Enrique S. Camarena Salazar was an undercover agent who worked for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). His main mission was to eradicate the usage of illegal drugs from every nook and corner of the United States. His focus and determination towards work resulted into his death, which was brutal in every sense of the word. Kiki, as he was known to his friends and family, was abducted, tortured and killed in February 1985. The Mexican-born American agent was about to expose a few influential drug traffickers in Mexico and surrounding areas, but before he could do so, he was killed. Kiki was always concerned about the drug-related problems that existed in his country. Determined to do so, he went trailblazing in the streets of Mexico in order to figure out the hiding place of a group of marijuana and cocaine traffickers. When he was about to expose a multi-billion dollar drug business, he was abducted by five men and was brutally killed in a farm. His body was found after almost a month in the rural area of a small town. While the story of this brave heart is heartwarming, it is also heart-wrenching at the same time. Despite knowing the danger involved in his work, Kiki tried his best to bring about a change in the society until the very end. Whenever his mother asked him to quit his risky job, Kiki told her that someone had to stand up against drug trafficking and that he was confident of making a difference.
Childhood & Early Life
Kiki was born on July 26, 1947, in a small town called Mexicali. When he was nine, his family moved to Calexico, California.
After graduating high school, Kiki served in the United States Marine Corps from 1973 to 1975. After working in the Marine Corps, he went to Imperial Valley College and earned his associate degree.
During his college days, he also worked as a fireman in Calexico. He then joined the police department in Calexico.
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While working in the police department, Kiki was transferred to El Centro, California, where he began his work as a narcotics investigator.
In 1974, he was appointed as an agent in the Drugs Enforcement Administration (DEA), and started working as a special agent. His principal mission was to eradicate drug trafficking in the country.
In 1981, he moved to the Guadalajara office in Mexico and stayed there for four years. During his stay in Mexico, he started gathering information about the various drug production houses in the surrounding area. He then passed on the information to the local police department and to the DEA.
In 1984, acting on a tip-off from Kiki, 450 Mexican soldiers backed by a helicopter destroyed Rancho Bufalo – a 2500-acre marijuana plantation. The damage affected the drug lords in a big way as almost 8 billion dollars worth of production was destroyed in the attack.
The drug lords managed to figure out that Camarena had provided the information about Rancho Bufalo. Meanwhile, Camarena was on the verge of exposing another massive drug trade, but the drug-mafia had already begun a hunt for him.
The DEA realized that Kiki’s life was in danger so they wanted to move him to a new location, but before they could do so, a few corrupt officers gave away his location to a drug lord named Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo.
On February 7, 1985, Kiki was abducted by five men in broad daylight. A few onlookers saw him being pushed into a Volkswagen car. He was then taken to an unknown place. At the time of his abduction, Camarena was on his way to meet his wife for lunch.
According to a few reports, he was tortured for 30 long hours at Miguel’s ranch. It is said that he was administered a certain type of drug that kept him awake while he was tortured. His ribs, jaw, teeth and nose were all broken and a hole was drilled into his head. His body was found on March 5, 1985, in La Angostura, a small town.
The news of Camarena’s murder shocked the U.S government as well as the DEA. Right after his death, ‘Operation Leyenda’ was launched by the DEA, and a special unit was sent to Mexico to investigate the matter.
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Miguel, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero were declared the main suspects. A physician named Humberto Álvarez Machaín, who had administered the drug that had kept Caramena awake while he was being tortured, was arrested. A bodyguard, Javier Vásquez Velasco, was also taken into custody.
The physician was tried at the Los Angeles court in 1992, but was released due to lack of evidence against him. Miguel was shielded by Mexican politicians, while other suspects were found guilty of kidnapping.
Awards & Achievements
Camarena received many awards for his courage and bravery. One of the most important awards that he received was ‘Administrator’s Award of Honor’, which is the highest award given by the DEA.
To honor Camarena, a golf tournament is held every year at the DEA station in Fresno.
In 1985, ‘Red Ribbon Week’ was started in his memory. It is basically a campaign that teaches children and young adults about the ill-effects of drugs.
In 2004, Enrique S. Camarena Foundation was established in his honor.
‘Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks’ introduced an annual award ceremony called ‘Enrique Camarena Awards’. The award is given to individuals who show determination, courage and focus.
In November 1988, ‘TIME’ magazine featured Camarena on its cover page.
His story has been narrated in many television shows, such as ‘Drug Wars: The Camarena Story’ (1990), ‘Heroes Under Fire: Righteous Vendetta’ (2005), ‘Narcos’ (2015) and ‘El Chapo’ (2017).
His story found a mention in Roberto Saviano’s book ‘Zero Zero Zero’ (2015) too. The book ‘The abduction and murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena’ is also based on Camarena’s life. The book is written by James H. Kuykendall, a retired DEA agent.
Personal Life & Legacy
Camarena was married to Mika with whom he had three sons – Enrique, Daniel and Eric.