Death and Survival in Cartel Land: The Personal Cost of the DEA’s War on Drug Traffickers
In America’s long-running war on drugs, DEA agents have always been on the front lines. They face untold dangers in their efforts to take down ruthless drug traffickers. Not everybody makes it out alive. DEA undercover agent Kiki Camarena was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Mexico in 1985. Ten years earlier, DEA agents Don Ware and Roy Stevenson were kidnapped, beaten and shot. They survived, but the ordeal left permanent scars. In this panel discussion, widows Mika Camarena and Rita Ware will describe the lasting effects of these violent acts on their lives and their families. Retired DEA agent James Kuykendall will delve into what happened to Camarena, while current agent Rosalinda Conde will explain how law enforcement finally tracked down the last suspect in the attack on Ware and Stevenson.
After serving two years in the U.S. Army, James Kuykendall spent five years with the U.S. Border Patrol, stationed at Harlingen, Texas, Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Laredo, Texas. He became a U.S. Customs investigative agent in Texas in 1966, and transferred to the DEA in 1973.
He was stationed in Starr County, Texas, and then Quito, Ecuador, as the DEA country attache; moved to Houston as an enforcement group supervisor; and then transferred in 1982 to Guadalajara, Mexico, as the DEA resident agent in charge. He retired from government service in 1989 as the resident agent in charge of the DEA office in Laredo, Texas.
In retirement, Kuykendall has worked as a private investigator in Texas and Mexico, an insurance adjuster, a security consultant in Panama and as security chief for a mining company in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. He wrote a book about his DEA experiences called O Plata O Plomo?: Silver or Lead? The Abduction and Murder of DEA Agent Kiki Camarena. He is currently a residential real estate appraiser in Laredo, Texas.
Rosalinda Conde is a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, assigned to the San Diego Field Division Strike Force. She graduated in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in sociology from San Diego State University. In 2003, she was hired as a special agent with the U.S. Customs Service in San Diego. A year later, she transferred to the DEA. Upon graduation from the DEA Academy in Quantico, Virginia, she was assigned to the San Diego Field Division Strike Force, which is part of the Major Mexican Drug Task Force, a multi-agency task force comprised of federal, state and local departments whose primary function is to investigate drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and violence-related activities of the Mexican drug cartels in the Baja California area.
In addition to investigating Mexican cartels, Conde works maritime investigations and targets high-level transnational criminal organizations throughout Europe and Central and South America. She has coordinated and developed relationships with multiple foreign DEA offices and foreign police to create investigations beyond simple conspiracies into complex and multi-national cases that have had a tremendous impact on the flow of drugs from source countries into the United States.
Rita Ware is the widow of longtime DEA agent Don Ware, who was kidnapped, beaten and shot by drug cartel members in Mexico in 1975. Don Ware endured a year-long recovery from his injuries and returned to work for the DEA for another decade before those injuries forced his retirement.