Nicaragua: CIA-contra drug charges resurface

The torture death of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique (“Kiki”) Camarena near Guadalajara in the western Mexican state of Jalisco in February 1985 was linked to drug running by the US-backed “contra” rebels seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua, according to two former DEA agents and a former pilot for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Camarena was kidnapped by criminals working for Rafael Caro Quintero, a founder of the so-called Guadalajara Cartel, and was executed at one of Caro Quintero’s ranches. According to the US, the cartel targeted Camarena because he had uncovered Caro Quintero’s marijuana growing and processing operation. Under pressure from the US, the Mexican government eventually captured Caro Quintero and sentenced him to 60 years in prison for Camarena’s murder.

The new allegations appeared on an Oct. 10 broadcast by the right-wing US-based Fox television network and in an Oct. 12 article published by the left-leaning Mexican weekly Proceso. Both reports were based on interviews with Phil Jordan, an ex-director of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC); former DEA agent HĂ©ctor Berrellez, who said he directed the investigation of Camarena’s death; and Tosh Plumlee, who worked as a pilot for SETCO, a CIA-linked airline that flew military supplies to the contras. It isn’t clear why Fox chose to air the allegations now, but attention on the Camarena murder increased after a Mexican judge released Caro Quintero from prison on a technicality on Aug. 9 of this year. 

According to the Fox and Proceso reports, CIA operatives had infiltrated Mexico’s now-defunct Federal Security Directorate (DFS), many of whose agents provided protection for Caro Quintero’s criminal activities in the 1980s, including the Camarena kidnapping and murder. CIA infiltrators were present when the DEA agent was killed, the reports allege. “I was told by Mexican authorities…that CIA operatives were in there,” Jordan said to Fox News. “Actually conducting the interrogation. Actually taping Kiki.” Ex-DEA agent Berrellez gave Proceso the name of at least one CIA operative he claimed was involved. “Two witnesses identified FĂ©lix Ismael RodrĂ­guez,” he said.

The Cuban-born FĂ©lix RodrĂ­guez was a long-time US agent who was active in the Bay of Pigs invasion, in the Vietnam war and in the October 1967 execution of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto (“Che”) Guevara in Bolivia. In the middle 1980s RodrĂ­guez was in El Salvador working with another Cuban-born agent, Luis Posada Carriles, supplying contra operations. According to the Proceso report, RodrĂ­guez introduced the Honduran drug trafficker Juan Matta Ballesteros to the Guadalajara cartel. Matta allegedly used his Colombian connections to supply cocaine to the cartel, with the complicity of the CIA, which received part of the money and used it to supply arms and other military equipment to the contras. The reason for Camarena’s murder, according to Proceso, was that Camarena had “discovered that his own government was collaborating with Mexican narco trafficking in its illicit business.”

The CIA denies the accusations. “[I]t’s ridiculous to suggest that the CIA had anything to do with the murder of a US federal agent or the escape of his killer,” a CIA spokesperson told Fox News on Oct. 10.

A number of sources reported in the 1980s and early 1990s that the contras were funded in part through drug sales with the help or complicity of the CIA. In 1998 CIA Inspector General Fred Hitz told Congress that the CIA “worked with a variety of …assets [and] pilots who ferried supplies to the contras, who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity.” The “CIA had an operational interest” in the contras and “did nothing to stop” the drug trafficking, Hitz said. Mainstream US media generally avoided the subject. In 1996 the Mercury News of San Jose, California, ran a series linking the contras to the sale of crack in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, but the paper later repudiated the articles. The reporter, Gary Webb, lost his job at the Mercury News and was never employed by a major newspaper again. He died in December 2004, an apparent suicide. (Fox News, Oct. 10; Proceso, Oct. 12; El PaĂ­s, Madrid, Oct. 15)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 3.

  1. Correction: Caro Quintero’s sentence
    Caro Quintero was sentenced to 40 years in prison, not the 60 years originally reported here.