Drug Wars: The Camarena Story

Drug Wars: The Camarena Story is a 1990 TV mini-series 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 and was followed up in 1992 with Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel starring Dennis Farina.

Drug Wars: The Camarena Story
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 language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Michael Mann
Richard Brams (co-executive producer)
Producer(s)Branko 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
Editor(s)Kevin Krasny
Skip Schoolnik
Running time240 minutes
Production company(s)World International Network
ZZY Productions
Original networkNBC
Original release
  • January 7, 1990 (1990-01-07)


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.


Steven BauerEnrique 'Kiki' Camarena
Elizabeth PeñaMika Camarena
Miguel FerrerTony Riva
Benicio del ToroRafael Caro Quintero
Eddie VelezRamon Varona
Tony PlanaPavon Reyes
Tomas MilianFlorentino Ventura
Raymond J. BarryJack Lawn
Everett McGillBob Rawlings
Treat WilliamsRay Carson
Craig T. NelsonHarley Steinmetz
Kenny MorrisonEnrique Camarena Jr
Danny TrejoGabriel


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

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.
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