The bodies of kidnaped U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena Salazar and a Mexican colleague were found this morning near the rural home of a family of accused narcotics traffickers who died last weekend in a police shoot-out, Mexican and U.S. officials announced.
Preliminary identification based on clothing was made by U.S. and Mexican authorities this afternoon in Guadalajara, U.S. Ambassador John Gavin reported. "There is a high degree of certainty that it is them," said Francisco Fonseca, chief spokesman for Mexico's attorney general, adding that a formal Mexican government statement on the case might not be issued until Thursday, "when all the facts are known."
The two men apparently were killed shortly after their abduction a month ago, Mexican sources said. Gavin said the two had been dead "at least 15 days" and he knew of no evidence to support reports that the bodies showed signs of torture. Forensic reports were awaited on cause of death.
[In Washington, DEA Acting Administrator Jack Lawn said the bodies "had been subjected to physical violence," with broken bones but no bullet wounds.]
Calling the murders of Camarena and Alfredo Zavala Avelar "losses in an ongoing war," Gavin noted that several Mexican police were killed -- reportedly five -- in a confrontation today with marijuana traffickers near San Fernando, about 70 miles south of Mexico's eastern border with Texas.
Although discovery of the bodies represents "the first real breakthrough in the case," apparent discrepancies in the officially reported details of the raid that led to the recovery of the corpses have caused "confusion" regarding the kidnapers' presumed motives and identities, U.S. sources said. "There are a lot of inconsistencies, a lot of holes in the story," said one.
Discovered near the city of Zamora in the state of Michoacan, the badly decomposed bodies were transported for autopsies to Guadalajara, capital of neighboring Jalisco state. Camarena and Zavala, a Mexican government pilot who had flown missions for the DEA here, had been kidnaped Feb. 7 in separate incidents in different parts of Guadalajara.
While the location of the bodies apparently was revealed by an anonymous Mexican police informant, the $50,000 U.S. government reward remains unclaimed, Gavin said.
The corpses were reportedly found at 4 a.m. in plastic bags on property behind the home of Manuel Bravo Cervantes, who was killed on Saturday with his wife and two sons in a confrontation with Mexican police. A former Michoacan state congressman, Bravo Cervantes was said by Mexican federal officials to be involved in drug-running, car theft and highway assaults in the Michoacan-Jalisco region.
"They were not major drug traffickers," one informed U.S. source said.
According to police reports, all four members of the Bravo family responded to surrender demands with rifle fire, prompting a prolonged exchange in which one federal judicial police agent died after being hit with 17 bullets from an AR15 semiautomatic rifle.
When police burst into the family's modest cement-block home, Bravo Cervantes' wife, wounded on the floor, fired a handgun at the agents, who shot back and killed her, they later reported. Her husband and sons already were dead, they said.
The gunbattle, in which federal and Jalisco state police participated, provoked an unusual protest from the governor of Michoacan, who complained in a message yesterday to the governor of Jalisco and to Federal Attorney General Sergio Garcia Ramirez that his state's "sovereignty" had been violated. Michoacan state police learned of the clash "only after the firefight had begun" and were forcibly kept at a distance by federal authorities on the scene, Gov. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas said.
Five suspects arrested at or near the Bravo home Saturday were brought to Guadalajara for questioning and released late Monday evening. Among them were the wives of the two Bravo sons who died in the gunfight. The two women were detained, police reports said, while driving a car stocked with ammunition.
"If this is true, it seems odd that they would simply be let go," a U.S. source commented.
Some local officials and residents questioned the official account of the armed confrontation, with several contending that the Bravos were denied an opportunity to give themselves up. "They were victimized," said Octavio Ortiz, chief spokesman for Michoacan's state government. If the Bravos had been arrested alive, Ortiz suggested today in a telephone interview, "they might also have been released like the others were."
The Bravos lived in an unprepossessing two-story home along the main road in the small rural settlement of La Angostura. Much of the village turned out yesterday for the funeral and burial of the Bravo family, according to local press reports.
Mexican federal police reported the confiscation from the Bravo home of two pounds of cocaine and several high-powered weapons, including two AR15s and three M1s.
For more than a year prior to his kidnaping, Camarena was involved in Operation Godfather, a joint U.S.-Mexican investigation of Mexican cocaine smuggling. DEA agent Edward Heath, who runs the agency's Mexican program, was at the Bravo home this morning to assist in the identification of Camarena's body, sources reported.
No DEA agent, however, witnessed Saturday's gunfight, although one arrived "after the dust had cleared," the sources said. The Bravo clan were not among those suspected of involvement in the kidnaping by DEA agents here, U.S. sources said.
A former federal police agent believed by DEA to have information on Camarena's whereabouts was released last week after a day of questioning. "We are satisfied that he was not involved" in the Camarena abduction, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.
U.S. officials repeatedly have urged Mexican law enforcement officers to prosecute the leaders of the "18 major gangs" of traffickers that DEA says operate in Mexico. Yesterday, Luis Octavio Porte Petit, Mexico's deputy attorney general, formally asked the U.S. Embassy here to provide "concrete information" about key figures in Mexico's narcotics trade.