Kiki Camarena

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Enrique Camarena (DEA Agent))
Jump to: navigation, search
Enrique Camarena Salazar
Nickname(s) "Kike" (Spanish),[1] "Kiki" (English)[2]
Born (1947-07-26)July 26, 1947
Mexicali, Mexico
Died February 9, 1985(1985-02-09) (aged 37)
La Angostura, Mexico
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  U.S. Marine Corps (1972-1974)
Drug Enforcement Administration
Years of service 1972–1974 (U.S. Marine Corps)
Rank Agent (DEA)

Enrique S. "Kiki" Camarena Salazar (July 26, 1947 – February 9, 1985) was a Mexican-born American undercover agent for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who was abducted on February 7, 1985, and then tortured and murdered, while on assignment in Mexico. Camarena's nickname was "Kike" in Spanish,[1] and "Kiki"[2] in English.

Early life and education[edit]

From 1973–1975, Camarena served in the United States Marine Corps, after which he joined the DEA, at their Calexico, California, office. In 1977, Camarena moved to the agency's Fresno office, and in 1981, he was assigned to their Guadalajara office in Mexico. Camarena had also worked as a firefighter and police investigator before joining the DEA in Calexico.[2]

Abduction and murder[edit]

In 1984, acting on information from Camarena, 450 Mexican soldiers backed by helicopters destroyed a 1,000-hectare (≈2,500 acres) marijuana plantation with an estimated annual production of $8 billion known as "Rancho Búfalo".[3][4] Camarena, who had been identified as the source of the leak, was abducted in broad daylight on February 7, 1985 by corrupt police officers working for drug lord Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo. Camarena was tortured at Gallardo's ranch over a 30-hour period, then murdered. His skull, jaw, nose, cheekbones and windpipe were crushed, his ribs were broken, and a hole was drilled into his head with a power drill. He had been injected with amphetamines and other drugs, most likely to ensure that he remained conscious while being tortured.[5] Camarena's body was found in a rural area outside the small town of La Angostura, in the state of Michoacán , on March 5, 1985 .[citation needed]


Camarena's torture and murder prompted a swift reaction from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and launched Operation Leyenda, the largest DEA homicide investigation ever undertaken.[4][6] A special unit was dispatched to coordinate the investigation in Mexico, where corrupt officials were implicated. Investigators soon identified Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and his two close associates, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero, as the primary suspects in the kidnapping. Under pressure from the U.S.A. to President Miguel de la Madrid's government (1982–1988), Fonseca and Quintero were quickly apprehended, but Félix Gallardo still enjoyed political protection.[4]

The United States government pursued a lengthy investigation of Camarena's murder. Due to the difficulty of extraditing Mexican citizens, the DEA went as far as to detain two suspects, Humberto Álvarez Machaín, the physician who allegedly prolonged Camarena's life so the torture could continue, and Javier Vásquez Velasco; both were taken by bounty hunters into the United States.

Despite vigorous protests from the Mexican government, Álvarez was brought to trial in Los Angeles in 1992. After presentation of the government's case, the judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict, and charges were dropped. Álvarez subsequently initiated a civil suit against the U.S. government, charging that his arrest had breached the U.S.-Mexico extradition treaty. The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Álvarez was not entitled to relief.[7] The four other defendants, Vásquez Velasco, Juan Ramón Matta-Ballesteros, Juan José Bernabé Ramírez, and Rubén Zuno Arce (a relative of former President Luis Echeverría), were tried and found guilty of Camarena's kidnapping.[8]

Arce had known ties to corrupt Mexican officials,[9] and Mexican officials were implicated in covering up the murder.[10] Mexican police had destroyed evidence on Camarena's body.[11]

In October 2013, two former federal agents and an ex-CIA contractor told an American television network that CIA operatives were involved in Camarena's kidnapping and murder, because he was a threat to the agency's drug operations in Mexico. According to the three men, the CIA was collaborating with drug traffickers moving cocaine and marijuana to the United States, and using its share of the profits to finance Nicaraguan Contra rebels attempting to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government. A CIA spokesman responded that “it's ridiculous to suggest that the CIA had anything to do with the murder of a U.S. federal agent or the escape of his killer.”[12]


  • Camarena received numerous awards while with the DEA, and he posthumously received the Administrator's Award of Honor, the highest award given by the organization.[2]
  • In Fresno, the DEA hosts a yearly golf tournament named after him.[2]
  • The nationwide annual Red Ribbon Week, which teaches school children and youths to avoid drug use, was established in his memory.[2]
  • In 2004, the Enrique S. Camarena Foundation[13] was established in Camarena's memory. Camarena's wife Mika and son Enrique Jr. serve on the all-volunteer Board of Directors together with former DEA agents, law enforcement personnel, family and friends of Camarena's, and others who share their commitment to alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention.

