Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Guadalajara Cartel Part III: The Abduction and Murders of Camarena and Zavala and the Fall of the Cartel

Camarena and Zavala's bodies arrive in Zamora, Michoacan after their discovery- 3/5/85

On the afternoon of February 7, 1985, Special Agent Enrique 'Kiki" Camarena Salazar left the DEA office inside the US Consulate in downtown Guadalajara and walked to his pick up truck for a lunch date with his wife.

He never made it.

Before reaching his truck, outside the Consulate, a light colored Volkswalgen 4 door and a black Grand Marquis with a siren stopped camarena. Some men, known to Camarena as Jalisco state cops got out and told "Kiki" that "El Comandante wants to see you". Camarena told the men he would have to notify his office as was protocol but the men pushed him into the car where the men threw a jacket over his head and beat him with pipes while holding him at gun point. The cars rapidly sped away and got lost in the city traffic.

Almost at the same time, Mexican Ministry of Agriculture pilot and a friend of Camarena's, Alfredo Zavala Avelars plane had touched down at the city's airport. Zavala had taken Camarena on some flights over the Bufalo ranch and other pot farms. Besides a government pilot he was a frequent DEA collaborator. As he worked at the city airport all the time, he would spy on Felix Gallardo's and Caro Quintero's planes and he would report back to Kiki.

That day he had brought home a group of businessmen from Durango and the men offered Zavala a ride home. Shortly after leaving the airport on the Chapala highway to the city, a brown Ford LTD sedan intercepted them and two men armed with AR-15 assault rifled got out and forced Zavala out and into their car. The gunmen took out the businessmen's keys out of their vehicle and threw it into a field. The car sped off with Zavala

The next day after his wife informed the DEA office he had never shown to the lunch date or to the house later that night, Enrique Camarena was declared missing. The DEA agents also quickly learned of Alfredo Zavala's abduction and soon started combing the city for the missing men. They asked the Jalisco state police for assistance and were met by Director Carlos Aceves Fernandez's stonewalling and uninterested attitude. Governor Enrique Alvarez del Castillo also did not call the Consulate and offer assistance in searching for the missing agent.

After their abductions, Camarena and Zavala were taken to Rafael Caro Quintero's home on 881 Lope de Vega street in Zapopan, a Guadalajara suburb. The plan was to have a talk with Camarena and Zavala and find out exactly how much they knew about the Cartel's operations and their partnerships with the state and Mexican government.

While Kiki and Zavala were held at the house, Ernesto Fonseca "Don Neto" came to visit and saw a lot of armed men at the house. When he was informed about Camarena's presence by Caro Quintero, he told Caro he felt ill: too many lemon spirited tequilas had triggered his allergy to citrus and he needed a nap. He would question Camarena after he awoke. After Don Neto had awoken from a drunker stupor, he noticed more armed men at the house, men he didn't recognize as his own or Caro's. By then he didn't feel like talking to Camarena at all and went home.

When he returned on the morning of February 8th, he found Camarena to be barely conscious, he had been the victim of severe torture and was near death. An unknown dead man lay in a laundry room. One of the armed men told Fonseca that the unknown dead man had been a "snitch". Seeing A US agent tortured to near death infuriated Fonseca, who reprimanded Rafael Caro and almost slapped him prompting Caro's men to raise their weapons and Fonseca's men to raise theirs. Fonseca, feeling the repercussions of what had happened and what was about to come, left the house.

Enrique Camarena had been savagely tortured for an entire day. Several times he had passed out from pain and was near death and each time he was revived by shots administered by Dr. Humberto Machain. An unknown military man interrogated Camarena for a day and a half: What did he know about Caro Quintero? Gallardo? Fonseca? What did he know about the Secretary of Defense Juan Arevalo Gardoqui?

A barrage of questions peppered with insults and beatings with fists, sticks and pipes and non fatal yet painful stabbings with ice picks, all of it being taped by his tormentors. Zavala was considered a mere snitch. He had been tortured but killed almost right away. Camarena was the one they wanted.

Sometime on the morning of February 9th, Agent Enrique Camarena Salazar was killed when a tire iron was driven into his skull. The two bodies, in their underwear, bound and gagged and placed in plastic bags were driven out to Primavera Park, a huge forest outside Guadalajara and buried in a pit.

