Narcos: The real Jorge Salcedo talks about what the show gets right

I didn’t have to be there. So they told [my friend] Mario, “We need you.” He said, “Well, I know someone who’s good. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much of   Narcos have you seen, especially of the new season? That scene where they have me and Miguel locked in a room [where Miguel asks Jorge to stay on as security head] is identical. My strategy was to avoid confrontation. To me, to anybody. My father was a general. So he told me about one or two incidents that I may have known about or was around when it happened, but it wasn’t always me who was executing all those things. As the head of security for the Cali Cartel and an eventual informant whose work nearly singlehandedly brought down the whole cartel, Salcedo (played by Matias Varela) and his story are central to the show. Instead, it ends up being an execution. My role was to be on the outside, make sure the road was clear. Now that your story is so central to a very popular TV show internationally, do you worry that it might revive interest in you? I was told we were going to meet Miguel at a farm whose code was “The Desert.” He told me, “You get there first just to make sure the clear is safe for me.” I get there, and the cars arrive there, and all of a sudden these people were just taken by force by people who work at Pacho Herrera’s farm — well, it was a luxury ranch, not a farm. I was hiding for a long time. But they have some information that somebody killed him, I don’t know how. They could to do it to me. I was hiding in my apartment with my family, protected like a bunker, loaded with guns and grenades to be able to reject any surprise taking of the apartment. I wanted to be questioned. I was never told the truth, I was lured to the place as a standard procedure. It was one of those things, I think the DEA guys did that. So my role became other than just Pablo and became to focus on intelligence. Just hide, have many places, change routes and change communications, and create a kind of a wrong idea of where you are. I asked as a courtesy, “How are you doing? 1 [to arrest Miguel]. But I know all that is always permissible in filmmaking, for the dynamics of the story, and to keep everyone’s attention and on the edge. But because I was always at the meeting, I was a witness to everything that was spoken there. Because at that point, they were suspecting about me. Do you have an example of something that might have been embellished? I was taken there. Today I am in the late 60s. Yes, well, William Rodriguez was his oldest son and his successor. It doesn’t make sense that I’m going to go kill a killer. Luckily for us, the good people at Netflix were able to connect us to Salcedo for an exclusive interview. That people might start wondering, Where is he now? They wanted to take care of all the politics and people around, because there was now a change in the importance of the Rodiguez brothers [now that Escobar had been eliminated]. I got to know I was excluded when I got a call saying I had to get there. And I told them [Cali], with these guys, you better give up. No, no. That’s where the scene of suffocation comes from — it could have happened if I didn’t have that news. I had to lose my old name, and I’ve been working as an engineer under my new name. That day … I didn’t do that. So I established connections with very high-level companies in Great Britain. It was a mess. So they had a lot of questions. Not with Harleys, they used two Land Cruisers. They were having a meeting, and they were excluding me of everything. He had very good connections, and when he retired he started working for some oil and chemical companies. At the end of the season, where they finally capture Pallomari, they have you waiting outside in a car, where you kill the hitman Navegante in self-defense. I don’t even remember how many people he killed just that day. And what stories did you tell Eric? That was the other thing. He was very well known, so eventually he was called by some friends who were connected to the cartel. And this man is a businessman, and he’s got night vision, heat detectors, and GPS.” Back then, GPS was in the hands of the military only, and I had them. They did that the same. Everyone was going to jail and Miguel said the best thing was to put William in charge of everything. I have been in witness protection for 22 years. How did you do that? You look tired.” He said, “Yes, frankly, my father is putting me to so many things.” He was openly complaining. It doesn’t matter if you’re a wife or anyone. So they needed to capture all the politicians onto their side. I got a call from Miguel, and he said, “You have to be get me out of this building,” because all of a sudden it was surrounded by police, so I had a request by Miguel. How accurate is what you’ve seen so far? But I’ve thought many times, why did they make me do that, to be there? But that’s the thing in intelligence, sometimes when you do something good, don’t tell anybody. I did not go near it. The show presents a very tense relationship between you and Miguel’s son, David. Still, he served as a consultant for the new season and spoke extensively with Narcos showrunner Eric Newman to ensure the series’ accuracy. That part is true. I saw one episode, the first or something, where they pull apart one bad guy with two motorcycles. Did those dangers include the North Valley cartel depicted in Season 3? They could do this to anybody. He became a new king, and my position was: He’s the worst enemy I have. I started using very high-level equipment for communications and location detection. Calling from a secure phone line in an undisclosed location, Salcedo, now in his late 60s, spoke at length about his time with the cartel, his life since then in the federal witness protection program, and all the things the show gets right — including some of the most harrowing scenes. They had already developed another enemy, the Norte Valley. However, they present some happenings, and they put them so that it was me that made them. I came here to protect you and your family, but I left my business my behind, so I’m done.” They said, “No way, you have to stay.” They just changed my functions. They were in total despair. Not much has been said about what sort of person was I. And at that time, there were other things going on — they were reorganizing narco-trafficking and all that. I realized later that I was like in the book 1,001 Nights, where the prince has to keep changing the story to keep people interested. One day, I came first, and he came second. No. Let it pass.”
