The New York Times profiles Luis Octavio López Vega, 64, a Mexican who played a leading role in what is widely considered the biggest drug-trafficking case in Mexican history. The episode — which inspired the 2000 movie “Traffic” — pitted the Mexican military against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Throughout the 1990s, López worked closely with both sides, as a senior adviser to the powerful general who was Mexico's drug czar and as an informant for the DEA.
His two roles collided in 1997 when Mexico arrested the general, Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, on charges of collaborating with drug traffickers. As Washington tried to make sense of the charges, both governments went looking for López. Mexico considered him a suspect in the case; the DEA saw him as a potential gold mine of information. The U.S. found him first, and the DEA secretly helped López and his family escape across the border in exchange for his cooperation. López says he has lived under the radar in the western United States for more than a decade, camouflaging himself among immigrants. The U.S. continues to feign ignorance about his whereabouts when pressed by Mexican officials, who still ask for help finding him.