Kiki Camarena

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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)
Guadalajara, Mexico
Allegiance  United States

 United States Marine Corps (1973–1975)
Drug Enforcement Administration (1975–1985)

Calexico Police Department 1975
Years of service 1973–1975 (U.S. Marine Corps)

Senior Police Officer II (Calexico Police Dept.) Special Agent (ICNTF)

Special 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.

Early life and education[edit]

From 1973 to 1975, Camarena served in the United States Marine Corps. After his military service he became a local Police Officer in his hometown.

Prior to joining the DEA, Camarena was a Police Officer for the Calexico Police Department, his home town. Camarena was also a Special Agent on the original Imperial County Narcotic Task Force (ICNTF) while working in Calexico, California.

After his service as a local hometown Police Officer, Camarena 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.

Abduction and murder[edit]

In 1984, acting on information from Camarena, 450 Mexican soldiers backed by helicopters destroyed a 1,000-hectare (2,500-acre) 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 government officials were implicated—including Manuel Ibarra Herrera, past director of Mexican Federal Judicial Police, and Miguel Aldana Ibarra, the former director of Interpol in Mexico.[7] 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. government, Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid quickly apprehended Fonseca and Quintero 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.[8] The four other defendants, Vásquez Velasco, Juan Ramón Matta-Ballesteros, Juan José Bernabé Ramírez, and Rubén Zuno Arce (a brother-in-law of former President Luis Echeverría), were tried and found guilty of Camarena's kidnapping.[9]

Arce had known ties to corrupt Mexican officials,[10] and Mexican officials were implicated in covering up the murder.[11] Mexican police had destroyed evidence on Camarena's body.[12]

In October 2013, two former federal agents and a self-proclaimed 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".[13]


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] A school, a library and a street in his home town of Calexico, California, are 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 was established in Camarena's memory.[14] 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. As part of their ongoing Drug Awareness program, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks awards an annual Enrique Camarena Award at local, state and national levels to a member of law enforcement who carries out anti-drugs work.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Camarena was married to Mika and they had three sons.[16]

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 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.[17]


  • 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)[18] 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 against 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".[19] His portrait is also shown in the final episode (season 3, episode 10) as Peña contemplates him.
  • Camarena is mentioned in the 2017 series, El Chapo.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sifuentes, Hervey. "Proclamarán Semana del Listón Rojo en honor a 'Kike' Camarena". Zócalo Saltillo. Retrieved February 27, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "Kiki and the History of Red Ribbon Week". Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
  3. ^ Gorman, Peter. "Big-time Smuggler's Blues" Archived 2012-04-05 at the Wayback Machine.. 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. ^ Weinstein, Henry (1 February 1990). "2 Ex-Officials in Mexico Indicted in Camarena Murder : Narcotics: One-time high-ranking lawmen are alleged to have participated in the 1985 slaying. So far, 19 people have been charged in the drug agent's death". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 15 April 2018. Retrieved 25 June 2018. 
  8. ^ Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004)
  9. ^ "Bodyguard Is Convicted in Case with Links to Drug Agent's Death". The New York Times. August 7, 1990. 
  10. ^ "Central Figure Is Convicted in '85 Killing of Drug Agent". The New York Times. August 1, 1990. 
  11. ^ "Thirty Years of America's Drug War". Frontline. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Interviews - Jack Lawn - Drug Wars". Frontline. PBS. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  13. ^ "'The CIA helped kill DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena', say witnesses". El País (Spain) (in Spanish). 15 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  14. ^ "Enrique S. Camarena Foundation". Camarenafoundation.org. February 7, 2010. Archived from the original on May 30, 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Bell, Diane (2010-03-14). "Diane Bell talks to Geneva Camarena". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2017-02-27. 
  17. ^ ¿O Plata o Plomo? The abduction and murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena. silverorlead.com.
  18. ^ Hes Under Fire: Righteous Vendetta. aetv.com
  19. ^ 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]