The Real Story Behind Netflix’s Narcos

“What we’ve learned is that if you look at history what happened with the Medellin Cartel after we took them down, Cali Cartel got stronger, right? Then we take them down, and North Valle Cartel takes over. We’re taking down cartels, and another cartel is born.”

Javier Pena — Former DEA officer

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)’s Javier Pena was one of two US agents who was instrumental in bringing down Pablo Escobar and the notorious Medellin Cartel. Pena and his partner Steve Murphy, both depicted in Narcos, were consultants on the show’s first two seasons. After the death of Escobar, the real-life Pena went back to Colombia to crack the Cali Cartel. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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In a recent interview, Pena tells about the show, his experiences, what he learned from tracking Escobar, and where he sees the war on drugs today.

The Cipher Brief: We left Season 2 with the death of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, one of the most notorious traffickers in history. You, along with your DEA partner Steve Murphy and the Colombian police, brought him and the Medellin Cartel down. Describe what that was like for you?

Javier Pena: It was emotional. It was a sigh of relief. I started chasing this war in 1988. This was a sense of justice because of all the innocent people Escobar killed, including many police officer friends of mine. We called Pablo Escobar the inventor of narco-terrorism. During his reign, he was responsible for the deaths of 10-15 thousand innocent people. Some of his sicarios [hitmen] – one in particular – said it was more like 50,000 people. So justice was done, and my heart goes out to all the innocent people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

TCB: Hollywood of course takes some creative license, of course, in the show. But was there anything in it, that was totally fictional that you want people to know about?

Pena: (Laughs). Well, there are a couple things. The chronology is accurate. There are some artistic licenses. The main thing was that I was never dirty. I was never complicit with Los Pepes.

TCB: For people who haven’t seen the show, can describe who Los Pepes was, and how Narcos portrayed it? Did it bother you, about their portrayal of what happened then?

Pena: Los Pepes was a right-wing vigilante group that was made up of traffickers that Pablo Escobar had killed. So Los Pepes got together and decided to fight Pablo Escobar dirty. Their number one goal was to kill his family members, just like Pablo Escobar went after their bosses. Two people in particular – Gerardo Moncado and Fernando Galeano – were killed by Pablo Escobar. So their head of security – a guy by the name of Don Berna – formed Los Pepes. He got together a group of traffickers and said “you know we’re going to fight Pablo Escobar dirty, the way he’s been fighting us.” So they went after him with a vengeance. And the show sort of depicts me as helping them out, which is not true.


TCB: You only retired from the DEA a few years ago, so looking back at your career, how do you think the drug landscape changed and progressed?

What we tell people is that as long as there’s a demand for some nasty type of drugs, there’s going to be people that will take a chance in selling their dope to make a quick dollar. Look at the heroin problem we’re facing right now in the United States. The fentanyl. At one point it was methamphetamine. Now we’re hearing more about the opioids, the prescription drugs. What’s the solution? I wish I had the answer. We need to get better with society – the schools, the family, churches, religion. I mean there are a lot of great people. It’s just that small percentage out there. [ The CIPHER Brief ]

You can listen to the full discussion with Javier Pena here.

Political Connections? ‘El NARCO 82’

President Álvaro Uribe Vélez of Colombia — August 7, 2002 – August 7, 2010 — was a “close personal friend of Pablo Escobar”. In fact, they are related but the former President has dropped the ‘Escobar’ part of his name.

According to a 1991 DIA document, Alvaro Uribe — then a Senator — was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín cartel at high government levels.” (Note: Alvaro Uribe had been the mayor of Medellín when Escobar ‘owned’ the city.

[1991 intelligence report from U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officials in Colombia.]

About Javier Peña

Javier Peña joined the DEA in 1984 and started working in Bogotá, Colombia, four years later. There, he participated in the successful manhunt for narcotics kingpin Pablo Escobar. After the death of Escobar, Peña continued to serve in the DEA in Puerto Rico, Texas, and Colombia again. He retired in 2014 as special agent in charge of the Houston division. Peña’s involvement in the manhunt of Escobar is portrayed in the Netflix series “Narcos.”

Narcos — Season 3 Official Trailer — Netflix


The Real Story Behind Netflix’s Narcos — The CIPHER Brief


The Real Story Behind Netflix’s Narcos

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