Personal life[edit]

Camarena is survived by his wife Mika and their three sons.[14]

In popular culture[edit]


Several movies about Camarena were produced in Mexico,[which?] and he is referenced in others. For example:

  • Miss Bala (2011), a movie fictionalization of the real-life story of a beauty queen in Mexico who was inadvertently (at least in this telling) mixed up with violent drug traffickers, includes a character based on Camarena, named Enrique "Kike" Camara.


  • In November 1988, TIME magazine featured Camarena on the cover.
  • Roberto Saviano's non-fiction book Zero Zero Zero (2015) deals in part with Camarena's undercover work and his eventual fate.
  • Camarena is the subject of the book ¿O Plata o Plomo? The abduction and murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena (2005), by retired DEA Resident Agent in Charge James H. Kuykendall.[15]


  • Drug Wars: The Camarena Story (1990) is a U.S television mini-series about Camarena, starring Treat Williams and Steven Bauer,
  • The History Channel documentary Heroes Under Fire: Righteous Vendetta (2005)[16] chronicles the events and features interviews with family members, DEA agents, and others involved in the investigation.
  • In season 1, episode 3 of the television show Narcos (2015), DEA agent Javier Peña tells his partner, Steve Murphy, that although Murphy's cat had been murdered in Murphy's home as a symbolic gesture, Murphy was safe because of Kiki, whose murder and the subsequent DEA retaliation deterred violence to other agents. (Murphy said Camarena's torturers had skinned both the agent's legs and put a bullet in each limb; and Camarena died from an electric drill to his skull.) Consequently, Murphy refers to Camarena as "the Jesus of DEA agents", because "he died to save us all".[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sifuentes, Hervey. "Proclamarán Semana del Listón Rojo en honor a 'Kike' Camarena". Zócalo Saltillo. Retrieved February 27, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Kiki and the History of Red Ribbon Week". Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
  3. ^ Gorman, Peter. "Big-time Smuggler's Blues". Cannabis Culture. Thursday June 15, 2006.
  4. ^ a b c Beith, Malcolm (2010). The Last Narco. New York, New York: Grove Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-8021-1952-0. 
  5. ^ Seper, J. (May 5, 2010). Brutal DEA agent murder reminder of agency priority. Washington Times archive. Retrieved October 16, 2014.
  6. ^ "Camarena Investigation Leads to Operation Leyenda" (PDF 1.73MB). A Tradition of Excellence, History:1985–1990. DEA. January 15, 2009. p. 64. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  7. ^ Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004)
  8. ^ "Bodyguard Is Convicted in Case with Links to Drug Agent's Death". The New York Times. August 7, 1990. 
  9. ^ "Central Figure Is Convicted in '85 Killing of Drug Agent". The New York Times. August 1, 1990. 
  10. ^ "Thirty Years of America's Drug War". Frontline. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Interviews - Jack Lawn - Drug Wars". Frontline. PBS. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  12. ^ "'The CIA helped kill DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena,' say witnesses". El País (Spain) (in Spanish). 15 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  13. ^ "Enrique S. Camarena Foundation". February 7, 2010. Archived from the original on May 30, 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  14. ^ Bell, Diane (2010-03-14). "Diane Bell talks to Geneva Camarena". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2017-02-27. 
  15. ^ ¿O Plata o Plomo? The abduction and murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena.
  16. ^ Heroes Under Fire: Righteous Vendetta.
  17. ^ Narcos: Season 1 Episode 3 Recap

Further reading[edit]

  • Andreas Lowenfeld, "Mexico and the United States, an Undiplomatic Murder", in Economist, 30 March 1985.
  • Andreas Lowenfeld, "Kidnapping by Government Order: A Follow-Up", in American Journal of International Law 84 (July 1990): 712–716.
  • U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Drug Enforcement Administration Reauthorization for Fiscal Year 1986: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Crime. May 1, 1985 (1986).

Desperados: Latin Drug Lords, Lawmen, and the War America Can't Win; Elaine Shannon, 1988.

External links[edit]