ByRedmond Bacon, writer at
Have realised my dream of finally living in Berlin. I like movies, techno, and talking too much in bars.

Spoilers for Narcos abound. Do not go on reading if you don't want to find out what happens in Narcos Season two. You have been warned.

With the Escobar narrative of the Netflix original series Narcos finally coming to an end - with him dying in a shootout - questions are being raised of what is next for the TV series. Was it going to be an open and shut show about Escobar himself, or would it take much broader brushstrokes, instead going on to take in the entire War on Drugs (more specifically cocaine) itself? It has now revealed itself to have much grander schemes, showrunner Eric Newman stating that the series will be renewed for seasons 3 and 4, and will be looking at the Cali Cartel, who in the wake of Pablo's death, grew to become the biggest cocaine smugglers in the world, and who at their peak were a multinational, multi-billion dollar operation.

As Newman himself says:

"This show has always been about cocaine. We purposely did not call the show Pablo Escobar or Medellin. In the same way that Osama Bin Laden begets ISIS, Medellin begets Cali begets the Mexican Cartels."

But who are the Cali cartel, and how did they grow to be, as the DEA once said, "The most powerful crime syndicate in history"? Here is the true story behind the Cali Cartel.

The Founders

The Orejuela Brothers
The Orejuela Brothers

The Cali cartel was founded by brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, along with José Santacruz Londoño. Together they formed the Cali Cartel in 1977. This was at a time when cocaine was a low-priority for the DEA, who stated that it "does not usually result in serious consequences, such as crime, hospital emergency room admissions or both". Beginning as a kidnapping ring known as Las Chemas, they used the lucrative sums generated from ransoms in order to fund their drug business. Starting out selling marijuana, they moved to cocaine once they realised the vast quantities of money to be had.

How They Ran Their Business

As a counterpoint to the flashier business of the Medellin Cartel, the Cali Cartel attempted to look, for all intents and purposes, like a much more modest and subtle operation. Instead of focusing their operation on the dictator-like presence of one man, the Cali Cartel functioned (much like ISIS) through multiple individual cells. Every man would have his own manager, who would then in turn report towards the top brass. This layered level of organisation made it much harder for them to be tracked by the DEA and local Colombian crime agencies.

They also moved into legitimate businesses such as pharmaceutical companies in order to give themselves credibility. The use of pharmaceutical companies also allowed them to obtain chemicals needed for cutting cocaine, whilst the various other businesses, including First InterAmericas Bank, set up in Panama, were used to launder money.

In their peak they reached a level of sophistication arguably unequalled in the history of organised crime. A Time article describes them as "the best and brightest of the modern underworld: professional, intelligent, efficient, imaginative and nearly impenetrable".

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How They Got Caught

No empire lasts forever, and the same is true for the Cali Cartel who due to renewed pressure by the DEA in the wake of Escobar's death and defection within their ranks, were eventually dismantled. The one man who was key to unspooling the organisation was former henchman Jorge Salcedo, who is still hiding in the Witness Protection programme. In an interview with the L.A. Times he explains how he was originally roped in to stop Pablo Escobar, who was committing daily terrorist attacks against the people of Colombia:

"I did not feel I was a criminal. I had been fighting against the guerrillas. Now I was against Pablo Escobar."

Once Escobar was dead, the Cali Cartel only grew in power. Salcedo didn't like the way the organisation was going, with him being ordered to take out those nearest and dearest to him. So he contacted the CIA and told them:

"I'm calling from Cali, Colombia, and I have important information on how to locate the heads of the cartel"

Thus, playing both the role of second-hand man to Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and the inside man for the joint American and Colombian operations, Salcedo eventually directed the DEA to where Miguel was staying - taken completely by surprise he was arrested in his underwear. After much legal wrangling to extradite the brothers to the USA, the entire operation was taken out. In their place came the Norte del Valle Cartel, who then became the top dogs in Colombian drug trafficking. The War on Drugs did not end - it merely changed hands.

Moral Implication of The Show Changing Tack

If the show were to begin and end with Pablo Escobar then the implication would be that the war on cocaine ends with the death of its most infamous man. Instead, by seeing how it carries on with a different cartel, and how it spreads to Mexico, creating the more recent problems with Guzman (who is currently incarcerated) it can show that the War on Drugs - as a concept - has been a vast waste of time and resources, resulting in countless deaths and atrocities. It also suggests that policy needs to be changed on a fundamental legal level, and that attitudes similarly need to completely change in order to get drug use and gang-related violence to go down. The facts are simple: a soft approach, such as legalising possession, works: a hard approach, with guns blazing and wire taps and rolling in with tanks, doesn't, and usually seeks to perpetuate a circle of violence. By expanding its world in further seasons, Narcos has the chance to be a cocaine version of The Wire.

What do you hope to see in Narcos Season 2?


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