The Medellin Cartel operated out of Colombia in the late ‘70s and flourished throughout the ‘80s. At one point the Medellin narcos were some of the richest people in the entire world even having their wealth recognized by the likes of Forbes magazine. There was also a point in the United States when 80% of the cocaine in the country was coming from pipelines operated by the Medellin Cartel. In this time there were also countless Colombian and US citizens losing their lives to the drug war in which they had no role, this is when both police and federal agents started to notice and vowed to take action. Pablo Escobar was famously killed in 1993 after many of his compatriots had already turned themselves in. He was shot down amidst police crossfire while fleeing across the rooftops of Medellin, Colombia.
Talk of the famous Colombian cocaine cowboys had died down in the last decade until Netflix released their hit show Narcos to critical acclaim. Now the story of the boys of Medellin has become relevant again and people are curious about what really happened in from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s. Escobar didn’t just help create a drug pipeline from Colombia to Mexico to the United States, he also helped countless cities rise back up from a destitute state. These are the real people who were by the side of Pablo Escobar through the good and the worst times.
15 Gustavo Gaviria
The cousin and right hand man of Pablo Escobar, Gaviria also served as the financial head of the uber prosperous Medellin cartel. Since the early ‘70s Gaviria and Escobar worked together in their lives of crime, Gaviria generally functioned as the brains of the operation. Gaviria stacked up a fortune that is comparable to the other Medellin cartel founders but he kept a low profile in hopes of preserving his lavish lifestyle for future generations.
His death has been widely speculated to this day. Many think that Gaviria was murdered by the Search Block of Colombia, an organization of National Police of Colombia special ops. The death of his cousin had immense impact on Escobar and he turned himself in shortly thereafter. Although he was affected by Gaviria’s death, Escobar did not attend the funeral out of paranoia. Instead he sent his assistant who relayed the funeral to Escobar via radio.
14 Hermilda Gaviria De Escobar
One of Escobar’s biggest fans was, you guessed it, his mom. Until the day she died she defended the honor of her son and loved him despite the countless gruesome murders that he ordered. She died in 2006 at the age of 89 in the town of Medellin where her son also passed away. Hermilda visited Escobar’s tomb every morning until the day that she died and went on record saying that she never saw her boy Pablo as a criminal. On the day that Pablo Escobar was gunned down on the rooftops of Medellin he had an unmailed letter to his mother placed in his pocket. Hermilda was on a mission to spread the word about all of the good that her son did so that his legacy could live on. Chilean star Paulina Garcia plays Hermilda in the Netflix series Narcos and she looks far different in real life than she does in her wig and makeup for the show.
13 Alvaro de Jesus Agudelo AKA El Limón
Nicknamed El Limon, meaning the Lemon in english, Agudelo was the most trusted bodyguards to Pablo Escobar. In Escobar’s last minutes El Limon was the only person by his side protecting him. He fired back at police to cover his boss’s escape attempt in Medellin. It was after shots were fired that Escobar pulled out two pistols and also fired back at officers while running on the rooftops in Colombia. After the two men opened fire back at officers, the police answered with automatic rifles at will. Both El Limon and Escobar were gunned down at this point in the shootout.
The whole country of Colombia mourned that day since Escobar did give a lot back to the war torn communities of the nation. There has been much controversy over the death of Escobar since the bullet that killed him was lodged just above his ear, where he told his brother he would put it when he knew he’d come to his meet his end. Many think that El Limon offed his boss in order to protect his life from being taken by police. Only those two men who died on the roof that day will ever know the truth.
12 Virginia Vallejo
The television anchorwoman, journalist, socialite, media personality and author was also the known mistress of Pablo Escobar. In the television show Narcos she is named Valeria Velez because Vallejo is now a political asylee living in the United States. In 2007 she published a book where she discusses her relationship with the drug lord as well as the origins of rebel organizations in Colombia and the links among Medellin and Cali cartels among other juicy topics. The countless amazing stories about the dramatic and murderous drug cartels awarded Vallejo a number one Spanish best-seller status in both Colombia and the United States.
The police took Vallejo out of Colombia in 2006 after she pointed the finger at tons of drug lords, getting them put in jail and/or extradited. After a very public display of death threats appeared online under her name Vallejo was granted political asylum in the United States.
