STORY WRITTEN TY CHRIS CAMERON
For Digital First Media
When DEA agents Javier Peña and Steve Murphy were initially approached by Netflix producers about turning their experiences in the manhunt for the infamous Colombian drug cartel leader, Pablo Escobar, into a television series, they were skeptical.
“We didn’t think anyone would be interested in this,” Murphy said during a recent phone interview. “We had tried to develop a story before and it never went anywhere.”
After meeting with series producer, Eric Newman, and learning that the show was moving forward, Peña and Murphy still had reservations. They worried that Hollywood would glorify a man that they had spent years helping Colombian police forces track down and ultimately kill in December 1993 on a rooftop in his hometown of Medellin. A man they refer to not just as a “narco,” or drug trafficker, but as a “narco-terrorist” for his role in the deaths of thousands of innocent people in his bloody rise to power as head of the Medellin Cartel.
During the 1980s Escobar’s Medellin Cartel supplied 80 percent of the cocaine coming into the U.S. At his peak, Escobar was one of the richest people in the world with an estimated net worth of $30 billion by the early 1990s. He ruled through violence and intimidation and expanded his global influence over the Colombian cocaine drug trade through an expansive network of traffickers. The cartel’s motto when dealing with the government or law enforcement was “plata o plomo,” silver or lead. Threats to his empire were either bribed or faced death.
In the years leading to his incarceration in his personal prison, “La Cathedral,” which Murphy refers to as the “deal of a lifetime,” and the violent 18 months that proceeded his escape, the agents worked with the Colombian task force, Search Bloc, charged with hunting down and ultimately killing Escobar. Peña and Murphy did not want to see Escobar portrayed as a 20th Century Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
“We explained this to Eric and as far as we’re concerned, he lived up to his word,” Murphy said. “Escobar did some good things for his country, but none of it came without some payback. He wasn’t Robin Hood, he was a master manipulator. He didn’t give his money away because he was a good guy, he wanted something in return.”
“Robin Hood didn’t kill 15,000 innocent people,” Peña added.
In 2015, a 10-episode series titled “Narcos” premiered on Netflix starring Boyd Holbrook as Murphy and Pedro Pascal as Peña. The series returned in 2016, chronicling the final months and ultimate capture of Escobar. The agents agreed to share their story with network producers and ended up working as technical consultants.
It is a violent, fast-paced show that details the amazing lengths that law enforcement went through to track down and capture Escobar and his cartel. Murphy and Peña are two DEA agents working in Colombia to help Colombian authorities achieve this enormous task.
“The writers and producers wanted us to tell them everything we could remember about our experiences in Colombia,” Murphy said.
“We told them the true story,” Peña said. “Obviously there’s some creative license to make things interesting for TV, but the chronology is pretty accurate.”
The two former partners make cameos in the final episode of the second series, which embellishes the role that Peña had with Escobar’s rival drug lords.
“If I’d been supplying them with information like it’s portrayed, I’d be in jail right now,” he said.
The agents worked in Colombia while car bombings and assassinations were a daily occurrence and Escobar put a price on the heads of any law enforcement officer. For a DEA agent the price was $300,000.
“My biggest fear was being in the wrong place at the wrong time because of the car bombings,” Peña said.
“My family had an idea of what was going on,” Murphy said, “but I never went into details of the danger we were facing. We were going out on raids with the Colombian National Police as drug labs were seized. During the 18 months following Escobar’s escape from prison there were 143 Colombian National Police killed as a direct result of that case. That’s unheard of.”
“We always say that the real heroes are the Colombian National Police,” Peña continued. “They took back their country from the criminals.”
The presentation that the agents will deliver about their experiences in the manhunt for Escobar is one that they have been crafting over the years. The former partners have spent time as consultants and guest speakers sharing their knowledge about the tactics that they learned in the field during their time in Colombia. Their presentations have been delivered to law enforcement agencies and on college campuses worldwide.
During their “Capturing Pablo” show, Murphy and Peña will discuss information not featured in “Narcos” followed by a Q&A session with the audience.
“The response to this show has been great and has opened to door for us to new opportunities,” Murphy said. “We tell the true story of what happened to Pablo Escobar and show what happened on the day that he was killed.”