Pablo Escobar is dead – but Narcos is not. Season two of Netflix’s hit crime drama ended with the killing of the notorious drug lord, but season three shows just how quickly a new criminal enterprise is able to fill the void.
The focus of the upcoming season will shift from Escobar to the Cali Cartel, the criminal organisation that stepped in to dominate the cocaine trade in Colombia following the Medellín boss’s demise.
Narcos season three will be released on 1st September on Netflix. Before then, here’s everything you need to know about the new crime kingpins.
What is the Cali Cartel?
“The biggest drug lords you’ve probably never heard of” is how Netflix describes the Cali Cartel in their tease for the new season – and they’re probably right.
The criminal organisation took advantage of the vacuum left by the killing of Pablo Escobar, growing into what the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) called in a 1994 report “the most powerful international drug trafficking organisation in history”.
After assisting the CIA in bringing down their rival Escobar and his Medellin Cartel, the Calis took charge of the international cocaine trade, smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States and expanding their operations to Europe.
According to a TIME cover feature from 1991, the organisation was responsible for 70 per cent of the cocaine entering the US, and 90 per cent of the drug sold in Europe. “The cartel is the best and brightest of the modern underworld: professional, intelligent, efficient, imaginative and nearly impenetrable,” TIME said.
Even before Escobar’s downfall, the Cali Cartel had surpassed his organisation as the number one drug organisation in Colombia. A New York Times report from 1991 quotes DEA head Robert C Bonner saying, “There is no question that the Cali cartel is the predominant cocaine distribution organisation in the world.”
In short, this new enemy is more than a match for the agents tasked with hunting them down.
How are they different to Pablo Escobar?
Unlike Escobar’s dictating leadership from the top, the Cali Cartel was controlled by four men who each ran different aspects of the organisation.
Top of the tree is “boss of bosses” Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela (played by Damian Alcazar in the Netflix series, below). Unlike Escobar, Gilberto prefers to work from the inside, bribing officials, buying loyalty and presenting a ‘legitimate’ face to the world to hide his vast criminal empire.
He is known as “the chess player” for his ability to outmanoeuvre his enemies – we can’t exactly see Escobar wasting his time with knights and bishops…
Supporting Gilberto is his brother Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela (Francisco Denis), the brains behind the rise of the of Cali Cartel. He also runs the cartel’s legitimate businesses, including the city’s football club América de Cali.
Pacho Herrera (Alberto Ammann) is perhaps the most violent of the quartet, a deadly hitman and head of international distribution.
José ‘Don Chepe’ Santacruz Londono (Pepe Rapazote) is based in New York, and is in charge of the Colombian drug network’s profitable American arm.
The DEA’s 1994 report notes that “The Cali Cartel dominates wholesale cocaine trafficking in New York City, and conducts extensive trafficking operations in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and other major cities.”
Much is made in the new season about the Cali Cartel’s contrast with Escobar’s old regime. Even their nicknames betray this difference of style: the Cali Cartel are nicknamed ‘Los caballeros’ (the gentlemen) of Cali, compared with ‘Los hampones’ (the hoodlums) of Medellin.
Narcos showrunner Eric Newman explained to The Hollywood Reporter how this difference affects the way the show develops.
“A guy like Escobar was going to be replaced by, in some ways, a more pervasive and more insidious organisation like Cali, that had a corruptive influence that went way beyond the outlaw,” he said. “They bought the presidency of Colombia in 1994. They were insiders, and it’s very much a response to the level of violence that the hunt for Escobar brought to Colombia.”
But don’t be completely drawn in to the idea of them as bureaucratic manipulators – the opening episodes shows that they are more than capable of using brutal tactics when the need arises.
This is Narcos after all. More blood will be spilled.
How much of Narcos season three is based in reality?
The first thing to point out this year is that while actor Pedro Pascal returns as Agent Javier Pena, in real life both Pena and his partner Steve Murphy (played by Boyd Holbrook in seasons one and two) left Colombia soon after Escobar’s death.
However, while Pena’s reappearance is not based in reality, many of the events of the Cali Cartel’s rise and fall documented in the upcoming episodes are based in fact.
In the new season, Pena works alongside two new DEA agents Chris Feistl and Daniel Van Ness – both these characters are based in fact. Agent Feistl really existed, while Van Ness is based partly on his real-life partner David Mitchell.
The men received a call from a Cali insider called Jorge Salcedo, director of security for one of the bosses – it was his help which eventually led to the downfall of the Cali Cartel. He is now in a witness protection programme in the United States.
“It was very risky, but I was trapped in a nightmare, in a totally corrupt environment. I had to escape,” he told the LA Times in 2007. However, it was not until 2014 that the US government officially declared the destruction of the Cali Cartel.
That story is still to come. When season three opens, cartel boss Gilberto is planning a way to extract himself from the business and keep hold of his riches. He announces to his associates that within six months they will have severed their links to the cocaine trade. Not everyone is buying it however, including the DEA, who have already turned their attention to the Calis following the fall of Escobar.
Corruption and coke –this is where Narcos season three begins. Are you ready for another hit?
Narcos season three launches on Netflix on Friday 1st September