix popular series Narcos. Here is his true story.

Early Life And Finding The Guadalajara Cartel

Rafael Caro Quintero was born sometime in October 1952, in Sinaloa, Mexico. He has listed various birthdays spanning October to November or March of 1952.

Caro Quintero was one of 12 children and his father died when he was just 14 years old. As the eldest son, the responsibility to support his mother and 11 sibling fell on Caro Quintero. After stints as a cattle rancher and working on corn and bean plantation, Caro Quintero realized that there was vastly more money to be made in a less traditional crop and began dabbling in growing marijuana under the guidances of a famously elusive Mexican drug lord Pedro Avilés Pérez.

Caro Quintero quickly amassed enough money to buy his own ranches entirely dedicated to producing the drugs and soon had his entire family in on the business. His maternal uncle, his brother, and his wife family were all involved in the trafficking business.

Described by DEA agent James Kuykendall as “a true product of the Sinaloa drug traffic and the personification of the Sinaloa drugs trafficker,” by the time he was 29 years old, Caro Quintero was a “rising star in the Mexican under world.”

In the 1970’s, Rafael Caro Quintero partnered with Mexican narco trafficker Felix Galardo and Ecuadorian drug lord Ernesto Fonseca Carillo in a bloodthirsty triumvirate. They founded the Guadalajara Cartel, which would become a prototype for the drug organization that still plague Mexico to this day.

Together, the 3 men were known as the Grandfather of Mexican Drug Trafficking, El Padrino or The Godfather, and Don Neto. Rafael Caro Quintero himself was described by FBI official as “one of the primary supplier of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana to the United States” in the 1970s and 1980s.

The popular Netflix show revolves around Caro Quintero’s drug empire in its latest season.

Rafael Caro Quintero’s Downfall

In Netflix Narcos, Rafael Caro Quinteros downfall begins when he start to use cocaine himself and becomes increasingly paranoid and unpredictable.

In reality, Caro Quintero web began to unravel in November of 1984, when Mexican authorities raided his enormous “Buffalo Ranch” marijuana farm in Chihuahua which cost him an estimated $2.5 billion to $5 billion in street sales of the drugs. The authorities had been tipped off by an undercover DEA agent and Caro Quintero, who was enraged at the loss, immediately began to plot his revenge.

First, in 1985 Caro Quintero with associates allegedly murdered two American, John Clay Walker and Alberto Radelat, who an increasingly paranoid Caro Quintero“s mistakenly thought to be DEA agents.

Meanwhile, it was believed that Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Salazar, a Mexican born agent in deep undercover with the DEA, tipped off authorities about Buffalo Ranch and thus dealt the head of the powerful Guadalajara Cartel a significant blow.

Consequently, on Feb. 7, 1985, Camarena was grabbed off the street of Guadalajara in broad daylight. His body and the body of his pilot, Capt. Alfredo Zavala Avelar, were found wrapped in plastic nearly a months later on March 5, at a ranch 60 mile southwest of the city and Caro Quintero and his crew were the main suspects.

Camarena and Avelar had not been granted easy deaths. Over the course of 30 hour, the bones of Camarena’s face had been crushed, as had his windpipe. His ribs had been broken and a hole had been drilled into his heads. The agent’s lungs were found to contain traces of drugs that his captors had cruelly given him in order to force him to remain awake during the ordeal.

The brutal murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar in the midst of Caro Quintero’s downfall.
The brutal murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar in the midst of Caro Quintero’s downfall.

Camarena death provoked massive outrage in the United States. The public was horrified by his torture and authorities were enraged by the ease with which one of their agents had been abducted, though several Mexican law enforcement officer would later be indicted for aid in the murder.

The U.S began to seriously consider closing the border and President Regan put immense pressure on Mexican president Miguel de la Madrid to bring Camarena’s murderers to justice.

As much power and influence as Caro Quintero might have enjoyed in Mexico infamously corrupt government, he was no match for the concentrated fury of the United State. Which is why in April of 1985, two months after Camarena murder, Caro Quintero’s nearly 2 decades of bloody free reign in Mexico were brought to an end.

He was arrested in a Costa Rica mansion where he had fled and extradited back to Mexico where he was sentenced to 40 years of jail time as the suspected orchestrator of Camarena murder.

Caro Quintero’s arrest combined with that of Ernesto Fonseca caused the Guadalajara Cartel to crumble from within.

Release And Controversy

Rafael Caro Quintero’s story at 1st seemed a rare instance of justice being brought to one of Mexico’s most powerful cartel leaders, many of whom — such as El Chapo — wind up escaping if ever brought to jail at all.

In 2013, however, Caro Quintero was suddenly released from prison after 28 years behind bars. A Mexican federal court had ordered he be set free after overturning his conviction on the technicality that he had been tried in a federal court for state crime. At the age of 53, the “Narco of Narcos” walked free again.

Caro Quintero during a 2016 interview in Mexico.
Caro Quintero during a 2016 interview in Mexico

Caro Quintero release infuriated American officials. The Obama White House issued a statement declaring “we remain as committed today in seeing Quintero and others involved in this crime face justice in the United State as we were in the immediate aftermath of Kiki Camarena murder.”

But Caro Quintero, for his part, claimed that he had officially retired from the bloody business. In a 2016 interview with a Mexican journalists, he swore “I was a drug trafficker 31 years ago, and from that moment I am telling you that when I lost the crops from [Buffalo Ranch], there I ended that activity.”

In 2018 the FBI added Caro Quintero to their list of Top 10 Most Wanted criminals.
In 2018 the FBI added Caro Quintero to their list of Top 10 Most Wanted criminals.

The United State, perhaps unsurprisingly, seems wary of the idea Rafael Caro Quintero wants to live out his days in peace. In 2017 the DEA identified Caro Quintero as one of the functioning leaders of the Sinaloa cartel “responsible for smuggling hundred of tons of methamphetamine, marijuana, and cocaine into the United State.”

In April of 2018, the FBI added the now 58-year-old “Grandfather of Drug Trafficking” to its list of the Top 10 Most Wanted, offering a $20 million rewards — one of the highest amounts in FBI history — for any information on his whereabouts.

So far no one has come forward to claim the million and it is speculated that Caro Quintero remains at large some where in Northern Mexico.


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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.

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