Kiki Camarena

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This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Camarena and the second or maternal family name is Salazar.
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 in Spanish was "Kike"[1] and "Kiki"[2] in English.

Early life and education[edit]

In 1973, Camarena joined the United States Marine Corps, where he served for two years. He then joined the DEA at their Calexico, California, office. In 1977, Camarena moved to their Fresno office, and in 1981 he was assigned to the agency's 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 broken, and a hole was drilled into his head with a screwdriver. He had been injected with amphetamines and other drugs, most likely to ensure that he remained conscious during his torture.[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.


The torture and murder of Camarena 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 being 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, kidnapped and taken into the United States. Despite vigorous protests from the Mexican government, Álvarez was tried in United States District Court in Los Angeles. The trial resulted in an acquittal by a judge before the trial commenced. However the case was then appealed to the Supreme Court where they ruled that it is the State Department's choice whether to break extradition treaties and apprehend fugitives in other countries. Therefore Machain could be charged with a crime. The four others, Vásquez Velasco, Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, Juan José Bernabé Ramirez and Rubén Zuno Arce (a relative of former President Luis Echeverría) did not escape, and were found guilty of Camarena's kidnapping.[7]

Zuno Arce was known to have ties to corrupt Mexican officials,[8] and Mexican officials were implicated in covering up the murder.[9] Mexican police had destroyed evidence on Camarena's body.[10]

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 US federal agent or the escape of his killer.”[11]


Camarena received numerous awards while with the DEA, and after his death, 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. 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[12] 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 Enrique Camarena, and others who share their commitment to alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention.

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

In popular culture[edit]

Several movies about Camarena were produced in Mexico.

In November 1988, Time magazine featured Camarena on the cover. A 1990 U.S television mini-series about Camarena, starring Treat Williams and Steven Bauer, was produced (Drug Wars: The Camarena Story). In 2005, the History Channel produced a documentary Heroes Under Fire: Righteous Vendetta,[13] that chronicles the events. It also features interviews with family members, DEA agents and others involved in the investigation.

The 2005 book ¿O Plata O Plomo? The abduction and murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena was written by retired DEA Resident Agent in Charge James H. Kuykendall.[14]

The third episode of the television show Narcos makes reference to Camarena's murder, and how the subsequent DEA retaliation deterred violence to other agents.[15]

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 "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. ^ "Bodyguard Is Convicted in Case With Links to Drug Agent's Death". The New York Times. August 7, 1990. 
  8. ^ "Central Figure Is Convicted In '85 Killing of Drug Agent". The New York Times. August 1, 1990. 
  9. ^ "Thirty Years Of America's Drug War". Frontline. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Interviews - Jack Lawn - Drug Wars". Frontline. PBS. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  11. ^ ""Te CIA helped kill DEA agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena," say witnesses". El País (Spain) (in Spanish). 15 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  12. ^ "Enrique S. Camarena Foundation". February 7, 2010. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  13. ^ Heroes Under Fire: Righteous Vendetta.
  14. ^ ¿O Plata O Plomo? The abduction and murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena
  15. ^ 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).

External links[edit]