Surprising allegations concerning the enigmatic murder of a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent in Mexico three decades ago may have turned the tide against Washington.
Two former US law enforcement agents and an ex-CIA contractor have told an American television network that Enrique “Kiki” Camarena – the undercover DEA agent whose 1985 torture and murder in Mexico rocked Washington and opened the largest federal homicide inquiries ever – was actually killed by CIA operatives. Camarena’s murder is considered the most heinous crime ever committed against the DEA in Latin America, and it took place at the height of the US drug war of the 1980s.
For years, there had been rumors that the CIA was involved in the murder. The popular Mexican norteño folk band Los Broncos de Reynosa had alluded to this allegation 25 years ago in one of their well-known narcocorridos – drug ballads that are played in local nightspots – but many dismissed it as another legend made up over shots of tequila.
Rafael Caro Quintero, one of the founders of the so-called Guadalajara cartel, was given a 40-year-sentence for Camarena’s murder, but on August 9 he was freed on a legal technicality after only serving 28 years. The now 62-year-old Caro Quintero is still wanted by US authorities, but has since disappeared.
Before his death, Camarena, 37, had broken a gigantic marijuana ring operating from a ranch called Rancho El Búfalo, where Mexican soldiers destroyed some 1,000 hectares of cannabis in 1984.
In retaliation, the drug cartel ordered his capture and murder. He was kidnapped at gunpoint in Guadalajara, blind-folded and taken to a ranch house outside the city where he was tortured over a three-day period; his skull, jaw, nose and cheekbones were crushed with a tire iron. As he lay dying, a cartel doctor was ordered to keep him alert by administering drugs.
But new revelations suggest that Caro Quintero may have not been the only one responsible for the gruesome murder. Another figure has surfaced in the case, Félix Ismael “El Gato” Rodríguez, a Cuban exile who participated in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. El Gato has also been linked to the 1967 ambush of Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia.
These CIA-connection claims are now being brought to light by Phil Jordan, the former director of DEA’s powerful El Paso Intelligence Center in Texas; former DEA agent Héctor Berrellez; and Tosh Plumlee, who maintained he was hired to fly covert missions on behalf of US intelligence. The three men spoke to Fox News in exclusive interviews broadcast last Thursday.
They claimed that Mexican police and agents working for the CIA participated in Camarena’s torture and murder.
“I know and from what I have been told by a former head of the Mexican federal police, Comandante [Guillermo Gónzales] Calderoni, the CIA was involved in the movement of drugs from South America to Mexico and to the US,” said Jordan, according to a transcript of the broadcast.
“In [Camarena’s] interrogation room, I was told by Mexican authorities, that CIA operatives were in there – actually conducting the interrogation; actually taping Kiki,” Jordan claims.
Berrellez explained that Camarena was kidnapped and murdered “because he came up with the idea that we needed to chase the money not the drugs.”
“We were seizing a huge amount of drugs. However, we were not really disrupting the cartels. So he came up with the idea that we should set up a task force and target their monies,” said the former DEA agent.
Plumlee added that the CIA was also involved in helping run weapons and drugs from Caro Quintero’s ranch to Central America at the time that the Reagan administration was helping to arm the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
After Camarena’s body had been found about a month later in a rural area, DEA agents surrounded Quintero Caro at the Guadalajara airport but, according to Berrellez, Mexican drug officers pointed their guns and told them to hand over the cartel leader.
Plumlee claims that Caro Quintero was later flown to Costa Rica with the help of El Gato.
A CIA Spokesman told Fox News 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.”
In its own investigation this week, the Mexican news magazine Proceso delved even further by reporting that El Gato introduced a Honduran, Juan Matta, to the Guadalajara cartel. Matta served as a middle-man between Colombian traffickers and Caro Quintero, who was the “head of all the heads” in the Mexican cartel.
Matta, according to Proceso, was given the go-ahead by the CIA – or at least the US intelligence agency turned a blind eye – to run cocaine and marijuana to Mexico for eventual distribution in the United States. In return, he would share the profits with the CIA which would use the money to finance the Contras.
Camarena discovered this secret web of intelligence operatives mixed with drug traffickers, according to the three men interviewed by Proceso’s Washington correspondent Jesús Esquivel. “The CIA ordered Kiki Camarena’s abduction and torture, and when they killed him, they led us to believe that it was Caro Quintero as part of the cover up of the illegal activities in Mexico,” Jordan told the magazine.
In an interview, Esquivel said the case – although largely forgotten – “holds importance relevance” in the United States. “Only a solid court investigation can clear all doubts, but there is little chance of that happening,” the correspondent said.
The Camarena investigation has never been officially closed in the United States; the DEA still has Caro Quintero at the top of its most wanted list of international fugitives.
Following his release from jail two months ago, the White House issued a statement saying it was “extremely disappointed” and that federal authorities would continue to search for him. Technically, he cannot be retried for the Camarena case in Mexico, but in California he still faces charges for the former DEA agent’s kidnapping and murder as well as drug and various organized-crime violations, according to the agency’s website. At the same time, the US Treasury Department has applied economic sanctions against Caro Quintero’s businesses and families.
In 1990, the DEA took justice into its own hands and its agents kidnapped a Mexican physician, Humberto Álvarez Machain, for allegedly helping keep Camarena alive while he was being tortured.
According to Berrellez, a doctor working for the cartel “administered Lidocaine into his heart to keep him alert and awake during the torture.”
After Álvarez Machain was taken across the border to face charges in El Paso, Texas, the Mexican government formally protested his detention. He was finally released in 1992 when a federal judge dropped the charges.