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How KKiki Camarena’s Murder Nearly Brought Down the Mexican Government and Economy

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August 10, 2013

From Tijuana to Brownsville, Texas, along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border, everything on wheels moved at a lentissimo pace last week, when it moved at all. At the point known locally as the “world’s busiest border crossing,” between Tijuana and San Ysidro, Calif., the usual 20-minute delays on the 22- lane northbound approach plaza dragged on for as long as seven hours.
The number of U.S. motorists heading south had dropped dramatically. Howls of pain rose from local businessmen as the supply of vacationing gringo customers dried up.
U.S. Customs agents at every one of the 15 official crossings into Mexico carried out an excruciating campaign of car-trunk by car-trunk inspection known as Operation Camarena. They were acting on direct orders from Customs Service Commissioner William von Raab, who in turn was responding to an appeal from Francis M. Mullen Jr., head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The ostensible aim of the exercise: to discover the whereabouts of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena Salazar, 37, who was abducted by four machine-gun-toting men on the streets of Guadalajara on Feb. 7, 1985.
No one seriously believed that Camarena, an eleven-year DEA veteran, would turn up in the search. Instead, the border operation was the Reagan Administration’s way of trying to force the Mexican government of President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado to step up its hunt for the missing agent.
Camarena was stationed in Guadalajara (pop. 3 million), a major center of the proliferating drug industry. He was kidnaped in broad daylight, less than two blocks from the U.S. consulate. Camarena’s abduction was not reported for 18 hours; bystanders may have logically thought that they were watching a drug arrest. Five days after his disappearance, the U.S. embassy in Mexico City offered a $50,000 reward for information on Camarena’s whereabouts.
(Part one of a TV miniseries about the Kiki Cameranis story is posted below along with a link to the other 5 episodes).
U.S. suspicion in the kidnaping focused on two drug-trafficking families, headed by Miguel Felix Gallardo and Rafael Caro Quintero who has been in the news lately because of the siezure by the US of properties held by his family.
Rafael Caro Quintero detained
In private, U.S. officials complained that Mexico was not doing enough in the hunt for Camarena. From Washington, Attorney General William French Smith sent a cable of complaint to Mexican authorities, expressing “frustration and disappointment” at the pace of the investigation.
Other messages flew back and forth between Ambassador Gavin and Mexican officials, including President de la Madrid.   President Reagan and President de la Madrid talked about it in a phone coversation.  (I don’t know who called who).
In Washington, Ambassador Jorge Espinosa de los Reyes presented a formal note to the State Department expressing his government’s “profound concern” at the border operation. The Customs campaign, said the note, was “incongruous with the spirit of cooperation” that exists between the two countries. Meanwhile, the Reagan Administration’s controversial Ambassador to Mexico, John Gavin, returned to Washington for consultations.
High on the list of Gavin’s topics was whether to issue a State Department travel advisory that would warn American tourists to use caution when visiting Mexico. Such an advisory would damage Mexico’s $2 billion tourist industry, the country’s second- largest foreign exchange earner after petroleum.
U.S. unhappiness in the Camarena affair inflamed another increasingly sore point in bilateral relations, the safety of ordinary Americans south of the border.
Mexico’s economic woes have also made those tourists attractive targets for criminals. Last year there were 627 reported incidents of violent crime against American visitors. Four Americans were murdered, and four were raped.
From The DEA Wall of Honor Killed in the Line of Duty

In the vicinity of Guadalajara and the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, one American was murdered, eight were robbed, and eleven were burglarized during the month of January. In the first week of February three American women were sexually molested, one in the bathroom of a luxury restaurant.
Since December, seven Americans, including the DEA agent, have disappeared. Benjamin and Patricia Mascarenas of Ely, Nev., and Dennis and Rose Carlson, of Redding, Calif., all Jehovah’s Witnesses, are believed to have been abducted while distributing evangelical literature. On the night of Jan. 30, John Walker and Alberto Radelat failed to return to Walker’s Guadalajara apartment after they went out for a drink.
The bodies of Walker and Radelat were found in a 6 ft. well in the San Isidro Mazatepec Park.  Walker was from Minneapolis and Radelat was from Fort Worth, Texas.
Mexican drug kingpin, Rafael Caro Quintero, was charged  with killing Walker and Radelat after they stumbled into a private party in a Guadalajara restaurant Jan. 30.
Caro Quintero was also  charged and convicted of  murdering U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena Salazar, who was kidnaped Feb. 7 in Guadalajara.
A tip from witness Francisco Tejeda led police to the bodies. Earlier statements by Tejeda, who also was being held in the Camarena case, led to arraignment of Caro Quintero in the Walker and Radelat killings.
Tejeda said Caro Quintero was dining with a group of people in La Langosta restaurant, a hangout for drug traffickers, when Walker and Radelat walked in.
He said Caro Quintero ordered the two men seized and taken to a restaurant storeroom, where they were stabbed with ice picks to force them to say why they had entered the restaurant. Then they were beaten and taken to the well to be buried, Tejeda said.
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, John Gavin, earlier told reporters that Caro Quintero may have mistaken the men for U.S. drug agents.
Walker had been living in Guadalajara for nearly a year doing research for a novel on the Mexican drug underworld. Radelat was visiting him.
Tourism,  accounts for 8% of Mexico’s foreign exchange earnings, and any pressure by the U.S. to steer visitors away from the country would be very troublesome to the economy
The U.S.-Mexico fracas could hardly have come at a worse time for the Mexican government, which already has a surfeit of problems. Burdened by a $96 billion foreign debt, the second largest in the Third World, after Brazil’s, The International Monetary Fund was threatening to withhold $1.2 billion in credits from Mexico unless the country sets economic performance targets that were more to the IMF’s liking. That possibility in turn could delay a complicated $48.5 billion refinancing of Mexico’s debt by private, mainly U.S banks.
Atop all that travail, Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party is enduring one of its most serious political challenges in 56 years. The De la Madrid administration, which came to office in 1982 amid promises of “moral renovation,” is facing a popular backlash, particularly in the north, where riots against alleged P.R.I. election fraud have sputtered for weeks.

Increasingly, Mexican ire is directed at a P.R.I. legacy of corruption, graft and lawlessness that De la Madrid’s new broom has been unable to sweep away. Says Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California at San Diego: “This is the most important and crucial political year since 1968.” That was when Mexican troops shot at student demonstrators in the streets of the capital, killing more than 200.
Mexico’s economic fragility, the de-facto shutting down the border crossings, the threat of a US State Dept. travel warning in effect saying “stay out of Mex.”, the unraveling of bi-lateral relations between the US/Mx., and the “mini rebellion” in the north of Mex. against the corruption of the PRI government are a study in unintended consequences that created a perfect storm.
It kind of reminds me of the Cuban missle crisis when a wrong move by either party could have resulted in disastrous consequences – crashing of the Mexican economy and possibly the fall of the Mexican goverment, both having dire consequences on the US economy.
Buy Mexico arrested and convicted Rafael Caro Quintero for the murder of “Kiki  Camarena and sentenced Caro Quintero to 40 years in the pen and Bill Clinton negotiated a bailout (loan) to help Mexico out of its financial crisis.  Mexico repaid that loan in full ahead of schedule.

About Doc

Spreading the word about the dangers of methamphetamine.

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