Lingering resentment toward the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency among U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officers over the circumstances surrounding the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena might be behind a Mexican magazine report alleging CIA involvement in the murder, said one drug war expert.
Bruce Bagley, a professor of international studies at Florida International University in Miami, who closely follows the United States’ ongoing drug war, said DEA resentment of the CIA for refusing to produce an informant for the trial of Mexican doctor Humberto Álvarez Machain – who allegedly participated in Camarena’s murder – could explain why former DEA agents have connected the CIA to the killing.
Álvarez allegedly injected Camarena with lidocaine – a local anesthetic and antiarrhythmic agent – to keep him alert during his three days of torture.
But a court in Los Angeles, California, released the doctor after two years in custody for lack of evidence, after the CIA refused to produce the witness.
In statements made to Fox News, two former DEA agents, Hector Berrellez, who headed the DEA investigation into the murder, and Phil Jordan, chief of the DEA’s El Paso office, implicated the CIA, saying that operatives of the U.S. spy agency were present in Mexico for Camarena’s interrogation, torture and murder.
“The DEA has never forgiven the CIA for its failure to order the informant to testify,” Bagley told The Tico Times. “I do not believe, and have seen no evidence that indicates, that the CIA ordered Camarena’s execution. That argument does not make sense and has no empirical proof behind it.”
In an email statement to The Tico Times, a DEA spokeswoman said, the “DEA believes that the individuals responsible for the torture and murder of Special Agent Kiki Camarena have been identified and indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. They include Rafael Caro-Quintero and 15 others.”
Citing the same sources as Fox, the Mexican magazine Proceso went further, saying that the CIA ordered Camarena’s murder because the DEA agent had discovered collusion between the agency and Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero to help arm and train Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
A contract CIA employee, Tosh Plumlee, told both Fox News and Proceso that he flew guns and drugs into a ranch owned by Caro Quintero where Contras were also trained. Proceso went so far as to identify Cuban CIA operative Félix Rodríguez, not Caro Quintero, as Camarena’s killer.
Proceso reported that the now-defunct Mexican National Security Directorate (DNS by its Spanish acronym) worked for the CIA spying on Soviet-bloc embassies in Mexico, while at the same time doing the bidding of Caro Quintero’s Guadalajara drug cartel.
“The National Security Directorate was totally at the service of the CIA,” Jorge Carrillo Olea, who was put in charge of dismantling the DFS following Caro Quintero’s murder, told Proceso.
According to Proceso’s account of the three former federal agents, Rodríguez introduced drug trafficker Juan Matta Ballasteros, a Honduran with ties to Colombia’s cocaine cartels, to Caro Quintero, adding that the CIA took a cut of the profits of Caro Quintero’s traffic of cocaine to the U.S. to help arm the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
In press reports, Rodríguez, who participated in the 1967 capture and execution of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, attributed the story to Cuban government intelligence, saying it coincided with the Oct. 9 anniversary of Guevara’s death in Bolivia.
Following Camarena’s murder, Caro Quintero fled to Costa Rica, where he took refuge in a mansion, located near Alajuela’s Juan Santamaría International Airport outside of San José, which he reportedly paid for with cash.
During Easter Week of 1985, Costa Rican police accompanied by DEA agents raided the mansion, arresting Caro Quintero and several of his confederates.
While Berrellez, Jordan and Plumlee alleged that a CIA contract pilot flew the airplane that brought Caro Quintero to Costa Rica, according to Costa Rican accounts, Tico pilot Warner Lotz flew the airplane that landed the drug lord at Juan Santamaría.
However, if as some suggest, Caro Quintero landed at an airstrip in the provinces before his flight to San José – explaining why he didn’t pass through customs in San José – he would have had the opportunity to change airplanes and pilots, explaining the discrepancy.
While DEA agents in Costa Rica tried to convince Tico authorities to hold Caro Quintero for extradition to the United States, the government of President Luis Alberto Monge (1982-1986) instead hastily turned the drug lord over to Mexican authorities the same day as his capture.
Costa Rican journalist Lafitte Fernández, working for the Salvadoran newspaper Diario 1, has written a series of articles on the trafficking of cocaine by Contras during the 1980s through El Salvador’s Ilopango Air Base.
Fernández sees a connection between Caro Quintero’s arrival to Costa Rica and drug trafficking through Ilopango, and has called on Costa Rican journalists to get to the bottom of what he considers to be a far-reaching conspiracy.
A Costa Rican congressional commission that investigated the drug lord’s stay in the country found a “high political authority” responsible for Caro Quintero’s stay in Costa Rica, without naming a name.
A separate Costa Rican congressional commission investigated Contra drug trafficking through Costa Rica revealed by a U.S. Congressional committee headed by then-Senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry. The Costa Rican commission banned several U.S. officials, including National Security Council official Lt. Col. Oliver North and former U.S. Ambassador Lewis Tambs, for their role in facilitating drug trafficking.
Returned to Mexico, Caro Quintero was convicted of Camarena’s murder and served 28 years of a 40-year prison sentence before being released on July 1, 2013, on a technicality. The Mexican government failed to notify the U.S., which wants to extradite the drug lord, who has since vanished from sight.
Citing court documents, Proceso alleged that the Mexican Attorney General’s Office under President Enrique Peña Nieto helped obtain the drug lord’s early release. The U.S. government has offered $5 million to anyone who can provide information leading to the capture of Caro Quintero.