At the beginning of each episode of Narcos: Mexico, the following message is displayed on screen: “This dramatisation is based on true events. However certain scenes, characters, names, businesses, incidents, locations and events have been fictionalised for dramatic purposes.”
This practise is, of course, fairly common in the field of historical drama – many TV shows and films have taken liberties with the truth when telling a real life story.
It’s likely that many viewers might be left wondering which parts of the series are fact and which are fiction, and so we’ve answered a few key questions as to the show’s historical accuracy…
Was there a real DEA agent called Walt Breslin?
Unlike Kiki Camarena, the main protagonist of Narcos: Mexico series 1, there was no real DEA agent who went by the name of Walt Breslin. Rather, Breslin is a composite character inspired by many of the agents who worked on operation Leyenda – the mission to take down Félix and the Guadalajara cartel.
Therefore, most of the scenes which directly involve Breslin – for example his final conversation with Félix following the latter’s arrest – are fictionalised.
What really happened in the 1988 Mexican election?
Although the level of corruption shown in Narcos’ depiction of the 1988 election is staggering in its blatantness, this is actually fairly true to the historical record of the election.
Former president Miguel de la Madrid, who had been in office until 1988, admitted in an autobiography years later that corruption had been rife during the election, claiming that there had not been an official vote count when the PRI declared themselves victors.
And even before the former president’s admission, it was widely acknowledged that the victory had been achieved through underhanded means. According to a New York Times article from 2004, “Political analysts and historians have described that election as one of the most egregious examples of the fraud that allowed the Institutional Revolutionary Party to control this country for more than seven decades.”
As is shown in the series, when early counts showed the PRI to be losing, rather than informing the public of the results, the party lied and said that their computer system had crashed – before pre-empting the opposition by declaring themselves the winners before the count had been completed.
It’s also true that the ballots were all burned to remove all evidence of fraud – although in real life this didn’t actually occur until 1991, three years after the election.
What really happened with Pablo Acosta?
Some details of Juarez drug kingpin Pablo Acosta’s storyline in the show are very similar to the reality – it’s true that he was killed during a shootout led by Mexican federal forces and the FBI after taking refuge at his hideout in Santa Elena. However this actually occurred in 1987 – not at the same time as the 1988 election as is shown in the series.
Moreover, as with the rest of the scenes involving Walt Breslin, the sequence of Acosta being led out of his hideout by Breslin, who is attempting to prevent his death and use him as a witness, is an invention for the show.
Meanwhile Acosta’s American girlfriend as seen on the show, Mimi, is a real person – and according to Texas Monthly the real Mimi (full name Mimi Webb Miller) returned to Mexico in 2014 to once again lead horseback tours for visitors. Despite his murderous record, Web Miller has described Acosta as “kind and conscientious” and claimed that he was proud of small northern Mexico towns, while numerous sources claim he was a local legend in his village – which is consistent with how he is portrayed in the show.
As for his decision to speak to the US press, according to the book Down By The River by Charles Bowden this is accurate – he spoke to an El Paso reporter by the name of Terrence Poppa (who was later a Pulitzer finalist for his book Drug Lord), while Bowden also claims that Acosta occasionally fed names to US law enforcement that led to arrests, and that he had an onging relationship with a Customs investigator by the name of David Regala.
What really happened with Cochiloco?
In the series, one of the pivotal moments that sees several of the plaza bosses and Félix’s erstwhile allies turn against him is the assassination of drug trafficker and key member of the Sinaloa cartel Cochiloco.
While Cochiloco was a real person, whose full name was Manuel Salcido Uzeta, the show has taken a few liberties with his story. It is true that he was murdered, but his death actually came at the hands of Colombian drug traffickers after he had stolen four tonnes of cocaine.
Not only was Félix not involved with his death, he was actually already incarcerated by this point – with Cochiloco’s murder occurring in 1991, two year’s after Félix’s arrest.
Therefore although there were many incidents that tested the loyalty of plaza bosses such as Héctor Palma, this was not one of them.
Did Clavel really throw Palma’s children off a bridge?
Believe it or not, the reality of the feud between Rafael Clavel and Héctor Palma was even more horrific than was portrayed in the show. It is true that Clavel seduced Palma’s wife Guadalupe and then murdered her and her children, but the exact circumstances of the killings were different in real life, and they actually occured in 1989, after the arrest of Félix Gallardo.
According to the book Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State? by George W. Grayson, Clavel forced Guadalupe to withdraw $7 million from her bank account before he decapitated her and shipped her disembodied head to Palma. And yes, after this he really did throw her two children off a bridge (although not until two weeks later) – specifically the Puente de la Concordia right on the border between Colombia and Venezuela.
Palma later retaliated by ordering the killing of Clavel’s three children, and was also behind the murder of Clavel – although contrary to what is shown on the series he did not carry out the murder himself, nor did it take place in a shopping mall with a baseball bat.
Did the plaza bosses really all walk out on Félix in the same meeting?
No, although this made for an exciting and rewarding scene in the series finale, this was a dramatisation for the show – which simplifies what was actually a much more fractured and elongated process. In real life, Hector Palma was indeed first to split from Félix’s cartel – but further splintering didn’t properly start to occur until after Félix’s arrest.
Whilst he was in jail, Félix attempted to orchestrate a retaliation against Palma, which eventually led to an almighty battle between those loyal to Félix and those taking Palma’s side.
This eventually led to two separate organisations – the Sinaloa OCG, led primarily by El Chapo Guzman, and the Arellano Félix Organisation, which operated mainly out of Tijuana and was led by the Arellano Félix family. The fractured nature of the Mexican drugs trade has persisted to this day – suggesting that it never quite recovered from the murder of Kiki Camarena and the arrest of Félix Gallardo.
Narcos: Mexico season 2 is streaming now on Netflix