History of Red Ribbon Week
Red Ribbon Week began after the kidnapping, torture and brutal murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985. Agent Camarena had been working undercover in Guadalajara, Mexico for over four years. His efforts led to a tip that resulted in the discovery of a multimillion dollar narcotics manufacturing operation in Chihuahua, Mexico. The successful eradication of this and other drug production operations angered leaders of several drug cartels who sought revenge. As a result, they murdered key informants and then, on February 7, 1985, they kidnapped Agent Camarena and his pilot Captain Alfredo Zavala-Avelar (taken separately on the same day).
After DEA Agent Camarena and Captain Zavala-Avelar were kidnapped, the DEA launched a massive investigation. The agents found local law enforcement uncooperative at best. DEA Administrator Jack Lawn and US Attorney General Edwin Meese sought greater support from Mexican officials including the Mexican Attorney General but to no avail. Orders from US Customs Commissioner William von Raab effectively closed the US/Mexico border for days putting pressure on the Mexican government to assist.
Soon, representatives of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police (MFJP) presented a tip to DEA Agents claiming that Agent Camarena had been mistakenly kidnapped by a man and his three sons. The MFJP informed the agents that a raid of the man’s ranch in Angostura would take place the following morning and invited them to come. However, the MFJP raided the ranch before DEA agents arrived. During the raid, they shot and killed five individuals. Not long after, a passerby discovered the bodies of both Agent Camarena and Captain Zavala-Avelar by the side of the road not far from the ranch.
The DEA’s investigation revealed that Agent Camarena had been tortured extensively before he was murdered. Audiotapes of the torture showed that medical doctors actually kept Agent Camarena alive in order to continue the interrogation. Evidence collected revealed that both Agent Camarena and Captain Zavala-Avelar were initially buried in one location and then moved to the ranch where they were found.
The dramatic events that followed Agent Camarena’s disappearance were chronicled in national media here at home. They exposed the dark world of drug trafficking including how far drug traffickers would go to maintain power and control.
In Agent Camarena’s home town, Calexico, CA, the public outpouring of support turned in to an organized community response in which citizens dawned red ribbons. They became a voice for prevention in order to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and illegal use of legal drugs in America. The following year the California State PTA adopted the Red Ribbon Campaign. Then, in 1988, Red Ribbon Week was recognized nationally with President Ronald and First Lady Nancy Reagan serving as the Honorary Chairs.
Today, the Red Ribbon Celebration brings millions of people together to raise awareness regarding the need for alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention, early intervention, and treatment services. It is the largest, most visible prevention awareness campaign observed annually in the United States.
Editor’s Note: The above information is taken from the Red Ribbon Organization.
Red Ribbon Fact Sheet