While Camarena lay dead buried in a shallow grave outside the city, his DEA friends searched for their missing colleague. On February 8th, They requested help to Mexico City and Mexican Federal Judicial Police director Manuel Ibarra Herrera. Ibarra then told Comandante Florentino Ventura to commision Primer Comandante Armando Pavon Reyes to be in charge of the search for Camarena and Zavala. Pavon, along with Comandante Lorrabaquio were in the hills of Colima searching for some thugs and would not be available until the following morning

Comandante Pavon Reyes and his contingent of Federales arrived in Guadalajara from Colima state on the morning of February 9th. They had picked up a trace from Felix Gallardo and Caro Quintero saying Felix would deliver money to the Guadalajara airport. The Federales and several DEA agent sped to the airport to catch the narcos.

Upon arriving at Miguel Hidalgo airport, the Federales saw several armed men surrounding a private Falcon business jet preparing for takeoff. After a brief standoff between the armed strangers and the Federales, Comandante Pavon Reyes met with the man seemingly in charge, a tall mustachioed man with thick curly hair, in black cowboy gear and wearing a lot of gold. He flashed Pavon a badge and the two men walked around the jet and talked, the man in black looking back and smiling at the DEA agents who watched incredulously.

Comandante Pavon soon shook hands with the man. Several of Pavon's men also walked over and greeted the man in black. When questioned by the DEA agents who thought surely the man was a trafficker, Pavon told them that the man had been Pedro Sanchez Parra, not a drug trafficker but a DFS agent. His badge had identified him as such.

As the Falcon jet taxied out to the runway, the man in black and wearing gold stuck out his head from the plane's open door and waved an AK-47 to the Federales and DEA agent and shouted: "Next time my children, bring better weapons, not toys!" The man then waved a champagne bottle, took a swig and went back inside the jet and closed the door. The man was Rafael Caro Quintero.

Rafael Caro Quintero had promised Comandante Armando Pavon Reyes, 60 million pesos and had fled Guadalajara to Culiacan where he picked up his teenage girlfriend, Sara Cosio Martinez, niece of a prominent Jalisco PRI politician. They later flew to Caborca, Sonora where Rafael had a huge ranch and waited for the heat to die down.

The entire month of February the investigation went nowhere and Camarena was nowhere to be found. Seeing as how Comandante Pavon had probably already been compromised, the DEA agents asked Mexico City to send top Comandante Florentino Ventura Gutierrez to aid them in the search for their missing comrade. Federales chief Ibarra Herrera denied their request. Pavon's raids on empty mansions and abandoned ranches yielded no results. The arrest of Tomas Morlett Borquez, a crooked cop, was deemed pointless as he and 2 others were quickly released.

A man resembling the bearded and be-speckled Morlett had been seen by eyewitnesses in Lopez Cotija, a Guadalajara suburb inside a black car, beating a man in the back seat around the time of Camarena's abduction. The witness had then later been visited by the same man resembling Morlett and told to keep his mouth shut about what he had seen. After Morlett's release, a photograph of Enrique Camarena had been found at a home belonging to Miguel Felix Gallardo, plates of half eaten food and drinks bearing testament of people who had left the house in a hurry right before the arrival of the Federales. Someone in the Feds was tipping off the traffickers. The DEA agents grew more and more frustrated.

On February 28th, Comandante Pavon Reyes produced a letter, postmarked in Los Angeles, CA, saying that the letter informed his office that Agent Camarena was being held at a ranch in neighboring Michoacan state. Thousands of notes and letters had been sent, all of them phony. One said Camarena was being held in Yahualica, Jalisco. Another that Camarena was being held in an abandoned mine in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Pavon however, seemed eager to pursue this particular lead. He informed the DEA agents they would raid El Mareno ranch near La Angostura, Michoacan at 9 am 2 days later on March 2nd, pending further investigation and surveillance. The DEA agents were invited by Pavon to participate in the raid.

At 9 am on March 2nd the DEA agents were surprised and angered to find out the Federales, led by Comandante Alfonso Velazquez Hernandez had left the city to Michoacan three hours prior. The Americans quickly hopped on cars and sped to El Mareno ranch, a two hour drive from Guadalajara.