11 Juan Pablo Escobar
Juan Pablo is Pablo Escobar’s first and only born son. Escobar famously called the young boy just before his death by police crossfire in 1993. After his father’s death and fleeing for safety during much of his young life Juan Pablo changed his name to Sebastian Marroquin. Marroquin now works as an architect in Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires Argentina and lives with his wife and daughter. Although the entire family has changed their names from Escobar they continue to make money off of their likeness. After establishing himself in Argentina Marroquin wrote a book entitled Sins of My Father. In the book and afterward Marroquin has been visiting the families of his father’s victims to make amends for the murder that they had to deal with. Sebastian Marroquin has a sordid relationship with his father’s legacy and has publicly made a stink about the new Netflix show Narcos glorifying the heartache of thousands upon millions of people.
10 Roberto Escobar
Aside from being his blood brother, Roberto also served as the accountant to Pablo Escobar and still lives in Medellin to this day. Roberto stayed far away from all of the killing and simply handled all of the books for the cartel. He actually states that he called out for his brother to stop with all of the violence, but that didn’t stop police from searching for both Pablo and Roberto in the wild goose chase of the late ‘80s. He eventually went to prison and was released in 2003. After being released he vowed to do good. We learned this because a Vice reportedly went on the Pablo Escobar tour that ends with a Q&A session with none other than Roberto Escobar himself. The eccentric millionaire vows that he has found the cure to HIV after his extensive work in equestrian medicine. Roberto is one of the few members of the Medellin cartel living outside of prison, probably because he’s been far removed from the violence of the ordeal.
9 Dandeny Munoz Mosquera AKA La Quica
This dangerous man was the leader in executions for the Medellin cartel and referred to by at least one DEA agent as “the Al Capone of the drug-murder circuit”. Estimations for how many people he has killed is somewhere in the hundreds although nobody actually knows the true body count. When Avianca Flight 203 went down, killing 110 civilians, credit went to La Quica. He is also suspected in the murders of the Medellin Cartel, opposing Cali Cartel, government officials, and police officers. He was traveling through Queens, New York in 1991 and was arrested for using a fake passport. While La Quica was in jail federal prosecutors tacked several charges onto his sentence including conspiracy to import & distribute cocaine, substantive importation of cocaine, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, the extraterritorial murder of two citizens from the United States among other charges. Many testified to La Quica being one of the main killers in the cartel and he was put away for life plus 45 years in federal lock up.
8 Maria Victoria Henao Escobar
Pablo Escobar met Maria and fell in love, much to the chagrin of her family who did not approve of the union. In 1976 the pair eloped and began their lives together as a married couple. She was just 15 years old and he 27 when they married. Escobar was married to his loyal wife up until his death despite multiple affairs and discretions. The couple had two children together.
After his assassination, Maria fled Colombia with her family to escape whatever punishment her husband’s behavior would bring whether it was from the government or from other cartels. The three refugees tried so many countries and nobody would take them before settling in a small apartment in Argentina. They lived a good life until people discovered who they were and the nightmare started all over again. The entire family has changed their names for fear of being recognized as being related to the king of drug trafficking, Pablo Escobar.
7 John Jairo Velasquez AKA Popeye
It has been said that Popeye killed over 300 people at the will of his boss Pablo Escobar before spending more than two decades in a Colombian prison. He was a hitman or ex-sicario and an intricate part of the crime structure of the Medellin cocaine smuggling cartel. Popeye was welcomed to the inner circle of Pablo Escobar and eventually was promoted to lieutenant commanding several other ex-sicarios. This is how he became responsible for ordering thousands of murders and orchestrating countless car bombs for retaliations in the ongoing drug war.
He was arrested in 1992 and served 22 years before being released on parole in 2014. Velasquez is reinventing himself after prison as a YouTube sensation warning young people against a life of crime. The ex-killer now has around 100,000 followers that watch his videos that show the devastation that happens in the wake of a life of crime.
6 Carlos Lehder
Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas was born in Colombia, but currently resides in US Prison for his work in the Colombian Medellin drug cartel that ruled the world in the 1980’s. Before getting his start in drug smuggling Lehder would smuggle stolen cars from the US to Colombia to be sold in his family’s used car lot. Not only was Lehder a founding member of the Medellin cartel he was also a founding member of Muerte e Sequestradores (MAS). MAS was a paramilitary group that specialized in retaliation against anyone who caused harm to cartel leaders and their families. He was inspired to found this group after being kidnapped by government supported and cartel run M-19. He escaped the kidnapping but was shot in the leg in the process. Lehder was considered one of the most notorious and important cartel leaders both of MAS and Medellin. He is currently the largest drug trafficker to have been persecuted in the United States.
