When it came to catching Pablo Escobar, the men who took him down said the truth was stranger than fiction.
In the popular Netflix show NARCOS, retired DEA Agents Javier Pena and Steve Murphy play fast and loose with the Medellin Cartel to take down notorious drug trafficker Pablo Escobar.
Not just the creation of Hollywood writers, Pena and Murphy are the real-life agents who took down a cocaine kingpin.
Part of a worldwide tour, Pena and Murphy jetted into Calgary for a speaking engagement at Cowboys Dance Hall on Saturday night. Sitting in the lounge of a local shooting range on Friday, the two agents look like ordinary guys; if you didn’t ask, one might never know the two retired DEA Agents once dodged bullets in the most dangerous areas of Colombia.
So for Pena and Murphy, the combination of drugs, sex and violence that helped NARCOS become a ratings hit was more than just good TV.
It was life or death.
Pena said he and Murphy had protection, but they were still at risk of attacks from Escobar’s assassins and “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“He even hired a cook to poison us,” Pena said of Escobar’s assassination attempts. “And he had dirty police officers that were working for him, but the group (of officers) we had was trustworthy. They protected us, they took care of us.”
Drug Cartels – Then and now
Now more than 20 years after Murphy and Pena helped take down Escobar, the two retired DEA Agents said they see parallels between Escobar’s operation in Colombia and the current crisis facing the U.S. and Mexico with drug cartels.
“They’re both ruthless, barbaric traffickers,” Pena said. “And if you look at all this, what’s the message (Mexican Cartels) are trying to do? Intimidate. They intimidate politicians, they intimidate police officers.”
Pena said Escobar’s “war on Colombia” was driven by his fear of extradition, while Mexican Cartels use decapitation and public hangings to spread fear and ensure the cartel’s message of “don’t mess with me” is made clear to members of law enforcement.
“Mexico’s fight is the same thing, but Mexico’s intimidation is based more on corruption,” Pena said. “They pay off politicians, we all know that. Why? To get the drugs across (the border).”
Murphy said officers need to look at history to learn from past mistakes, but adds, “we have a short memory.”
Living in the limelight
NARCOS was not the first Hollywood production to court Murphy, Pena and the Escobar story. Murphy said he spent years ducking producers, but after a meeting with NARCOS executive producer Eric Newman, the two agents decided it was time to tell their tale to the world.
“Initially, it was very embarrassing,” Murphy said about his newfound fame. “We’re professional law enforcement officers, so you’re never seeking the limelight in that capacity. If you are, you’re not doing your job.”
Pena and Murphy said while there was some creative liberties taken with the characters, the events that led to Escobar’s rise to power and eventual fall are all true.
“The artistic licence or whatever they call it, there was some of that,” Pena said. “Some happened, some did not, but the chronology was there. And a lot of people don’t believe the events happened, but they did. The bombings, the presidential candidate killing…all that stuff.”
Murphy said his one demand was that NARCOS not glorify Escobar and his “Robin Hood” image, but show how “the world’s first narcoterrorist” executed or orchestrated the murder of “15,000 to 20,000 people.”
“(Escobar) gave (Colombian’s) medical clinics, he came in and passed out cash, he gave them food. You can see why the loyalty was built up there, but it’s not because he was a generous man. It’s because he was a manipulator.”
“He gamed them all.”
Murphy and Pena will be at the DEA NARCOS event at Cowboys Dance Hall tonight to talk about their fight against Escobar and the drug trade in Colombia.