Héctor Luis “El Güero” Palma, business partner of the notorious Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán during a gruesome 1990s drug war, is scheduled to be released early from the Atwater federal prison on June 11. In 2008, Palma was sentenced to 16 years in the bing, but the judge credited him for time served in Mexico and knocked off eight years A spokesperson for Atwater penitentiary said Palma’s release is due to the “good conduct time release program.”
However, the aforementioned drug war may indicate that Palma’s life will be in jeopardy when he is released and deported back to Mexico.
El Güero (meaning Whitey, or Blondie) Palma and El Chapo (meaning Shorty) Guzmán got their first taste of power as hit men in the 1980s working for Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, known as El Padrino, the Godfather, who was one of three kingpins in the Pacific Cartel.
El Padrino and his partners Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo had led the effort to merge what previously were disparate drug-trafficking operations into one central enterprise, interlocked with Mexican state and federal security forces and government officials.
The original Pacific Cartel bosses were held responsible for the notable torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. The Daily Beast describes:
Camarena was tortured for 30 hours, his skull, jaw, nose, cheekbones, and windpipe crushed, a hold drilled into his skull with a screwdriver. He reportedly was injected with drugs to keep him conscious during the ordeal. His body, wrapped in plastic bags, was dumped on the side of a road outside Guadalajara.
Carmena’s death revealed the massive scale of the Mexican drug industry for the first time. Between 1985 and 1989, Felix, Quintero and Carillo were arrested and sentenced. Before getting locked up, Felix split up his empire, leaving a piece to El Güero and El Chapo:
The careful plans he had made for his own succession, however, were in vain. El Padrino Félix had given strict orders for El Güero Palma to run the business in consort with El Chapo Guzmán and El Padrino’s nephews, a clan of five temperamental brothers in Tijuana who formed the eponymous Arrellano-Félix Organization. But even before El Padrino was arrested, a deadly rift developed between his nephews and his erstwhile hitmen.
In 1988, the Arrellano-Félix brothers had El Güero Palma’s wife murdered in San Francisco, and her head delivered to him in a giftwrapped box. El Güero’s ghastly calling card back when he worked for El Padrino had been to place the head of his victim in a cooler and have it delivered to the victim’s family. In the days that followed the wife’s murder, Palma’s two young children, ages 4 and 5, were abducted and pushed to their deaths from a height of 500 feet—accounts differ as to whether they were pushed from a bridge or a low-flying plane.
El Güero further pissed the bosses off by freelancing with outside organizations and hiding the money. The order was handed down to kill him. Much blood was spilled on both sides, as well as innocent victims:
Scores of innocent people died in the crossfire. There were indiscriminate bombings, public shootouts, a massacre at a discotheque in Puerto Vallarta; the high-profile murder victims included the attorney general for the state of Sinaloa, Francisco Rodolfo Álvarez Faber; the Sinaloan human rights activist Norma Corona, and the Archbishop of Guadalajara Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas y Ocampo.
El Güero shifted his base of operations to Tepic, the largest city in the western state of Nayarit, and built his organization to serve as a conduit for smuggling Colombian cocaine into the United States. A court filing from the U.S. Attorney’s office estimates that from 1991-93 El Güero Palma, in an alliance with El Chapo Guzmán that would become the Sinaloa Cartel, sneaked 25 tons of cocaine across the border hidden in cans of jalapeño peppers.
Palma was arrested in 1995 in the home a federal police supervisor. While in prison, it is rumored that he helped orchestrate El Chapo’s first prison escape in 2001. Palma was then extradited to the United States in 2007.
The Daily Beast outlines the potential dangers that Palma faces upon deportation:
There is, for example, the likely vendetta tied to the fate of Francisco Rafael Arrellano Félix, one of the brothers, who was released from prison in the U.S. and deported to Mexico. In 2013, at a celebration of his birthday, he was murdered by a cartel assassin disguised as a clown; the order is widely believed to have been come from El Chapo Guzmán.
Palma may have another reason to worry about his safety in Mexico. Legal observers in Mexico anticipate that El Padrino Félix, 70, will be granted humanitarian release later this year. El Padrino has nine years remaining on his 40-year sentence for the Camarena murder; his lawyers are arguing that his advanced age and reportedly delicate state of his health merit a special dispensation of house arrest for the don.
Lawyers for Ernesto Fonseca, 87, the second of the three imprisoned bosses of the Pacific Cartel, are similarly optimistic about the capo’s chances for humanitarian release later this year. Fonseca has 10 years remaining on his 40-year sentence.
In 2013, it was rumored that the Pacific Cartel was gearing up for a comeback, following to the release of Rafael Caro Quintero. Of the 216 Mexican businesses blacklisted by the US Treasury for dealings with drug cartels, 64 percent tied to the Sinaloa Cartel and 44 percent belonged to Rafael Caro Quintero.