Mexican authorities may be forced to release the founder and leader of the Sinaloa Cartel this week.
Héctor ‘El Guero’ Palma Salazar, a former acquaintance of infamous drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, was nearly freed from prison at the weekend after a judge acquitted him of organised crime charges. He was due for release by 4pm on Sunday, May 2, before prosecutors secured a 48-hour extension to find any outstanding warrants to keep him behind bars.
The clock is ticking, and Palma could be released as early as today if no warrants are found, with fears the country will be mocked for letting a notable crime figure go.
Amplían 48 horas plazo para liberar a "El Güero" Palma. La Secretaría de Gobernación analizó la conveniencia para llevar a cabo asuntos de esta naturaleza en días inhábiles; esto porque el ex líder del cártel de Sinaloa sería liberado la noche del sábado.#RealidadSinFiltro pic.twitter.com/7tQYv7vUXa
— Paola Barquet (@paobarquet) May 3, 2021
Palma attracted the attention of law enforcement back in 1993, when he was involved in a shootout between Sinaloa gunmen and the rival Arellano Félix gang at an airport in Guadalajara, leading to the death of a Roman Catholic cardinal after mistaking his vehicle for one belonging to a gang member.
In 1995, he was arrested and served 12 years in a Mexican prison for bribery and weapons charges. In 2007, he was extradited to the US, where he served nine years of a 16-year sentence for cocaine trafficking before returning to Mexico. Since then, he’s been held awaiting trial for the charges he’s just been acquitted of.
As per ABC News, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, ‘This is a matter of national import. Imagine the suspicion, the jokes, the memes.’
He added, ‘Something similar happened when Mr. Caro Quintero was released. They accused us from abroad, accused the government of complicity. No foreign government should accuse the Mexican government, and we shouldn’t give them a pretext to do that.’
Quintero left prison on an ‘improperly ordered release’ eight years ago, quickly re-entering the world of trafficking and violence. He’d been serving a 40-year sentence for torturing and murdering US DEA agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena in 1985. There’s currently a $20 million reward for his capture.
López Obrador has attracted criticism for his ‘hugs not bullets’ policy, which has seen the release of criminals like Ovidio Guzman, one of El Chapo’s sons, with the hope of avoiding violence – however, murder figures have barely dropped, and drug bosses have simply returned to crime if not detained.
Despite apparent concerns about the ridicule Mexico could face, US Ambassador Christopher Landau dubbed the president’s fight against cartels as ‘as a distraction… so he has basically adopted an agenda of a pretty laissez-faire attitude towards them, which is pretty troubling to our government, obviously’.
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