Narcos, 02 Academy, Birmingham - review
It was the scale of the operation, mass murders and money being made that really had the audience on the edge of their seats.
Pablo Escobar was one of the world’s most brutal criminals before he was finally brought to justice and killed by the Columbian police during the early 1990s.
The main men behind his capture were DEA agents Javier Pena and Steve Murphy, who revealed their truly stunning, shocking and sensational work in capturing the world’s most notorious drugs baron.
Producing 8,000 kilogrammes of cocaine each day, Escobar was supplying 80 per cent of America’s drugs at one stage – and bearing in mind 1kg of coke was worth $800,000, it immediately puts into perspective the scale of his operation and the billions of dollars that were involved.
Whether on their tour or speaking about the Golden Globe-nominated series Narcos, which is based on their role in bringing Escobar to justice – and, ultimately, his death – the agents are always at pains to make sure Escobar is never seen as a martyr and, most importantly, is simply known for being the mass murderer he was.
The man was responsible for 15,000 deaths and, as agent Murphy so aptly put it: "Here was a man who declared war on his own country."
And yet he still retained the support of the public until one car bomb, which claimed the lives of 128 innocent people, turned the tide against him.
But during his peak of powers, Escobar had anything up to 500 assassins working for him.
Agent Pena revealed how one 15-year-old hired gun, who had shot dead 10 policeman, chillingly told them during an interview after being caught that he ‘would die for Escobar’.
Agent Murphy added: “Escobar would go to churches and hand out money to convince the people he was a good man.
“But when 128 people died in one explosion that was when he lost the faith of people. They had had enough.”
Having watched two series of the brilliant Netflix-produced series Narcos, it gives you an insight into what went on.
But, as the agents put it, the series only skims the surface and the violence on the streets of Columbia during the height of Escobar’s ‘war’ on the country was even worse than what is portrayed in the TV series.
“They managed to kill the president who wanted to enforce extradition to America. Can you believe that? They killed . . . the . . . president . . .”
Agent Murphy leaves that comment hanging in the air for a while so the audience can take it in.
They killed the president of Columbia because they didn’t like his policies. And not only that, they didn’t hide behind a conspiracy; they admitted it and were very proud of it.
“They were planting 15 bombs a day and paying people $100 to kill a policeman,” says agent Pena, again pausing to ensure the audience had fully digested what he was saying.
“Escobar was producing 1,000kg of cocaine per day – and when one kilogramme was worth $800,000 it puts it into perspective.”
Hollowing out grapefruits and filling them with drugs was particularly favourite method for shifting the product into America.
And such was Escobar’s wealth, the billionaire was actually once ranked seventh on the Forbes rich list.
He even kept hippos as pets and, to really rub salt into the agent’s wounds who were battling so hard to bring him to justice – to stop the violence and slow the flow of drugs – he even built his own prison after handing himself in, in what was one of the most bizarre trade-offs in history.
“A prison should be to keep people in, not to keep people out, but that was what Escobar did – it was a joke,” says agent Murphy. “He even had works of art on the walls.”
Escobar's reign of terror, however, was finally brought to an end on December 2, 1993, following a 16-month search that cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Once he was killed, deaths in Columbia were reduced by 80 per cent,” adds agent Pena.
But that was not the end of the story because with Escobar out of the equation, the Cali Cartel stepped up to start running the drugs empire.
They were more organised and although there were less killings the flow of drugs continued, as it does today.
But Escobar remained loved in some of the poorest areas of Medelin, where he was brought up, with more than 25,000 people attending his funeral – despite the bloodshed and deaths of so many innocent people.
The agents were given huge ovation as they left stage following a truly fascinating talk.
It would be easy to believe the Narcos series is fictional despite being based on true stories because it’s hard to take in what you are seeing.
Agents Murphy and Pena put their lives on the line every day and were faced with truly horrific deaths and threats of violence on a daily basis.
But they are now willing to share their experiences with the world and explain what the war on drugs was truly really like – and their tales were an incredible eye-opener.