10 Biggest Changes Netflix's Narcos Made To Real Life


10 Biggest Changes Netflix’s Narcos Made To Real Life

Narcos recreated the life and times of Pablo Escobar and his associates but how close does the Netflix original come to the true story?


  • Narcos took creative liberties with the real-life story of Pablo Escobar and the drug trade in Colombia, including changes to chronology and the details of some events and characters.
  • Pedro Pascal’s character, Javier Peña, was not actually involved in investigating the Cali Cartel, despite the show’s depiction.
  • Many characters in Narcos had their names changed, and the show inaccurately depicted the deaths of some characters, including Jose Santacruz Londoño and Roberto Escobar.



Dramatizing the rise and fall of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his associates, Netflix’s Narcos was an interesting recreation of a turbulent era in modern history even if the show did make some major changes to the real-life story. In its three-season run, Narcos chronicled the rise of drug kingpins like Escobar in 1980s-era Colombia and went on to capture the efforts by law-enforcement authorities to nab them up until the 1990s. Beyond the specifics of the drug trade, the wildly successful Netflix original incorporated many other socio-political elements that changed the face of South America in the 20th century’s final decades.

But just like other Netflix shows that draw inspiration from true stories, Narcos has its fair share of creative liberties. While most of these changes don’t misrepresent its central characters, history experts would be quick to pinpoint the chronology of some events. As for Escobar’s associates and the men pursuing him, some of their personal details are also altered. This includes not only their real names but the terms of their imprisonment and death. Considering how some of these real-life personalities have had their lives documented in secret security files, it’s not surprising that Netflix had to play with the truth a bit when it made Narcos.

10 Javier Peña Wasn’t Involved In The Cali Cartel Hunt

After a popular stint as former American DEA Agent Javier Peña, Pedro Pascal left Narcos after season 3. But his character remained integral to the show for his contributions to hunting down the associates of the Medellín Cartel and later the Cali Cartel. Eventually, Peña reveals the deep-rooted corruption within the Columbian government itself. This heroic character’s real-life counterpart, however, wasn’t involved in investigating the Cali Cartel (as per an interview with him on Grazia). Peña was indeed a DEA Agent who later took down the Medellín Cartel as depicted in the first season, but his activities against the Cali Cartel were fabricated.

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9 Narcos Season 1 Leaves Out Roberto Escobar

A Wanted poster featuring faces of both Pablo and Roberto Escobar

While Narcos revolved around Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel, the debut season surprisingly made no mention of Pablo’s brother Roberto Escobar. Much like his now-deceased brother, Roberto was involved in the drug trade. In fact, he was the co-founder and accountant for the Medellín Cartel. He now admits that he has left the cartel life but still owns the copyright Escobar Inc. Ironically, despite him not being featured at all, Roberto demanded that Netflix pay him a $1 billion for capitalizing on his family’s story (as reported by Fortune). The aftermath of his threats is uncertain, but the show clearly continued its successful run.

8 Cockroach And Lion Are Fictional Characters

Cockroach and the Lion looking sideways in Narcos

The double-crossing Medellín Cartel co-founder and Chilean chemist Cockroach aka Mateo Moreno was a character created for Narcos although it’s highly probable that Escobar faced many such treacherous enemies. As for The Lion, the American cartel member in charge of operations in Miami, he too was fictional. However, the character is most likely to be inspired by real-life American drug trafficker George Jung. Much like The Lion, Jung smuggled cocaine into the United States for the Medellín Cartel in the early 1980s. A more detailed look at his life is offered in the 2001 biopic Blow, in which Johnny Depp played Jung.

7 Franklin Jurado Didn’t Die In Jail

Franklin on the phone in Narcos

Franklin Jurado is introduced as the Colombian banker who handled the Cali Cartel’s accounts and money laundering operations up until his death in 1994. Jurado’s life comes crashing down in Narcos when Javier Peña arrests him in Curaçao in 1994. The banker eventually gets killed by cartel members in an American prison in the very same year. These later details clearly were added for dramatic impact as the real-life Jurado was actually arrested in Luxembourg in 1990 (as per the US Law website Justia). While Jurado did go to prison, he didn’t die there as he was released for good behavior just two years after his sentence.

