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Real Life Narcos vs. TV Characters… Get ready for Narcos: Mexico!

When Netflix launched its hugely popular show “Narcos” back in August 2015, global audiences got a taste of what life is like in some Latin American cities ravaged by the cartel wars. The show was a pioneer in some respects. Most of the dialogue was actually in Spanish (no weird half English-half Spanish conversations like in “Queen of the South”) and the cast was mostly Latino. The drug wars were also now part of mainstream television after being relegated to cheap -but let’s be honest, highly addictive- narco telenovelas, like “La Reina del Sur” or “Dueños del Paraíso.” So, if you’re not familiarized with the true stories of Latin American Drug Lords, here’s a small taste of how real life narcos look like…

The show was not without controversy. In Colombia, some saw no point in revisiting a traumatic past and selling a violent image to the world. Elsewhere in Latin America and the U.S., others were unhappy with this parade of bad hombres on the screen, particularly in the Trump era and its politics of division, especially against immigrants and Latinos.

The first two seasons of “Narcos” dealt with the rise and fall of Colombian kingpin Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria. From his Medellín headquarters, Escobar changed the history of Colombia by generating immense wealth, confronting the government and bringing violence to the streets. The third season showed the change of guard in the Colombian drug trade by focusing on the post-Escobar era of the Cali cartel, made up of elegant bosses.

Netflix is ready to release the fourth season, “Narcos: Mexico,” which will focus on the expansion of the Guadalajara Cartel. To get ready, here’s a list of 11 “Narcos” characters and their real-life counterparts.

Narcos seasons 1-3

1. Pablo Escobar

Credit: Pablo. Digital image. FourFourTwo. November 14, 2016.

Loved by some but ultimately hated by many, Escobar left behind a legacy of excess and blood. He thought of himself as a modern-day Robin Hood, a man of the people who would take from the rich to give to the poor.  

Credit: Narcos. Netflix

The TV Escobar: “Narcos” producers crafted a complex character that showed the best and the worst of human nature. Escobar appears as a sort of Colombian Tony Soprano: a loving family man and a sadist killer. The fact that Brazilian Wagner Moura gave life to this famous Colombian was controversial at first, but soon his acting skills made us forget his strange accent.

2. Javier Peña

Credit: Javier. Digital Image. Sensacine. September 21, 2017.

A badass Texan DEA agent who investigated the Medellin and Cali cartels with his colleague Stephen Murphy. You can see the real-life narcs here.

Credit: Narcos. Netflix

The TV Peña: Javi was played by Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal (you probably remember him for getting his eyes popped out in “Game of Thrones”). His involvement in the downfall of the Cali Carte in season three of the show is purely fictional, as he was not involved in that risky operation.

3. Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha

Credit: Gonzalo. Digital Image. El Heraldo. March 9, 2018.

An old-school drug lord who began his criminal career dealing with emeralds. His knowledge of trade routes made him a key element of the Medellin Cartel. His nickname was “El Mexicano” because of his love for old mariachi movies and music. He was gunned down in 1989.

Credit: Narcos. Netflix

The TV Gacha: One of our fave Latino actors, Luis Guzmán, portrayed “El Mexicano” in “Narcos.” It’s all good, but what does the fact that a Puerto Rican actor plays a Colombian tell us about typecasting in Hollywood? Are there not enough Colombians auditioning in Hollywood?

4. Virginia Vallejo / Valeria Vélez

Credit: Virgina. Digital Image. Wikipedia. 

The producers decided to change the name of this key character in Escobar’s epic story. Virginia Vallejo is a TV journalist who was romantically involved with Escobar. She went into exile in the U.S. in 2006 after denouncing the involvement of politicians with the cartels. In 2007 she wrote a memoir: “Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar.”

Credit: Narcos. Netflix

The TV Valeria Vélez: This fictional character based on Vallejo was portrayed by Mexican-American actress Stephanie Sigman. The steamy scenes between her and Escobar are a bit gratuitous.

Read: El Chapo’s Text Exchange with Kate Will Give You Relationship Envy

5. Hélmer “Pacho” Herrera

Credit: Pancho. Digital Image. Entity. August 8, 2017.

