What happened to Enrique Kiki Camarena? Murder case explored as drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero is arrested for 1985 killing of DEA agent

Kiki Camarena was abducted and tortured by cartel members in 1985 (images via FBI)
Kiki Camarena was abducted and tortured by cartel members in 1985 (images via FBI)

On July 15, 2022, the arrest of reported Guadalajara cartel founder Rafael Caro Quintero prompted American authorities to bring back to the forefront the murder of Enrique Kiki Camerena, a DEA intelligence officer who was allegedly killed by the suspected drug lord in 1985.

Rafael Caro Quintero, who served 28 years of a 40-year sentence for the murder of Camerena, was released by a Mexican court in 2013. By the time the Mexican Supreme court was able to overturn this decision, Quintero had already gone into hiding.

While authorities have acknowledged that Rafael Caro Quintero no longer has the same degree of influence he once enjoyed in the Mexican underworld, his arrest is valuable in that it shows the stance Mexican and American authorities will take against drug traffickers.

In an official statement, US Attorney General Merrick Garland thanked Mexican authorities and Marines for the arrest of Quintero, who is expected to be extradited to America.

Garland said:

"There is no hiding place for anyone who kidnaps, tortures, and murders American law enforcement. We are deeply grateful to Mexican authorities for their capture and arrest of Rafael Caro Quintero."

Enqrique Kiki Camerena, who was murdered in 1985 at age 37, was perceived as an enemy by the Guadalajara cartel throughout the '80s, when he collected information that led to raids and arrests against members of the criminal organization.

Why did Rafael Caro Quintero target Kiki Camerena?

As per CNN, Kiki Camerena was targeted by the Guadalajara cartel after he began investigating their large-scale marijuana plantations in the early '80s.

Camerena, working with an informant known as "Miguel Sanchez", discovered a 200 acre marijuana plantation in 1982, one of the largest discoveries by law enforcement at the time. He proceeded to brief Mexican authorities, who claimed that they destroyed over 4000 tons of marijuana in the raid.

In 1984, El Diario de Juarez reported that Camarena was behind another large-scale raid, making him a target for Rafael Caro Quintero. Camarena provided Mexican authorities with information that led to the raid of a 2500 acre marijuana plantation that was bringing in an estimated $8 million a year.

According to the Mexican Gulf Reporter, the raid finally led to the abduction of Kiki Camarena, allegedly under the orders of Rafael Caro Quintero. The outlet reported that Camarena may have been captured by corrupt Mexican authorities who worked with the Guadalajara cartel.

The DAE agent's body was discovered on March 5, 1985. Autopsy reports suggested that he may have been tortured for over 30 hours with iron rods and ice picks. In response, American authorities launched an aggressive large scale offensive against the Guadalajara cartel, leading to the arrest of Quintero and other high level associates.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland cited Camarena's murder as one of the primary reasons why American authorities have been so aggressive in pursuing Quintero, whose organization is believed to be in severe decline.

Camarena's death has now become a landmark moment in the Mexican drug war. His story has been explored in several books, as well as the iconic TV show Narcos: Mexico.

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Edited by Upasya Bhowal
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