In a rickety wooden chair sits a $5 million reward. His name is Rafael Caro Quintero and he’s one of the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s most wanted fugitives, the legend before there were legends among Mexico’s drug kingpins. But you wouldn’t know it by the crude concrete walls and exposed tin roof.
“I was young, I lived in the mountains, and at that time it was very normal to grow marijuana,” says Caro Quintero in his working class, rural Spanish. “There were 12 of us kids. I was 14 and my mom and I had to make sure we could all eat. That’s how it began.”
He is extremely polite in this once-in-a-lifetime interview with Mexican investigative magazine Proceso. The vast majority of information on Caro Quintero, known as El Principe (The Prince), comes from ominous DEA and US Treasury reports on drug trafficking. But he tells a humble tale.
“I never trafficked…I sold [marijuana] here in Mexico, I never crossed to the United States…I sold it cheaply here in Mexico because I didn’t want any more problems, you know?” he tells interviewer Anabel Hernandez, a well-known reporter often in hiding because of her work. She prods Caro Quintero on the grizzly legend Mexico has heard about him for so long. But he sticks to his story.
“I was a drug trafficker 31 years ago, but since then I stopped those activities, I never returned to it and I never will. I stopped being a drug trafficker and I’m going to say this again: please, leave me in peace.”
This feels like a rewrite of Mexico’s drug trafficking history. Caro Quintero was the boss long before Mexico’s most famous trafficker, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, got in the game. He felt the wrath of US anti-drug forces in 1985 after he ordered the torture and murder DEA agent Enrique Camarena. After 28 years in Mexican prisons, he got out in 2013 on a technicality and is allegedly fighting to control the trade once again
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