Narcos, the Netflix original TV series depicting the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar and the Cali Cartel in Colombia, was one of the streaming service’s first really buzzy shows and it’s really not hard to see why: We love our true crime, we love our history dramatised (see: made sexier), and we love a good villain. We also love heroes that sometimes err on the naughty side to get the job done, just like Steve Murphy and Javier Peña, the American DEA agents who took on the mammoth task of bringing Escobar to justice in the late-‘80s and early ‘90s.
On Friday July 19 the two agents will be in Perth, speaking at the Astor Theatre as part of their Australian conversation tour, talking about capturing Escobar, the Cali Cartels and the Mexican Drug War. It promises to be a fascinating evening, with a few tickets still available via this LINK, and you can get a taste of what to expect thanks to our interview with them on what just happened to be the 25th anniversary of Escobar’s death.
Hi guys, thanks for having a chat with us today! First up can you tell us a bit about the upcoming Australian Conversation tour?
Steve Murphy: The reason we do this is we want the world to know the truth about what really happened. We’re four seasons into Narcos now and people will say, ‘Hey did that really happen is that true?’ Well heck yeah it was true! A lot of people don’t realise that it was and the violence you see in Narcos was actually a lot worse in real life! If they had put the real violence in there it probably would have been too violent for TV!
As always, it’s to tell the truth, but we also want young people to know this is not a glamorous thing, it’s not a lifestyle you want to lead, a career path you want to choose. Because when you get in there there might be a lot of money, but there’s only one way to get out, and that’s a bullet to the head. We also wanna make sure that people aren’t thinking Pablo was some kind of hero figure that should be glamourised.
Javier Peña: It’s a lesson in history about one person. We take the audience from the very beginning to the end of Pablo’s career. Photos, videos… it’s not a lecture, it’s just a chance for us to show the real story.
At what point during your time in Colombia did you realise Pablo Escobar wasn’t your average Narco trafficante?
Javier: I got there in ’88 and I did not know much about Pablo, and when we started investigating him we realised, especially in the United States, every time there was a big drug seizure or murders, Pablo’s name would come up. And then all of a sudden we started realising this guy was responsible for 80% of the cocaine that was reaching the world, and billions of dollars were coming back to him in cash. And then of course the violence. That’s the thing we stress, Pablo’s industry was built on violence – Narco Terrorism – so that’s when we realised he was not your ordinary drug trafficker.
Just how bad was the violence?
Steve: It absolutely was a war. Pablo Escobar was the world’s first Narco Terrorist, he introduced car bombs into Colombia. And you know as law enforcement officers we had never seen car bombs before. That’s a terrorist activity that usually happens on the other side of the world, so that was new for us. We saw things that no person should ever have to see. But the truth is that’s the reality of life. Evil people are out there, who have no conscience or guilty feelings about killing or torturing or dismembering, maiming… Not only killing you but your wife and children, your parents. We saw so many horrific acts.
Did the mission become almost obsessive?
Javier: There was a lot of times when we were just fed up, basically ready to give up, and I remember just saying, ‘Let’s just let this guy surrender, let him do whatever he wants’, because there were so many people getting killed. But on that same line when you saw your friends get killed, it would re-energise you to not give up. But there were many times, the indiscriminate bombings, the terrorism, the innocent people getting killed, that would get to you. But then you just have to say, ‘We cannot give up’.
Steve: The show portrays us at certain points, especially Javier’s character, and it’s all Hollywood, it’s not true. We tell our audience, did we break policy and procedures and rules of the DEA? Yeah pretty much every day because we weren’t supposed to be on operations, we weren’t supposed to leave the base. The one thing we never did we never compromised our integrity or broke the law while we were there.
What was it like in the immediate aftermath of Pablo’s death?
Javier: When I heard about it, even though I was not there, I was the happiest guy in the world. Because justice had been done. For so many innocent people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time getting killed. What did they have to do with this? All killed because of one mad man, Pablo Escobar. I was relieved. I was just very happy, very relived. We needed it. Innocent people were not gonna get killed at his hand anymore.
Steve: My feeling was the same as Javier. We felt a huge weight lift off our shoulders. The citizens of Colombia were safer now because he was gone. That night we went back to the station and tripled the guard on the perimeter fence because we were expecting retaliatory attacks. It was actually one of the quietest nights I spent in Medellin. The next day Javier got back from Miami and he flew up to Medellin, and he met with the cops at the base to congratulate everybody, and then we both flew back to Bogota. We got to the embassy that evening and my wife and some of other ladies had planned a party in the DEA office space, so quite literally we partied til the next morning and celebrated.
Is it hard when you take down someone like Escobar only to see something like the Cali Cartel rise up so quickly after him?
Steve: It comes down to the basic laws of economics, that’s supply and demand. So if we can do something about demand, that’s how you beat Narcos at their game. As long as there is demand, there’s a lot of evil people out there to provide the supply. Javier and I are big proponents of law enforcement because we need those men and women to protect all of us. But we’re also big proponents of education, and the acceptance of personal responsibility for your actions. All elements of society need to come in to address this issue, not just kick back and say, ‘Well that’s not my problem, let the schools or doctors handle it’. We need everybody from the family structure to politicians, law enforcement, every element of society needs to get involved in this if we’re ever gonna make any headway.
Grab your tickets to NARCOS: With Steve Muphy and Javier Peña HERE.