Mexico worries about scorn if another drug lord is released

FILE - In this June 15, 2016 file photo provided by the Mexican Attorney General's Office, Hector "El Guero" Palma, or Blondie, one of the founders of the Sinaloa Cartel, is escorted in handcuffs from a helicopter at a federal hangar in Mexico City, after serving almost a decade in a U.S. prison and transported to another maximum-security lockup to await trial for two murders. (Mexico's Attorney General's Office via AP, File)
FILE - In this June 15, 2016 file photo provided by the Mexican Attorney General's Office, Hector "El Guero" Palma, or Blondie, one of the founders of the Sinaloa Cartel, is escorted in handcuffs from a helicopter at a federal hangar in Mexico City, after serving almost a decade in a U.S. prison and transported to another maximum-security lockup to await trial for two murders. (Mexico's Attorney General's Office via AP, File)

MEXICO CITY – Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador worried Monday that yet another shadowy release of a drug lord is about to make Mexico a target of international ridicule.

Almost eight years ago, drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero walked out of a Mexican prison late at night with an improperly ordered release. He has since returned to drug trafficking and unleashed bloody turf battles in northern Mexico border state of Sonora.

On Saturday, another top capo of the Sinaloa cartel was about to walk in similar circumstances.

Hector “El Güero” Palma was hours away from freedom after a judge’s secretary sent a letter — on a Saturday and national holiday — saying the government had to release him immediately after he was acquitted on organized crime charges.

“This is a matter of national import,” López Obrador said Monday. “Imagine the suspicion, the jokes, the memes.”

“Something similar happened when Mr. Caro Quintero was released,” López Obrador recalled. “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.”

On Sunday, the judge sent another notification saying Palma had to be released by 4 p.m. López Obrador said prosecutors won a 48-hour extension to look for any outstanding warrants that could justify holding him. That runs out on Tuesday. The president has said that if none can be found, Palma should be released.

Mexico is beginning to earn a reputation as a government that, under López Obrador, has released more drug lords than it has captured, part of the president's stated policy of no longer detaining drug lords to avoid violence.