5 Fabio Ochoa Vasquez
Due to his involvement in the 1986 murder of US informant Barry Seal, Fabio was punished much more severely than his two older brothers. He is the only Ochoa brother to have been extradited to the United States and he’s still serving his sentence in US Federal Prison. This is because after serving his five-year plea bargained sentence that he struck with the Colombian government with his brothers, Fabio couldn’t stay out of the trade.
Fabio was arrested three years after his release from prison for accepting payments for cocaine and contributing knowledge to the drug trade. After his arrest, the US pushed hard for extradition and despite many protests and lobbying from Colombian officials, they achieved their goal. After he was arrested the government seized farms, businesses and millions of dollars from the Colombian narco. In the Netflix series Narcos, Fabio is played by Colombian-born actor Roberto Urbina.
4 Juan David Ochoa Vasquez
The major player in Colombian and worldwide drug trade was a leader of the Medellin cartel. He was born and raised in Colombia where he eventually died in 2013. Juan David was the oldest of the three Ochoa Vasquez brothers. The eldest of three brothers turned himself into Colombian authorities with Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez in 1991. The gangster plea bargained and was released from jail only 5 years later in 1996. One possible reason that the Ochoa brothers were able to plea bargain for smaller time is because they were the lesser-known leaders of the infamous Medellin cartel. While in prison Juan David got to hang out with his two brothers, sew saddles and eat their mother’s cooking. Their mother was quite concerned that whoever made their food would try to poison them.
3 George Jung
Large scale cocaine smuggling expert George Jung was a huge part of the cocaine trade in the 80s in Colombia. The rest of the Medellin cartel would refer to the American-born man as Boston George or El Americano. In fact, it was his life that was portrayed by Johnny Depp in the cult classic film Blow. Jung served 20 years in prison for drug trafficking, he was released in 2014. Jung did a small stint in jail for marijuana trafficking where his cellmate introduced him to the trade of Colombian drug trafficking.
In the Medellin cartel George Jung worked mostly as a middleman but proved irreplaceable when he’d come up with billion dollar ideas to traffic large amounts of cocaine at once. He was arrested at his Massachusetts mansion in 1987 but he skipped bail and went on the run with his entire family. Before too long Jung became involved with another drug trade. His partners ratted him out and he was finally arrested in 1994.
2 Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha
This known narco also went by the name El Mexicano and was once acknowledged as one of the world’s most successful drug dealers. In a 1988 issue of Forbes magazine Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha was in the annual list of the world’s billionaires. This is even more stunning when we note that the kingpin came from a small town family made up mostly of modest but hard-working pig farmers. In the ‘70s the young man relocated to Bogota, Colombia and got involved with known drug dealer and queen of cocaine Veronica Rivera de Vargas.
Rodriguez Gacha met up with the Ochoa family in Medellin and soon the Medellin cartel was born. This cartel leader rose in status when he began to pioneer new routes through Mexico through both Los Angeles, CA and Houston, TX. Aside from creating drug trafficking pipelines, he also owned a string of ranches with Mexican-inspired names. After the government cracked down on Medellin Rodrigeuz Gacha went into hiding until his son eventually led the Feds straight to him. He was gunned down by a machine gun to the face in a police shootout.
1 Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez
Jorge was one of two brothers that were crucial in founding the Medellin cartel. Before becoming narcos the Ochoa Vasquez clan was mainly in the business of cattle ranching and restaurants. The family switched over from ranching to drug trafficking in the ‘70s until a crackdown on the Medellin cartel forced him to flee to Panama with his brothers. Like many of his other kingpin friends Jorge Luis was terrified of being extradited to the United States.
On the Netflix series Narcos, Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez is played by actor Andre Mattos who is best known for his roles in Brazilian sitcoms. In 1987 the real Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez was listed in Forbes as one of the world’s twenty richest men. Shortly thereafter an extremist group began calling out hits on drug lords, causing a bit of a scare. At this point, the Colombian government began offering reduced prison sentences to be served in Colombia in an attempt to entice kingpins that were terrified of extradition to turn themselves in.
Sources: nytimes.co, theguardian.com, dailyentertainmentnews.com, xpatnation.com, vice.com
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