Drug Wars: The Camarena Story

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Drug Wars: The Camarena Story
Drug Wars The Camarena Story poster.jpg
Written byElaine Shannon (non-fiction book)
Rose Schacht
Ann Powell (Part I)
Mel Frohman (Part II)
Christopher Canaan
Michael Mann (story, Part III)
Christopher Canaan
Rose Schacht
Ann Powell (teleplay, Part III)
Directed byBrian Gibson
StarringSteven Bauer
Miguel Ferrer
Benicio del Toro
Treat Williams
Craig T. Nelson
Raymond J. Barry
Music byCharles Bernstein
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Executive producersMichael Mann
Richard Brams (co-executive producer)
ProducersBranko Lustig
Mark Allan (co-producer)
Christopher Canaan (supervising producer)
Johnny Lattanzio (associate producer)
Ann Powell (co-supervising producer)
Christine A. Sacani (associate producer)
Rose Schacht (co-supervising producer)
CinematographySandi Sissel
EditorsKevin Krasny
Skip Schoolnik
Running time240 minutes
Production companiesWorld International Network
ZZY Productions
Original networkNBC
Original release
  • January 7, 1990 (1990-01-07)
  • January 9, 1990 (1990-01-09)

Drug Wars: The Camarena Story is a 1990 TV mini-series that aired on January 7, 8 & 9 1990, based on Elaine Shannon’s book Desperados and the Time magazine article of the same name. It was directed by Brian Gibson and starred Steven Bauer, Miguel Ferrer, Benicio del Toro, Treat Williams and Craig T. Nelson. It was the second most watched NBC mini-series of the year following The Kennedys[citation needed] and was followed up in 1992 with Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel starring Dennis Farina.


Fact-based story of undercover DEA agent Enrique Camarena who, while stationed in Guadalajara, uncovered a massive marijuana operation in Northern Mexico that led to his death and a remarkable investigation of corruption within the Mexican government.


Actor Role
Steven Bauer Enrique 'Kiki' Camarena
Elizabeth Peña Mika Camarena
Miguel Ferrer Tony Riva
Benicio del Toro Rafael Caro Quintero
Eddie Velez Ramon Varona
Tony Plana Pavon Reyes
Tomas Milian Florentino Ventura
Raymond J. Barry Jack Lawn
Everett McGill Bob Rawlings
Treat Williams Ray Carson
Craig T. Nelson Harley Steinmetz
Kenny Morrison Enrique Camarena Jr
Danny Trejo Gabriel


At least four of the principal actors in Drug Wars: The Camarena Story later starred in the Academy Award-winning film Traffic, a film that also deals with the subject of the ongoing drug trade between the United States and Mexico. In a somewhat interesting reversal of roles, in Drug Wars actors Miguel Ferrer and Steven Bauer both play DEA agents while Benicio del Toro and Eddie Velez play drug traffickers; in Traffic, Ferrer and Bauer both play drug traffickers, while del Toro and Velez play a Mexican federal narcotics agent and a DEA agent.


In his review for The New York Times, John J. O'Connor wrote, "Perhaps not surprisingly, these amoral entrepreneurs provide some of the film's juicier roles. Especially effective is Benicio del Toro as the young, illiterate and flaky Rafael Caro-Quintero".[1] In his review for USA Today, Matt Roush wrote, "For a Michael Mann production, there's surprisingly little flash to Drug Wars. Some interesting camera work to be sure, including the video bits and some heightened use of slow motion, but the miniseries' chief strength is its grit, its anger".[2] Craig MacInnis, in his review for the Toronto Star, wrote, "Interspersed with U.S. network news footage of the real Camarena incident in '85, the dramatic scenes in Drug Wars are never anything less than convincing - just as good propaganda should be".[3]

DVD release[edit]

All three parts originally ran for four hours. The current DVD release features a heavily edited version that runs only 130 minutes.


  1. ^ O'Connor, John J (1990-01-07). "In the Trenches of the Drug Wars". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-19.
  2. ^ Roush, Matt (1990-01-05). "Camarena: Stirring drama from the drug war zone". USA Today.
  3. ^ MacInnis, Craig (1990-01-07). "Drug Wars good propaganda". Toronto Star.

External links[edit]