Upon arriving at El Mareno they were met with a horrible scene. Six people were dead. According to the Federales, as they arrived at the ranch they were met with gunfire from the people living at the ranch. Federal Agent Manuel Esquivel had received 13 shots from an AR-15 and the Federales were forced to open fire and engage the attackers.

What followed was a half hour shoot out in which all 5 members of the Bravo family had been killed. Manuel Bravo Cervantes, owner of the ranch, had shot at the Federales. His wife Maria Luisa Segura Vazquez along with their handicapped 11 year old son Rigoberto and their 2 grown sons Hugo and Manuel Bravo Segura had all been armed and refused to surrender and thus had to be killed as well. 2 women were in custody along with 2 other men, believed to be Mrs Bravo's brothers, accused of having arriving in a stolen car full of ammunition.

The four survivors of the massacre at El Mareno told Michoacan state authorities and the news media that the Federales had cut down the family in cold blood. The DEA agents, piecing together the events according to the women, who were the now widows of Hugo and Manuel and a local villager boys eyewitness account the real story went something like this:

The Jalisco Federales had arrived in Michoacan without informing the Michoacan state authorities and had raided El Mareno early the morning of March 2nd. Rigoberto Bravo Segura, the mentally retarded 11 year old son of the Bravos, who slept in a downstairs room, was awakened by men breaking into the house. He shouted to his father, who slept upstairs that armed men were breaking in. The armed men, who were Federales, took Rigoberto hostage, pointed a gun to his head and demanded that Manuel Bravo surrender and come down.

Manuel Bravo, not believing them to be real Federales, saying that he had many enemies, asked to speak to police in the nearby city of Zamora or Vistahermosa, officers he knew personally. His request was denied. Bravo then shot at the men and engaged them in a brief shootout in which Agent Esquivel was killed, probably by friendly fire, before Bravo finally surrendered and came down with his wife. Manuel Bravo and his wife were then promptly shot in cold blood, Maria Luisa receiving shots in the back as she tried to flee. Rigoberto was also killed, his body left on the patio.

Upon hearing the shooting, Maria Luisa's brothers, who lived on the property, had called Hugo and Manuel to their homes in Zamora and the two men raced to El Mareno to aid their parents and brother. They also had their children spending the night there with their favorite uncle, Rigoberto. The two men left to El Mareno while their wives summoned help at the Michoacan state police office. Hugo and Manuel arrived only to find their parents and brother dead and were soon captured by the Federales and slapped around only to be also shot in the head point blank. When their wives arrived with the Michoacan state cops, the women were arrested and the cops told to lay down their arms.

Quickly after the massacre, Comandante Armando Pavon Reyes produced some ammo, some shot guns and assault rifles along with cocaine supposedly found at the ranch. The guns' incomplete serial numbers were given to the US agents when they requested them and the drugs seemed planted at the scene. The whole scene looked like a hit rather than a police action. The Bravo Segura family was billed in the media as a family of drug dealing cop killing kidnappers. A search of the lemon orchards of El Mareno, where the anonymous letter said Camarena would be found buried was delayed pending Agent Esquivel's funeral and burial.

On March 4th, Michoacan state governor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who just so happened to be a distant relative of Manuel Bravo Cervantes, received a call from an official in Tanhuato, Michoacan informing him that the La Barca- Zamora highway next to El Mareno ranch was again shut down by Jalisco state authorities. The Guadalajara anti-riot police was at El Mareno and men were digging in the orchards looking for Camarena. Once again Jalisco state police had done another unauthorized search at the ranch away from their jurisdiction.

A very angry Governor landed in his helicopter near El Mareno and was not allowed entrance by the Federales, prompting him to voice a complain to the Jalisco state government. The search at El Mareno turned up nothing.

On the afternoon of March 5th, 1985, a rancher walking on a footpath next to El Mareno ranch was assaulted by the strong odor of decomposing flesh and flies buzzing around. He followed his nose to a field, a few yards from the entrance to El Mareno, and found two plastic sacks, one with rotted human legs jutting out. The other had a head sticking out, its mouth wide open and face grimacing in horror. He quickly ran to the nearby village of La Angostura and summoned the constable who hopped on a tractor and headed to to the scene of the grisly discovery only to find several villagers already crowding the bodies and trampling the crime scene. The bodies were placed on a the bed of a pick up truck and transported to the coroners office in Zamora.

