Lawmakers bristled at Mexico’s release of a drug lord who kidnapped, tortured and killed Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985.
Rafael Caro Quintero served 28 years of a 40-year sentence before a court overturned his conviction last week, saying the notorious cartel boss should have been tried in state court instead of federal.
“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 Justice Department said in a statement.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the White House is “deeply concerned” by the release of the 61-year-old.
“We have seen reports that another individual connected to Camarena’s killing could also be released,” Hayden said Sunday. “We remain as committed today in seeing Quintero and others involved in this crime face justice in the United States as we were in the immediate aftermath of Kiki Camarena’s murder and will work closely with the Mexican authorities on this.”
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said he’s “deeply troubled” by the news.
“I am a fervent supporter of U.S.-Mexico security cooperation, and want to continue partnering with the Mexican government to combat the scourge of drug-trafficking and associated violence. The release of this drug kingpin whom U.S. authorities believe continued to run money laundering operations from behind prison bars, raises very serious questions about the foundation of the Mexican justice system, even as Mexico implements judicial reforms,” Salmon said. “I urge the Department of Justice to vigorously pursue an extradition claim against Caro Quintero so he may face charges in the United States.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said Quintero “should have faced a firing squad.”
“He should’ve been hung. And the fact that he’s going to be let out of jail on a technicality after 28 years of a 40-year sentence — he needs to be extradited. Killing a law enforcement officer is the most serious affront to respect for the rule of law you can possibly have,” Gowdy continued. “And to torture Kiki Camarena before he killed him — I am sure the attorney general is just as outraged as I am, and I’m sure that the State Department’s going to make sure Mexico understands our relationship with them in part depends upon how they handle this case.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said “we must impress upon the Mexican authorities the importance of combating these drug lords who wreak havoc upon both our nations.”
“This incident must be rectified and we must re-examine the future of the Merida Initiative that was launched in 2007 aimed at combating drug trafficking, improving the capacity of the judicial system, and strengthening the rule of law,” she added.
“Caro Quintero is considered one of the ‘grandfathers’ of Mexican drug trafficking, and this decision to release him early is an insult to the memory of Camarena and his family, and damages the credibility and willingness of the Mexican authorities to combat the drug trafficking epidemic. I urge the Peña Nieto Administration to strongly condemn this decision, re-capture Caro Quintero as soon as possible and extradite him to the United States.”