Over the past two weeks, Mexican and US authorities have reported in dribs and drabs the results of a joint anti-drug operation, which began with a focus on opiate trafficking and ended with the release of a US citizen who had been held for a year in Sinaloa.

According to U.S. authorities, suspected Mexican criminals kidnapped the individual in January 2020. In a statement released Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice expressed "relief" at the hostage's release and noted that agents took more than $1 million worth of heroin and fentanyl off the streets.

Neither the Mexican authorities nor those of the neighboring country have reported the timing of the operation. In a statement released on March 7, the Attorney General's Office (FGR) had reported that agents of the institution rescued the kidnapped person from a house in Culiacán.

On the day of the release, the agents searched three houses in the Sinaloa capital. In one they arrested "Óscar G.", who was allegedly guarding the hostage, of whom no further details were given. In another, they apprehended "Luis C." with a firearm. In the third, they arrested "Ericka Q.". The woman was also found with a quarter of a kilo of heroin.

In its press release, the FGR only added that a judge had sent the three to prison while the process against them begins. There was no news of the case for weeks until the US Department of Justice revealed the identity of one of them, Luis C., who is said to be the ringleader of the criminal network. The man is actually Luis Castro Valenzuela, linked to the Sinaloa cartel. The US authorities accuse him of having organized the kidnapping and of having established a heroin and fentanyl trafficking network between Sinaloa, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.

In the indictment, the U.S. Attorney's Office accuses Castro Valenzuela of "conspiring to distribute controlled substances" in the country from 2017 to 2020. The substances in question are fentanyl and heroin. Investigators link the Mexican national to Jamar Jackson, alias Jay, the alleged ringleader of the network in the United States.

Prosecutors say Castro Valenzuela allegedly organized the kidnapping and forced Jackson to sell his drugs to pay the ransom. To date, the circumstances of the kidnapping are unknown, whether it took place in Mexico or the United States, or whether the hostage was transferred from one country to the other.

In the DOJ statement, Delaware District Attorney David C. Weiss highlighted the "unprecedented collaboration between local, state, U.S. federal and Mexican federal officials". Weiss added that cases such as this demonstrate "what can be accomplished when multiple agencies work selflessly toward a single goal." He also expressed his "deep appreciation to Mexican prosecutors, law enforcement and military personnel for their crucial assistance".

The story of two Colombians kidnapped by 'Coyotes' in Mexico

Two young Colombians were kidnapped in Mexico for nearly 15 days when they traveled from Bucaramanga in Santander to Bogotá on 10 February and boarded a flight at El Dorado International Airport to fulfill the American dream.

Edinson Quiñonez Conde, 25 (left) and Kevin Cristo Herrera, 21 (right) will return to the country tomorrow. Photo: Gaula Policía Nacional
Edinson Quiñonez Conde, 25 (left) and Kevin Cristo Herrera, 21 (right) will return to the country tomorrow. Photo: Gaula Policía Nacional

Kevin Cristo Herrera, 21, and Edinson Quiñonez Conde, 25, traveled to Anahuac in the state of Tamaulipas, where they reportedly sought contact to help them illegally cross the U.S. border, according to the coordinated investigation by Colombian and Mexican police.

Tamaulipas is an important commercial point with the U.S. - two sea crossings and 15 land crossings - which at the same time, made this state the cradle of one of the most powerful cartels dedicated to cocaine trafficking, 'the Zetas', and opened the lucrative business of trafficking illegal migrants through the so-called 'coyotes'.

In Colombia, Christ and Quiñonez's relatives have not heard from them since 13 February. Everything indicates that on that day the possible negotiation that they had been carrying out with a group of people dedicated to the passage of illegal migrants to North America was damaged.

"In a first hypothesis, it is estimated that they did not take all the money for the 'coyotes' to pass them by; or the criminals saw an opportunity to obtain more money and began to communicate with their families," Major Oscar Prieto, head of the Gaula de la Policía in Santander, told EL TIEMPO.

So on February 21, the sister of one of the young men approached the Gaula's facilities in Bucaramanga and reported that her relative had been kidnapped and was asking for $10,000 for each of them to be released.

In Bucaramanga, the Gaula advised the family to attend to every communication, mostly through WhatsApp messages, and thus maintain a possible negotiation. At the same time, the police made contact with their counterparts in Mexico with the objective of achieving the rescue or liberation of Christ and Quiñonez.

"Communications and the demand for money changed, at first they tried to be nice, and ended up, most likely to generate pressure, threatening to kill them if they did not agree to their demands," said Major Prieto.

In Colombia, the Public Prosecutor's Office and the police opened the criminal news for kidnapping for ransom and began exchanging information with the Mexican anti-kidnapping police, who gave priority to locating the Colombians, "always in the fear that they would be killed," the investigator said.

"From the CiberGaula the investigation was advanced based on the cellular numbers from which they called and contacted the families. We tried to make a georeference. The information collected was given to the Mexican Police who tracked the numbers and mounted the rescue operation. They verified the identity of one of the kidnappers, and through his cell phone they were able to locate him," said General Fernando Murillo, director of the Gaula of the Police nationwide.

The hostages had been taken to Monterrey, where Mexican police located, and rescued them on March 5 amidst heavy gunfire. "Fortunately our nationals were unharmed. Their state of health is good and in the next few hours, they will arrive in Colombia. They were left in the custody of the Colombian embassy," General Murillo said. The young people returned to the country on March 11, after meeting some requirements from the authorities in Mexico.