A few hours after the discovery of the two badly decomposed and unrecognizable bodies, the Mexican media was already saying that the dead were indeed Enrique Camarena and Alfredo Zavala. The DEA agents in Guadalajara found out through the television about the find, no one had informed them and once again they raced for Zamora. Upon arrival at the Zamora town square, they were met by a huge crowd of people, curious to glimpse at the body of the dead American agent. The US forensic experts after several hours of autopsy and using dental records, finally ID'd the bodies as those of Camarena and Zavala. Both men had been brutally tortured and buried somewhere else and dumped at El Mareno. Both had been dead about a month.

The body dump went awry. The man delivering the bodies to be planted at El Mareno was surely late and seeing the activity at El Mareno, could not dump the bodies in the orchard and opted for leaving the corpses near the footpath near the ranch. The night of March 5th, Comandante Pavon Reyes reportedly told Comandante Everardo Ochoa Bernal to hurry to Zamora, Michoacan because "Camarena would soon be found". Upon arriving in Zamora, Comandante Ochoa found that the bodies had already been found, picked up and transferred to the town morgue.

After the discovery of the bodies, Comandante Pavon Reyes was arrested by Comandante Florentino Ventura who was now in charge of the Camarena investigation on charges of corruption, bribery and obstruction of justice. Ventura also rounded up 13 city and state cops, one of whom, Gabriel Gonzalez, died during interrogation. Ventura said he had died of a hemorrhage, Gonzalez's wife said he had been beaten to death.

Quickly he was piecing together that Camarena had been abducted by local cops paid off by Caro Quintero and Fonseca Carrillo. All of the cops arrested denounced torture and denied knowing anything about the Camarena abduction.

In early April, DEA and the Federales picked up a call from Rafael Caro Quintero's teenage girlfriend Sara Cosio to her parents. The call came from San Jose, Costa Rica. Florentino Ventura and his team quickly flew to Costa Rica and on April 4th, 1985 raided Quinta La California near the airport in San Jose and arrested a group of Mexican nationals and Sara Cosio. One of the man ID'd as Marco Antonio Rios Valenzuela was indeed none other than Rafael Caro Quintero. Caro and his cronies were put on two Mexico Attorney General jets and flown to Mexico City in less than a day, one of Costa Rica's fastest deportations ever. Sara Cosio was returned back to her parents and Cosio announced to the press she had not been abducted but was in love with the married drug lord and was pregnant.

By coincidence three days later, on April 7th, cops responding to a bar fight in the Pacific resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, followed a group of thugs to a villa and were engaged in a shootout. The municipal cops quickly subdued the thugs and found money and weapons at the home, that belonged to Candelario Ramos, the chief of police of Ameca, Jalisco. They also found a lazy eyed old man who ID'd himself as Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, Don Neto.

Don Neto and his henchmen were put on Norte de Sonora buses, escorted by 14 Army trucks full of soldiers armed to the teeth and driven to La Mojonera air force base in Zapopan where a plane awaited them to take them to prison in Mexico City.

In Mexico City, both Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca were tortured and forced to confess by Florentino Ventura's men. They were forced to sign confessions but later recanted when they were paraded before the news cameras. Yes, the two men alleged, they were drug traffickers, but they knew nothing of the abduction and murder of the American agent and his pilot. Fonseca contended that he and Caro had been at 881 Lope de Vega, but had left, at the same time a group of unknown armed men arrived at the house. What happened to Camarena after that was unknown to them.

A married Caro Quintero regaled the press with stories about his love for his teenage girlfriend Sara Cosio whom her family had alleged, had been kidnapped by the Sinaloan in March. the Caro-Cosio love affair became media fodder for months. The Mexican public grew enamored with the country boy from La Noria, who had made millions before his 29th birthday and helped out the poor.

