Manuel Buendia was walking to the parking lot where he used to park his car everyday in the center of Mexico City, but on May 30, 1984, a hired killer was waiting for him. He was shot and killed, taking four bullets in the back.
At the time Buendia was the most influential investigative journalist in Mexico, and his column Red Privada ("Private Network") — which exposed state corruption and took on organized crime — was distributed and read in over 200 newspapers across Mexico.
But his influence cost him his life, his killing coming after he uncovered links between Mexico's federal police agency, the CIA and long-time fugitive drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero. His murder is known as the “first crime of narcopolitics,” and for five years it went unpunished.
The case was handled by Jose Antonio Zorrilla Pérez, then the head of the infamous Federal Security Directorate (DFS), which led the “dirty war," persecuting political dissidents between 1960 and 1980. Dubbed “the Mexican FBI,” the directorate was abolished in 1985.
Zorrilla, later accused of masterminding the murder of Buendia, was the first to arrive at the murder scene and paid for the journalist's funeral. According to later investigations, however, Zorrilla had ordered the collection of all the evidence from Buendia’s office. This included documents that tied Zorrilla to drug traffickers as well as the CIA, which was operating in Mexico by training Guatemalan guerrillas in the west state of Jalisco at a ranch owned by Caro Quintero.
The relationship between Zorrilla and the most powerful drug kingpin of the 1980s was quite close. When Caro Quintero fled to Costa Rica in 1985, he was traveling with a safe-conduct pass signed by the police head.
Zorrilla’s agents arrested 10 young “porros” (state-sanctioned thugs) and accused them of murdering Buendia. However, this story fell apart in 1990, when Zorrilla was himself charged with the crime and sentenced to 25 years in prison along with Juan Rafael Moro Avila Camacho, the alleged hitman and grandson of former president Manuel Avila Camacho, both are free now.
However, some colleagues of Buendia claim the CIA was also interested in silencing the journalist, especially after he wrote his book "The CIA in Mexico," in which he tied various fascist organizations to the U.S. spy agency, which helped the Mexican far right combat leftists up until the early 1990s.
Hector Berrellez, a former DEA supervisor and special agent who served in Mexico in the 1980s, told Xinhua last year that the CIA killed Buendia, claiming that the order came from the then-Interior Minister Manuel Bartlett.
Those close to Buendia said he was after a huge story that was meant to disclose a triangle between Latin America's right-wing paramilitaries, the CIA and the drug trade.