OPINION

Mexican Federal Electricity Commission Director Manuel Bartlett Díaz. Photo: Google

By ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER

The most notable aspect of the recent capture of Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, including the many signs of intelligence collaboration with U.S. agencies, is the rapid growth of speculation surrounding current Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) Director and former Secretary of the Interior Manuel Bartlett Díaz and the consequences that the delivery of the detainee could have for him in the United States.

Caro Quintero spent 28 years in a Mexican prison without being sentenced and was released in 2013 after winning an injunction because his process was unjustifiably “frozen.” Immediately after his release, which allegedly occurred in accordance with the law, a scandal broke out because it turned out that Caro Quintero, who was a criminal legend in the 1980s, was still of interest for the U.S. government due to the “minor detail” of being accused, in that country, of the murder of Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.

Nine years after his controversial release (and the immediate reissuing of an arrest warrant against him), Caro Quintero was detained in an operation by the Mexican Navy in Sinaloa, without violence at the time, just a few days after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was received at the White House by his American counterpart, Joe Biden. In politics, there are no coincidences and it is impossible to think that this was one, especially if you take into account both the growing discomfort and concern that the current Mexican policy of nonintervention in terms of combating organized crime has represented for Mexico’s northern neighbor.

It is hard to believe that in 2022, Caro Quintero is still consequential in the world of organized crime. The government’s presentation of his arrest as the downfall of a great drug lord is very overblown. His time and his moment were 40 years ago, when marijuana sales were big business in the international crime.

Today, the weed Caro Quintero trafficked in the 1980s is a legal recreational drug in much of the United States and parts of Mexico. To think that Caro Quintero kept his criminal cells in force for 28 years behind bars, and that when he was released, in addition to hiding, he reorganized his criminal activity to once again occupy a privileged place in the international drug distribution and marketing chain that he did not handle — fentanyl, ecstasy and crystal meth — and that he was able to do so in the face of other criminal groups today, with much greater power and firepower than he achieved in 1985, is simply naïve.

The current interest of the United States in Caro Quintero has to do with something other than his history as a legendary introducer of prohibited substances into the North American market. The real issue for the United States is the brutal torture and murder of Camarena. In this context, the arrest of Caro Quintero takes on a different dimension, which is, above all, political.

Reviewing the murder of  Camarena and the arrest, for extradition purposes, of Caro Quintero, forces us to refer to the many journalistic versions, widely documented over the years, that link the incident to Bartlett Díaz. As secretary of the interior under former Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid, Bartlett Díaz had control of the Federal Security Directorate, a now-defunct body of the Mexican government whose agents are attributed with the kidnapping of Camarena, as well as his delivery to Caro Quintero and his associates. There are reports published and supported by the version of former Mexican police officers, now under the U.S. Federal Program of Witness Protection, that support the participation of Bartlett Díaz and other deceased Mexican high-ranking officers in not only the planning of the kidnapping, but also in the torture of Camarena.

Today, Bartlett Díaz is one of the most controversial politicians in the López Obrador government. Solid documentation has shown that he owns real estate assets of an inexplicable amount based on his income as a public servant, in addition to the delivery of juicy government contracts, of questionable legality, to his son León Bartlett.

And that’s not all: Bartlett Díaz is also the brains and operator of a public policy on electricity that affects the interests of the private sector, notably of several North American companies that have made their disgruntled anger known, even before their own government, because their investments are threatened by a change in rules that flagrantly violates what was agreed upon between Mexico and the United States in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), signed and presented as an achievement by the López Obrador government itself.

In addition, it cannot be ignored that Bartlett Díaz is under an open investigation in the United States for the Camarena case and, without a doubt, the extradition of Caro Quintero to the United States (should it come to pass, which is beginning to look unlikely) could change his status under U.S. law from suspect to accused as the presumed responsible party.

Just as it is impossible to believe in coincidences in political matters, it is unthinkable that López Obrador had not foreseen the implications of Caro Quintero’s arrest for his government and his director of the CFE. The president of Mexico is, above all, a pragmatic politician who has not hesitated to change his position based on the interests of his personal project. The ever-increasing militarization of the country and AMLO’s dubious relationship with Donald Trump are proof of this. The big question now is whether, under pressure from the United States, AMLO will have changed his position on the energy issue and is ready and willing to sacrifice one of his main collaborators. By stopping the harassment private U.S. electricity-generating companies and, with Bartlett Díaz’ fall from grace, AMLO could appease the spirits and discomfort of his powerful neighbor to the north. And, in exchange, López Obrador could get the much-needed boost of U.S. support for his administration as it rounds the corner to the last third of the six-year term.

 

 

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