“Narcos” has received critical acclaim for turning the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar into a gripping drama that shows how the War on Drugs is akin to fighting a hydra. Every time law enforcement takes down a major drug lord, another takes its place, and business continues as usual. The most recent drug lord to go down, El Chapo, said as much in his famed interview with Sean Penn just a few months before his capture.
Netflix has yet to renew “Narcos” for a third season. But if it does continue, it will do so without Wagner Moura and his powerful performance as Escobar. With his death following an attack from Colombian special forces at the end of Season 2, Escobar and his Medellin cartel are now finished. But that cocaine hunger won’t feed itself.
The closing episodes of “Narcos” brings the rise of Escobar’s successors: the Cali Cartel and its top men, Helmer “Pacho” Herrera and Escobar’s former partner, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela.
This season, the Calis helped bring down Escobar through an unholy alliance with Judy Moncada — whose husband Escobar killed — as well as the extremist anti-communist Castaños brothers and the CIA, who wanted assurance they had say in who took over the drug trade.
Ultimately, they got what they wanted, as Gilberto triumphed over Escobar’s family by making them an offer they couldn’t refuse: the Calis would help them get out of the country in exchange for Pablo’s drug fortune. Not only did Tata Escobar lose her husband, she also lost everything they built through their criminal empire.
So what comes next? Well, according to the history books, the Cali Cartel picks up right where the Medellin Cartel left off and becomes the most powerful drug ring not only in Latin America, but in the entire world.
According to Time Magazine, the Calis’ rise had been in the works from the moment Escobar entered La Catedral. At the peak of their power, they were responsible for 90 percent of the world’s cocaine sales thanks to a powerful system of connections that enabled them to get their hooks into military and political organizations in many countries, including Russia and the U.S.
“Narcos” hints at the effects of this complex system of crime in its final Season 2 scenes, as the DEA notes that drug sales have only increased since Escobar was killed. It’s noted that the Calis did business completely differently from the Medellin Cartel, which allowed it to quickly gain strength as law enforcement focused on Escobar.
While the Medellins built their system entirely around Escobar, the Calis used a cadre of independent but close-knit cells that exchanged information and cash with great efficiency. It’s estimated that at their height, the Calis were raking in over $7 billion each year.
Still, this doesn’t mean that the Calis couldn’t be brought down by eliminating their top men, and the DEA was able to do that with some unexpected help.
An in-depth story from the Los Angeles Times in 2007 revealed that the CIA received assistance from Jorge Salcedo, a former Colombian army official who was brought in by the Calis to devise a plan to take Escobar down. Salcedo’s plans failed, but he stayed on as the cartel’s head of security.
Eventually, Salcedo feared for his life and the life of his family, which was heightened after he was tasked with executing one of the cartel’s lead accountants because Orejuela and the Cali brass became increasingly paranoid.
Salcedo became a key informant and provided the CIA with important information that led to the capture of many of the Cali kingpins, including Orejuela, who is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence. Salcedo and his family have relocated to the U.S. and have taken on different identities.
The efforts to take down an even bigger cartel than Escobar’s empire and the story of paranoia and betrayal that led to major arrests would be the perfect way to continue the story of “Narcos.” It also leaves open the potential for even more sordid drug tales, as members of the Cali Cartel that evaded arrest build yet another cartel, starting the drug cycle anew.
As long as there’s a strong need to snort a line of cocaine in the world, drug lords will always be there to supply that itch, no matter how much blood is shed.