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04/09/2016 | The real ''Narcos'' - Fact and fiction in the war on drugs

The Economist Staff

THE swaggering anti-hero of “Narcos”, a television drug-trafficking drama whose second series begins on September 2nd, is Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, the billionaire cocaine king of Colombia. But the story of his rise, reign of terror and eventual death in 1993 on a Medellín rooftop is told as seen through the eyes of two Americans.

 

Steve Murphy and Javier Peña (the latter pictured left, alongside his on-screen alter ego), agents of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), were posted to Bogotá in 1991 and 1988 respectively, and worked with the Colombian authorities to track down and kill Escobar. Having retired from the DEA within the past three years, the two have been able to shed new light on how the manhunt played out.

“Narcos” does a better job than most narco-dramas in getting across the brutal seediness of the drugs business, and the bravery of the Colombian public servants who faced it down, many at the cost of their own lives. Escobar, played by Wagner Moura (a Brazilian who had to learn Spanish for the part), oozes a sinister charisma and enjoys the adulation of many in the barrios where he sprinkled a few pesos of his drug fortune. But “Narcos” makes clear his pitiless willingness to murder thousands of innocents—politicians, judges, children—in the quest to fill his own pockets. It is a show that should make Western cocaine users shudder.

How accurate is it all? Mr Murphy is most commonly asked about the fate of his pet cat, which in “Narcos” is killed by Escobar’s henchmen; in real life it died of a heart attack. Mr Peña laments that his love life in Bogotá was not as exciting as that of his on-screen character. The programme’s scriptwriters have invented neat explanations for some events that in fact remain mysterious. The bombing of Avianca Flight 203, the worst of Escobar’s presumed atrocities, in which 110 people died, is shown to be the work of an unwitting suicide bomber, whom Escobar dupes into taking a bomb aboard. The apparent realism of the programme, most of whose dialogue is in Spanish, runs counter to its occasional departure from the facts.

More troubling is its depiction of the acts of torture and murder carried out by the Colombian police and armed forces, some of which, “Narcos” suggests, was done with the knowledge of the DEA. Mr Murphy says that this is “literary licence”; Mr Peña admits that “we had our suspicions” about the nature of the “dirty” war between the authorities and the narcos, but denies witnessing any wrongdoing. Colombians have long wondered whether Escobar—who died of gunshots to the leg, torso and head—was killed in the rooftop shoot-out, committed suicide or was executed on the spot. Some believe the fatal shot was fired by an American (not so, Mr Murphy insists). Whichever version the scriptwriters of “Narcos” go for will become the historical record as far as its millions of viewers are concerned.

The series may make them question the effectiveness of the war against thenarcotraficantes. Escobar got his comeuppance in the end, and the murder rate in Colombia dropped. Mr Peña has no regret about the death of Escobar, the “sick narco-terrorist” who he estimates was responsible for upwards of 10,000 murders. But, he adds, “[After] the Medellín cartel was demolished, what happened next? The Cali cartel took over...The moral of the story is: as long as there is going to be that demand for the drugs, there’s going to be people willing to take over the business.” Some politicians, including César Gaviria, the president of Colombia in 1990-94 who oversaw Escobar’s downfall, now think that legalisation would make more sense. The DEA men disagree. “We’re always going to go after them,” says Mr Peña. “They’ve gotta pay.”

Colombia is indeed a safer place now than when Escobar was on the loose. The peace deal agreed last week between the government and the FARC guerrillas, who have also been involved in the cocaine business, ought to make it calmer still. In 2014 Mr Murphy and his wife went back to visit the country, for the first time taking their two twenty-something daughters, whom they adopted as babies in Bogotá and Medellín. “We prepared them for how we remembered it,” says Mr Murphy: machine guns, soldiers, danger on every corner. Instead, “we were pleasantly surprised by how modernised it was. It felt safe.”

It is, at least compared with before. But that is partly because the drug war has shifted north-west, to Mexico and Central America, whose trafficking gangs have inherited the industry once run by the Colombians. Happily for viewers, but tragically for Latin Americans, there is scope for many more seasons of “Narcos”.

The Economist (Reino Unido)

 



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16/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
08/09/2009|
07/09/2009|
06/09/2009|
06/09/2009|
05/09/2009|
05/09/2009|
26/08/2009|
21/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
19/07/2009|
19/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
27/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
29/04/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House