But a few months after then, everything was falling. Who contacted you? It was kind of a double-checking of everything: How was that? How did you get involved with this project? Will you tell everyone what was done here? So I got locked in a room by the cartel. Was this a “welcome to the club” situation? The thing is, you have to remember … everyone gets emotional now about these killings that ISIS is doing here, there, everywhere. On season 3 of Netflix’s Narcos, it doesn’t take long to realize that one man is at the center of the all the action: Jorge Salcedo. If that call didn’t happen, I most likely wouldn’t be alive. Where were you? So I had sympathy [for the Cali Cartel’s goals] at that time. Was that true to life? Obviously they didn’t listen. What did you say? So the family said, “No, no, no, you stay here.”
So how old are you now? It was a cross-examination of everything. There’s a scene where the Americans are coming to arrest Miguel in his home. So I got into the meeting, and I was able to tell him what was happening [with the police], so I was able to earn his trust. We don’t have one chance with these killers. How did you get involved in the first place? Or was it a test, to see how brave you are or how you’re going to deal with this? Now that Pablo was dead, not everybody wanted to make peace with Cali. [Escobar] was bad, killing soldiers and civilians. In the show, they also depict you as someone who had a plan to leave the cartel to start your own security firm. In December ’88, my friend retired from the army abruptly. And at that point, he gave me the chance to speak to him, and I said, “William, the best advice I can give you is: Don’t inherit that throne. And then after Pablo was dead, you tried to leave the cartel? I never wanted to be a part of that, I wanted to be outside. He sometimes complained to me. My logic is fantastic: How could you think that I would be going to the streets? All I did that night was go to my most secure location to secure my most beloved possession on earth, which is my family. I’ve never killed anybody! So there’s one very tense scene in the show where you’re taken to a farmhouse for what you thought would be a meeting. In reality, I never killed him. That was attempt No. But those guys look like Boy Scouts compared to   Pablo. And there was nothing I could do. After Pablo was dead, I said, “I’m going. And I did engineering studies, and I was doing very specialized services for oil refineries and things like that. So I thought, why don’t I use my knowledge for more. Show Full Article Nobody asked me, “Would you have a problem with this?” or “Would you consider it?” They just said, “This is the plan.” I had no option of saying no. Is that right? And the [Colombian] army was very impressed as well, so I received training and helped the military as well. And William would be there, and he was given jobs too. Something very close happened to that. He had put a bomb in the building that destroyed the equivalent of the FBI in Colombia. It didn’t happen that way. The story in general remains the same [as the truth]. But I knew too much already. Was that how it really happened? For a long time I was thinking that it was the DEA who killed him. They said, “We need somebody like you to protect us.” Because Pablo Escobar at that time had already made an attempt to kill Miguel Rodriguez with a bomb explosion maybe less than a half-mile from where he lived. He is a new king who has to prove to his dad and everybody else that he’s capable. If you’ve finished the season, you probably know that he’s currently under witness protection in the United States. I will say, though it’s horrendous, it’s not far from the [actual] happenings. I was invited to L.A. Oh yes, that was a very tense moment. They never got into their brains that the best they should have done is to give up and say “Hey, Pablo is gone, we’re done.” So I had to start scanning every possibility that might have led to the Rodriguez brothers being taken down, and prevent that. And what do you think? In the whole truth, I’m not proud of what I did in general, but I’m proud of what I did in capturing Miguel. And I went there just to resolve questions. I wasn’t there, but I had people who were actually in the execution of these things. Right, they fail, but at the same time Miguel has figured you out and is trying to kill you with a plastic bag over your head. I had no option. I always got to appointments first, to check the security around and make sure there wasn’t an ambush or anything. JORGE SALCEDO: From what I have seen — and I haven’t seen the whole thing — of Narcos, it’s a very good, dynamic production. No. So your first assignment was to nail Pablo Escobar? These guys are too bad. I’ve never seen so many important people in terms of the movies and TV sector. So all of a sudden the scene became violent. I started hearing screaming. But whatever it was, I got the picture. My role kept changing. And they had all read the book, but I was interested that they knew me personally.