One of the key figures in the Cali Cartel who also went by the monickers of “H7” and “Robapapas” (Potato stealer). He was a master money launderer, which guaranteed his rise in the organization. He was captured in 1996 and killed in jail two years later during a soccer match.

Credit: Narcos. Netflix

The TV Pacho: Sometimes being powerful translates into being yourself. The “Narcos” version of “Pacho” became a queer symbol, an openly gay narco whose main show of power is dancing with and kissing his boyfriend in a bar full of macho thugs.

Read: The Social Media Posts of El Chapo’s Sons And Other Narcos Are Still Online For Everyone To See

6. President César Gaviria

Credit: Presidente Gaviria. Digital Image. Philippine News. February 11, 2017.

The rise of the cartels benefited from generations of corrupt politicians in Colombia. This is why the presidency of Gaviria stands out: he was tough with the cartels while being a master negotiator. Escobar was shot during his presidency. He later became the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States.

Credit: Narcos. Netflix

The TV President: In “Narcos” he is portrayed by Mexican actor Raul Mendez in perhaps his finest and most underrated performance in the show. President Gaviria is shown as a calculative politician who was determined in capturing Escobar at any cost.

Read: 20 Facts To Know About Colombia Before You Make That Big Trip

7. Amado Carrillo Fuentes a.k.a. El Señor de Los Cielos

Credit: Amado. Digital Image. The Economic Times. January 22, 2017.

Amado Carrillo Fuentes had perhaps the most hazardous life the drug world has known. He became a master smuggler in the U.S.-Mexico border. He infamously died during a plastic surgery procedure that would alter his facial features to avoid capture. His saga is told in the narcotelenovela “El Señor de Los Cielos.”

Credit: Narcos. Netflix

The TV Señor de Los Cielos: With none of the main characters returning for “Narcos: Mexico,” this character is the link between seasons 3 and 4 of the show. José María Yazpik plays Carrillo Fuentes as a free-spirited norteño with an indomitable nature.

Read: 20 Things on Netflix Latinas Should Binge

8. Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela

Credit: Narcos. Netflix / Gilberto. Digital image. Die Young. August 1, 2017.

One of the founders of the infamous Cali Cartel, Don Gilberto was Escobar’s nemesis. Whereas Escobar resolved issues through violence, Gilberto preferred to bribe cops and politicians. He is currently serving a 30-year sentence.

The TV Gilberto: He is played in the show by legendary Mexican actor Damián Alcázar, who creates a glamourized version of the narco. Perhaps modeled after one of the Corleones, Gilberto is a skillful orator and a businessman of impeccable taste who despised violence.  

Read: Here’s the Top 24 Netflix Original Shows Created By Latinxs 

“Narcos: Mexico”

9. Ernesto “Don Neto” Fonseca Carrillo

Credit: Joaquín. Digital Image. CMX / Neto. Digital Image. Vice. July 28, 2016.


Fonseca Carrillo could very well be considered the father of the Mexican cartels. He founded the Guadalajara Cartel, which later branched out into the many criminal organizations we know today. Don Neto is responsible for the killing of DEA Agent, Enrique Camarena, who will also appear in “Narcos: México”. He is currently serving the last 9 years of a 40-year sentence in house arrest. Joaquín Cosío will be portraying the role of Rafael Fonseca Carrillo.

10. Rafael Caro Quintero

Credit: Tenoch. Digital Image. códigoespagueti.com. December 21, 2017. / Rafael. Digital Image. El Universal. April 12, 2018.


Rafael is one of the most looked-after fugitives in the world. He was one of the founders of the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1970s, from which kingpins like El Chapo emerged. He’s also responsible for the death of Enrique Camarena, even though he has denied it. Tenoch Huerta will be playing the role of Caro Quintero.

Read: Here’s The Insane Story of Mexico’s Most Famous Female Serial Killer

11. Benjamín Arellano Félix

Credit: Alfonso. Digital Image. Plano Informativo. May 16, 2017 / Benjamín. Digital Image. La Polaka. January 23, 2015.


Together with his brother Ramón he formed and led the Tijuana Cartel, which held a long and bloody war with El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel. After being extradited in 2011, he now serves sentence in the United States. Telenovela heartthrob Alfonso Dosal will play the part of Arellano Félix  

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