When U.S. drug agent Enrique (Kiki) Camarena Salazar was abducted last month on a busy street here just outside the U.S. consulate, he was probably less cautious than usual. He knew some of his kidnapers.
Mexican police have arrested 13 men, most of them policemen, in the past several days in connection with the kidnaping, torture and murder of Camarena and Alfredo Zavala Avelar, a part-time Drug Enforcement Administration pilot. Those arrested include Jalisco State police officials here in the drug capital of Mexico who worked routinely with Camarena and other DEA agents. One of them, Gabriel Gonzales Gonzales, who mysteriously died during interrogation, was the police official in charge of investigating the Camarena kidnaping. DEA agents had called Gonzales the day after Camarena's disappearance to ask for assistance, but Gonzales refused.
Police at various times have said Gonzales died of a heart attack, appendicitis or a ruptured pancreas.
DEA agents here are bitter about the police involvement in Camarena's death and the power and arrogance of the drug traffickers in Mexico.
Shortly after the kidnapings, the DEA received information that Rafael Caro Quintero, allegedly Mexico's top drug trafficker and a prime suspect in the case, was about to leave the Guadalajara airport in his private jet. DEA agents serve only in an advisory capacity in foreign countries and technically aren't supposed to carry weapons, so the information was turned over to the Mexican Federal Judicial Police, the equivalent of the U.S. FBI.
A group of about 30 heavily armed Federales, accompanied by several DEA agents, went to the airport. There they found Caro Quintero, carrying a fully automatic AK47 assault rifle and wearing a leisure suit unbuttoned to his waist, heavy gold necklaces and a thick, diamond-studded bracelet.
Surrounding Caro Quintero and his jet was another group of heavily armed Mexican policemen. After a brief discussion, Caro Quintero was allowed to go. As the plane began to taxi away, Caro Quintero opened a bottle of champagne and waved it defiantly at the agents.
DEA agents here say they feel they were betrayed by Mexican authorities through every step of the investigation.
"By the time we could persuade them to raid a place, all the suspects were gone. Every time," said one agent.
The bodies of Camarena and Zavala were found March 6 at a ranch about 70 miles from Guadalajara, the scene four days earlier of a shootout between the Mexican Federal Police and a family of small-time criminals. Manuel Bravo Cervantes, his wife and three sons were killed in the shootout.
An autopsy showed that the bodies of Camarena and Zavala had been buried elsewhere, then dug up and left at the ranch wrapped in plastic. DEA officials here and in Washington also say they think that some members of the Mexican Federal Police, who refused to allow the DEA to go along on the raid, were trying to make it appear that the Bravo family was responsible for the kidnapings.
An agent here added, "Everything they did relative to the bodies was horrible. They didn't protect the crime scene. They didn't take fingerprints. They wouldn't even allow any Americans into the morgue."
Since the bodies were found, agents say the Mexican Federal Police generally have stopped sharing information about the investigation with the DEA. "They don't want us digging anymore," said one agent.
DEA officials say they question how far the investigation can go, since some members of the Mexican Federal Police, which is conducting the probe, are involved. They also are watching to see whether Mexican authorities will go after the traffickers who ordered the kidnapings. According to one DEA official, "The Mexicans haven't arrested a major trafficker in more than eight years."
DEA sources say they have been focusing on several allegedly high-level traffickers.
One of them is Manuel Salcido, who is known as "Cochiloco," or Crazy Pig. DEA officials say they received intelligence reports that Cochiloco had complained about Camarena, a veteran DEA agent who had been highly visible and successful in investigating Mexican cocaine trafficking.
Cochiloco is known in Mexico as a long-time "hit man" who is thought by the DEA to be responsible for the October 1983 murder of an informer who was tortured and had his left hand torn off.
Besides Caro Quintero, other alleged druz czars who are suspects in the case include Angel Felix Gallardo, Juan Ramon Mata Ballasteros and Ernesto Fonseca.
Although there are outstanding arrest warrants for most of the traffickers who are suspects in the Camarena case, DEA sources say that until the United States brought pressure over the past month, the men were highly visible in the Guadalajara area, where most maintain lavish homes and where they regularly visited fancy restaurants, surrounded by bodyguards carrying automatic weapons.
"It's their city, not ours. The bad guys can do what they want here," said a DEA agent.
U.S. journalists covering the Camarena investigation have been discouraged by the Mexican government. According to DEA sources, one television network with a report critical of Mexican authorities was denied access to transmitting facilities in the country.
In addition, a part-time Newsweek correspondent discovered what he thought to be Mexican policemen searching his Guadalajara hotel room.
DEA officials say that the traffickers here are so wealthy that they have been able to buy whatever cooperation they've needed.
For example, the DEA's picture of Gallardo is one that appears on a matchbook cover that was taken while he was visiting the Lido in Paris.
Caro Quintero, 32, is thought to have a fortune of at least $500 million. He owns a fleet of private jets and is thought to own nearly 300 ranches in Mexico. Over the weekend, laborers were working on a huge Caro Quintero estate being constructed near Guadalajara.
In contrast, the Federal Judicial Police earn just over $300 per month and are required to buy their own weapons.
"In Mexico City, that won't pay your rent, feed your family," said one DEA agent. "They have to get money somewhere. The whole system forces a person to take money. The only questions are who you take it from, how much do you take and what do you have to do for it."
Mexican authorities have been stunned by the importance the United States has placed on the life of a federal agent, since Mexican police are frequently killed in shootouts with drug traffickers.
Mexican diplomats complained bitterly last month when the U.S. Customs Service instituted strict searches along the Mexican border, creating huge traffic jams.
Last week, Mexican Foreign Secretary Bernardo Sepulvida complained to Secretary of State George P. Shultz about "outrageous" charges made by the DEA about the Mexican investigation of Camarena's death.
Both Francis (Bud) Mullen, who recently retired as head of the DEA, and Jack Lawn, his successor, have harshly criticized Mexico's lack of cooperation.
Some Mexican law enforcement officials acknowledge privately that without U.S. pressure, the investigation would have gone nowhere.
DEA officials believe that the Mexicans may finally have to expand the investigation beyond corrupt police and will have to do something about the traffickers. "I can't imagine that they'll arrest them. They know too much; they have too much money. They'll have to blow them away," said an agent.
Meanwhile, at the DEA office here, amid a litter of coffee cups and loaded weapons, the agents agonize over what might have been done differently in the five days that Camarena is thought to have been alive after being kidnaped. A picture of Camarena looks out from the front of the DEA's suite of offices. Inside there are pictures of Camarena's children and another of him standing in front of a lush, 200-acre marijuana plantation in the middle of the Mexican desert.
"We were guaranteed failure from the start," one agent said bitterly. "Whether it was because of incompetence or actual involvement, the Mexican government has to bear the blame."
The feeling is one of barely contained rage as the agents, now receiving almost no information from Mexican authorities, continue to work on leads and wait for the next news broadcast of the Mexican investigation.
And there is talk of how little the United States can hope to accomplish, given the poverty that feeds the Mexican drug trade as well as U.S. foreign policy interests in keeping Mexico as a close ally.
"The Mexicans are doing a horrible job. They're doing no job," said a senior DEA official. "We shouldn't be taking this kind of crap off them. They say we're a big, powerful country, but we don't act like it."