"I love to help out the country people, because they are a pure and noble people as I am, and as Ernesto (Fonseca) and his people are, we do things for them the government doesnt do in 10 years. We do it not to get recognition, but because it makes us feel good to help them" Caro told the press after his arrest, while Fonseca clowned around with a pair of sunglasses and flashed photographers a peace sign

Both men were convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison. There the duo shared a living area designed for 600 prisoners, and made their own penthouse, complete with nice beds, TV's VCRs, liquor, music and good food. They didnt have to wear a prisoners uniform they could wear what they wanted. During their four year stay at Reclusorio Norte, their stay was a good one. Every year on his birthday, Caro Quintero would bring the finest Sinaloan bands to play for him and his friends at the prison all with the director's blessing.

Javier Barba Hernandez, the Cartel's lawyer turned gangster was shot down by soldiers in Mazatlan in November 1987. Tomas Morlett Borquez, a suspect in the Camarena kidnapping was slain outside a Matamoros bar in 1988. Comandantes Pavon Reyes and Alfonso Velazquez, responsible for the disastrous "raid" at El Mareno were both sent to jail for 25 years.

The head of the DFS and a possible Camarena interrogator and torturer, Antonio Zorrilla Perez was also sent to jail after being arrested in Spain. Ramon Mata Ballesteros, Felix Gallardos Honduran partner was jailed in 1986 and extradited to the US where he now incarcerated in Colorado's Super Max penitentiary.

Dr Humberto Machain, responsible for keeping Camarena alive during his brutal interrogation was also arrested in Guadalajara and illegally transported to the US by American agents. Don Ruben Zuno Arce was also tricked into entering the US where he was arrested for his alleged role in the Camarena kidnapping. He was sentenced to life in prison in San Diego. To this day he maintains his innocence.

On September 17, 1988 Comandante Florentino Ventura, who arrested Rafael Caro Quintero was found shot to death at his Mexico City home along with his wife and wife's friend. Authorities said Ventura went into a cocaine fueled rage and shot his wife and her friend before turning the gun on himself. Others say its was the narcos' revenge from behind bars.

Miguel Felix Gallardo, the cocaine kingpin and co founder of the Guadalajara Cartel was betrayed by his friend Comandante Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni, Ventura's successor on April 8, 1989 and taken into custody at his home in Zapopan, Jalisco. Felix Gallardo also denied any participation in the Camarena kidnapping and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Manuel Salcido Uzeta, "Cochiloco", Kingpin of Mazatlan and last leader of the Guadalajara cartel was ambushed and shot to death on October 9th, 1991 by a 8 man hit team at a red light on Obsidiana Street in Guadalajara. He, his daughter and his driver were shot more than 80 times. He reportedly pulled out a grenade to fend off his attackers with but was killed before he could throw it at them.

Juan Jose Esparragoza "El Azul" was arrested in the late 80s and imprisoned in Reclusorio Sur and was freed in 1992. With the ex leaders of the Guadalajara cartel in prison or dead, he left and partnered up with Ismael Zambada and others where he is now considered one of the leaders of the violent and infamous Sinaloa cartel made up of descendants and proteges of those who ran the old Guadalajara cartel. "El Azul" keeps an extremely low profile, not much is known about his life or modern day activities

The Camarena kidnapping and murder and its messy aftermath sealed the fate for the once powerful Guadalajara Cartel. Its remnants are now seen as coming together and forming the poweful Sinaloan Alliance, the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Felix Gallardo protege turned nemesis Joaquin Guzman Loera "El Chapo"

What was then a "Mans Business" made up by a few peasants from Sinaloa with a lot of business savvy, later turned into a ultra violent billion dollar industry that claims the lives the innocent men, women and children every day in Mexico. Criminals and Law Enforcement officials alike fall dead every day, victims of a seemingly never ending drug war where broken rival factions of a once strong united alliance, fight it out each day for control of Mexican territory.


  1. May the narcos destroying Mexico rot in hell, along with the Americans buying the drugs and selling the weapons. Our DEA agents are true heroes, as are the good law enforcement officers and soldiers in corrupt countries who have no idea who the enemy is.

    Kiki and Alfredo are my heroes, and my heart cries for them and their families. Myrna Camarena Salazar, I wish so much I could rewind the clock to the time you were staying with us in Frankfurt and change everything. Love always...

    1. Feel sorry for what happened a bunch of years ago. I live in a town 20 minutes from La Angostura where Camarena´s body was found and I still feel chills when I drive near that town.