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Drug-related violence on the U.S.-Mexico border has surged over the past several years, the result of intense competition between two warring drug cartels. More than 8,000 people, including about 800 Mexican police officers and soldiers, have been killed in the resulting war, which has spread into the United States.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently reported “an unprecedented surge” of border violence, and the Justice Department has reported that Mexican drug cartels represent the “largest threat to both citizens and law enforcement agencies in this country and now have gang members in nearly 200 U.S. cities.”

Abducted in Guadalajara by five Jalisco State police officers, Camarena was still bound and gagged, his eyes taped shut, when his body was found.

Due to be reassigned less than a month after his body was discovered, he had infiltrated a number of drug gangs, confiscated thousands of pounds of cocaine and marijuana, and seized millions of dollars in illicit drug profits. He had become the worst nightmare for drug smugglers throughout Mexico, particularly those in Guadalajara, then the center of that country’s drug-trafficking empire.

DEA investigators, after discovering the audiotape, determined that Camarena had been beaten with a cattle prod, a tire iron and a broomstick. On the tape, according to those who have heard it, the agent is heard moaning in pain and pleading with his captors, “Don’t hurt my family.”

An autopsy report showed that Mr. Zavala Avelar, who flew small planes to help Camarena scout out marijuana fields, had been buried alive.

The kidnapping and slaying led to the most comprehensive homicide investigation ever undertaken by DEA, which ultimately uncovered corruption and complicity by numerous Mexican officials. Operation Leyenda, translated as Operation Lawman, was established in May 1985 to investigate the abduction. DEA was ultimately successful in securing indictments of several people connected to the slaying.

The investigation, according to the DEA, was long and complex, made more difficult by the fact that the crime was committed on foreign soil and involved major drug traffickers and corrupt Mexican government officials.

The 37-year-old agent, a former U.S. Marine who grew up in a dirt-floored house in Mexico and later moved with his family to the U.S. to pick fruit, was kidnapped on Feb. 7, 1985, as he left the DEA office in Guadalajara to meet his wife for lunch. He had locked his badge and his service revolver in his desk drawer.

According to a reconstruction of the kidnapping by DEA investigators based on witness statements and physical evidence, Camarena was crossing the street en route to his pickup when he was surrounded and grabbed by the Jalisco State police officers, who shoved him into a van and sped away.

The kidnapping occurred in broad daylight within a block of the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara. Mr. Zavala Avelar was kidnapped the same day in a separate incident. Both were taken to a ranch owned by the drug smugglers, where they were sadistically beaten and tortured.

Immediately after the agent was kidnapped, John Gavin, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, demanded that Mexican authorities do whatever was necessary to find the agent and return him safely. When Mexican authorities showed little interest in pursuing the case, Operation Camarena was ordered all along the U.S.-Mexico border - every vehicle entering this country was searched. As a result, a border crossing that usually took five minutes took five hours.

The initial suspect in the kidnapping was Rafael Caro Quintero, then 32 and the owner of a marijuana ranch that employed hundreds of workers and had operated with apparent immunity for years. Three months before the kidnapping, the ranch had been raided by Mexican authorities on Camarena’s insistence. The raid resulted in the seizure of $160 million of marijuana already baled and readied for shipment to the U.S.

The U.S. government sought an arrest warrant for Caro Quintero, but he and several of his lieutenants were allowed to leave Guadalajara for Costa Rica on the drug czar’s private jet after giving First Comandante Jorge Armando Pavon Reyes a check for 60 million pesos - equivalent to about $265,000 in 1985 U.S. currency and twice that much today.

On his way to Costa Rica, Caro Quintero - then known as the “drug lord of drug lords” - picked up his teenage girlfriend, Sara Cristina Cosio Martinez. The DEA later tracked a call she made to her parents in Mexico City back to a mansion in Costa Rica, where Caro Quintero was arrested by Costa Rican police and returned to Mexico.

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