Last week both Fox News in the United States and Proceso in Mexico published a remarkable story with very significant repercussions. According to both sources, US intelligence agencies were involved in the 1985 brutal torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena in Mexico. The case is almost 30 years old, and many have forgotten it or weren't even alive at the time, but the implications of these allegations, if true, are extremely relevant today. Mexican media has jumped on the story, with many major and minor news outlets distributing it. It has even made the pages of the Spanish newspaper El País. Yet, beyond the original Fox story and coverage by Univisión and Daily Kos, very little else has been written about it in the United States.
Back in 1985 Camarena's torture and murder created major tensions between Mexico and the United States. The U.S. insisted that Mexican authorities colluded with the murderers, leading the Reagan administration to close the Mexico-U.S. border in order to pressure Mexico into action. Shortly thereafter, Mexican authorities arrested Rafael Caro Quintero, head of the then most powerful Guadalajara drug cartel. He was sentenced in Mexico to 40 years in prison. Due to legal technicalities he was released this August after having served only 28 years of his sentence, leading to the outrage of many.
Over the last few months there has been much speculation about bribes and other illicit forces behind Quintero's release. However, new allegations emerging from interviews with three people who claim to have personal knowledge of the case -- Phil Jordan, former director of the El Paso Intelligence Center, Héctor Berrellez, former DEA agent, and Tosh Plumlee, former pilot for the CIA -- add a totally new and very disturbing dimension to the case. In their interviews with Fox and Proceso, these men link the Camarena case to the Reagan administration's drug-running operations to finance the Nicaraguan Contras who, with U.S. support, were fighting to overthrow the Marxist Sandinista regime. Fox quotes Jordan as stating that at the time, working with Quintero, "the CIA was involved in the movement of drugs from South America to Mexico and to the U.S." Plumlee insists that drug and gun running "operations were sanctioned by the federal government, controlled out of the Pentagon. The CIA acted in some cases as our logistical support team." Berellez, for his part, claims that "the pilot that flew Caro Quintero to Costa Rica [to help him escape after the murder] was a [CIA] contract employee."
These allegations are disturbing, but not necessarily surprising to anyone familiar with Iran-Contra scandal that rocked the Reagan administration. This was a time when the administration made alliances with dubious characters in its determined effort to outmaneuver the Soviet Union around the world. It was the same period when the U.S. government began supporting radical factions in Afghanistan which, as Steve Coll eloquently narrates in his Ghost Wars, would morph into today's Taliban and al-Qaeda.
But they also make much more disturbing accusations. As quoted in El País, Camarena became aware of this drug running scheme and "The CIA ordered Kiki Camarena's capture and torture, and when he was killed they made us believe that it was Caro Quintero in order to cover up their illegal activities in Mexico." Berrellez also claims that CIA agents were present during Camarena's torture, which lasted over 30 hours.
As far as I'm concerned at this point these are allegations and not facts. But they are allegations that definitely deserve much more attention than that they have received in the U.S. media. I am very surprised that Fox, which broke the story, hasn't followed up. For almost a year it has been beating the drums of the Benghazi disaster, accusing the Obama administration of incompetence, indifference and a coverup. These accusations are much worse. They imply a coverup, but also the torture and assassination of a federal agent by his colleagues, far more sinister than incompetence or indifference. At another level, as the country begins to consider its support for new insurgent groups in the Middle East, these accusations remind us of the corrupting effects that many of these undercover operations have had in the past.
In these days the media is obsessed with the budget negotiations, but we do need good investigative journalists to follow this story's thread.