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6 A Lot Of Characters Had Changed Names

Two sicarios standing side by side in Narcos

Among the many things that Netflix’s Narcos altered, names were among the most frequent changes. For instance, the Medellín Cartel sicario, La Quica was revealed to be Juan Diego Díaz. Multiple sources like a detailed Westword story from 2001 reveal that La Quica’s actual name was Dandeny Muñoz Mosquera. Similarly, Navegante’s real name was Cesar Yusti, and not Jorge Velazquez. In the sophomore season, Escobar’s loyal sicario and chauffeur El Limón is revealed to be Jhon Burges even though his real name was Alvaro de Jesús Agudelo. Similarly, DEA Agent David Mitchell is featured accurately in season 3 but under the name Daniel Van Ness.

5 José Santacruz Londoño Was Actually Killed By The Colombian Police

Jose Santacruz Londono sitting on a chair in Narcos

Much like the historical inaccuracies of Narcos: Mexico, the original Narcos also inaccurately depicted the deaths of many characters. A prime example is the Cali Cartel godfather José Santacruz Londoño who is shown to be killed in season 3 by paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño Gil. While Gil and Londoño did share a rivalry eventually, the former wasn’t directly involved in his death. In actuality, Londoño was gunned down by the Colombian police as reported by The Washington Post in 1996. An escaped fugitive at the time, he had a bounty of $2 million on his head and was killed in a gun battle with the authorities.

4 Maria Victoria Henao Fled The Country After Pablo’s Death

Maria Victoria Henao on the phone in Narcos

Shortly after Pablo Escobar’s death in season 2 of Narcos, his widowed wife Maria Victoria Henao is shown to meet the Cali Cartel leader and banker Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela. Instead, the real-life Maria quickly fled from Colombia along with her two children as per All That’s Interesting. As Narcos obviously delved further into the affairs of the cartel after Escobar’s death, it didn’t include Maria’s whereabouts. While she sought to gain asylum in Germany and Mozambique, her efforts were to no avail before finally getting shelter in Bueno Aries, Argentina. Argentine newspaper Pagina 12 also reported her being imprisoned for a few months on suspicions of money laundering.

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3 Jorge Salcedo Didn’t Kill Navegante

Navegante looking sideways in Narcos

In the latter half of Narcos season 3, Navegante is killed by Cali Cartel security head-turned-DEA informant Jorge Salcedo. However, as the real-life Salcedo told NME, this scene was purely fictional. As for who actually killed Navegante, Salcedo added “I think the DEA guys did that.” He revealed that on the night of Navegante’s death, he rushed to ensure the security of his family (whom he referred to as his “most beloved possession”). Contrary to how Narcos depicted his character, he also told NME that it didn’t make sense for him to kill a killer as he “never killed anybody” in his life.

2 Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia Was Set Up In 1997

AUC officials having a meal together in Narcos

The right-wing paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) played a major part in the second and third seasons of Narcos even though its existence and rise don’t fit the show’s chronology of events. While the AUC was indeed involved in drug trafficking operations and other illegal activities like the mass murder of innocent civilians, the organization began operating only in 1997. Meanwhile, the Narcos seasons were set in the early 1990s with season 2 particularly covering Pablo Escobar’s death in 1993. With the third season set directly after this death, it is certain that the show never reached the point of AUC’s creation in 1997.

1 Pablo Didn’t Spend His Final Days With His Father

Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar in Narcos

The final episodes of Narcos season 2 captured the loneliness of Pablo Escobar (as is evident from the “Bored Escobar” memes that followed) with an emotional subplot finding him spending his last days with his aged father. However, there is no recorded evidence of Pablo reuniting with his father before his death. In fact, a day before his death on December 2 1993, he was actually celebrating his 44th birthday the night before. As per Britannica, the so-called “King of Cocaine” was grandly celebrating his big day allegedly with wine, marijuana and the usual birthday cake. Moments later, his Medellín hideout was discovered and Colombian forces shot him to death.

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