Narcos: Mexico chronicles the true story of the rise of Cartel leader Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, played by Diego Luna (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). It also follows Enrique “Kiki” Camarena (Michael Peña), a DEA agent involved in a ruthless and tragic pursuit of Gallardo that ended with Camarena’s death.
A prequel to the popular original series Narcos, Narcos: Mexico stays true to its predecessor by using real-life video clips and news footage interspersed with the fictionalized dramatic interpretations of the events. While the show features sensationalized versions of these events, it’s shocking how much of it is still accurate.
‘El Padrino’ aka The Godfather
Bringing any real-life figure into a show is always a challenge, as you have to negotiate what facts to preserve and which to embellish. However, when it came to Felix Gallardo on Narcos: Mexico, the writers didn’t stray far from the reality of his life.
Felix “El Padrino” Gallardo was born in 1946 on a ranch near Sinaloa, Mexico. He did begin his life as a police officer at 17 and became a Mexican Federal Judicial Police agent. Ultimately, he was recruited by Pedro Áviles Perez, bodyguard to the Sinaloa governor Leopoldo Sánchez Celis and known drug smuggler. After Ávilesdied in a drug-related shootout, Gallardo took over the marijuana and heroin enterprise Áviles left behind under a single organization known as the Guadalajara Drug Cartel. Much of the depictions of power struggles and bribery during the show are factual, particularly Gallardo’s connections to Colombian cartels, specifically prolific Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
One small tidbit that remains unknown is whether or not Gallardo had a first wife who died of leukemia in 1968 before he rose to power. According to showrunner Eric Newman, they decided to include the character to humanize Gallardo, whether or not she was real. Newman explained that he felt painting Gallardo and his associates as “monsters” would be a “disservice” to viewers. “These are not people who sprang forth from their mothers’ wombs as monsters,” said Newman in a media roundtable on the sidelines of Netflix’s “See What’s Next Asia” event
The Reality of Rafael Caro Quintero
Rafael Caro Quintero (Tenoch Huerta) is another drug trafficker featured in the series, which is one of the main reasons Gallardo rose to power in the first place. One of the ongoing themes of his characterization on the show is his proclivities for women. On the show, Caro Quintero is in love with a girl named Sofia Conesa (Tessa Ia), whose real name is Sara Cosio.
Sofia staged her kidnapping with Rafael as some romantic interlude on the show. However, according to her real-life family, Sofia was abducted by Caro Quintero from a club and returned on Christmas Day. Not precisely the planned escape of two lovers.
Much of Sofia’s portrayal on the show is that of a risk-taking young girl who went along with a lot of Caron Quintero’s antics. However, depending on which accounts you read, there seemed to be too many kidnappings that took place in the span of their relationship. According to journalist Carlos Monsiváis in his book titled Mexican Postcards, the affair between Quintero and Cosio was a mixture of fact and fiction. In the end, Narcos: Mexicos appears to have taken several creative liberties in portraying this relationship.
The show deviates most from reality in the events surrounding Camarena’s death. On the show, it’s implied that Quintero kidnaps the famed agent Camarena without Gallardo’s knowledge. However, in actuality it was Gallardo who organized the kidnapping and ultimate death of Camarena.
Quintero’s final depictions do remain relatively faithful to reality. His first prison escape was organized by Police Chief Jorge Armando Pavon Reyes, the same man assigned to apprehend Quintero to begin with. Quintero wasn’t arrested until April 4, 1985, but was released 40 years later in 2013 after his trial was deemed unfair. US authorities weren’t aware of his “mistrial” occurrences until it was too late, and Quintero vanished. He’s on the run to this day but made a rare and extraordinary interview to a magazine called Proceso, where he continued to profess his innocence in the death of Camarena. There’s still a $20 million bounty on his head.
As for ‘El Padrino,’ he’s still serving a 40-year prison sentence after being arrested in Mexico on April 8, 1989. The show is fairly true to what actually happened in the end. While the show doesn’t end with Quintero’s final arrest and subsequent release in 2013, it does end with bounty hunters sent to find Gallardo. After Gallardo was arrested, what followed was a power vacuum that triggered violent drug wars. Mexican narcos fought for control over his drug routes and positions of power, which has stretched to the current violent turf wars in Mexico.
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