Far from Netflix glamour
The broken lives of drug lords
Mountains of debt despite tons of deals with cocaine, dirty sheds instead of magnificent palaces, a death in jail or in the gutter – the most powerful drug lords in the world almost always end up in pretty bad shape.
Was shot dead by a special operations team in Medellín while trying to escape: drug lord Pablo Escobar.
The case of the Colombian coke dealer, who is being brought before a court in Basel, shows impressively that drug dealing is a dirty business. Alvaro H.* (47), who belonged to the senior staff in the Colombian “Clan del Golfo”, had to sell drugs himself here in Switzerland to make ends meet.
He had debt enforcement and was sometimes even registered with the social welfare office. He had sent too much money abroad, so he lived in a run-down property in Basel, where only welfare cases operate. And even this rent he sometimes owed.
In Mallorca, on the other hand, he had bought a finca and he regularly sent his relatives thousands or even tens of thousands of francs to Spain – but in Basel Alvaro H. had hit the bottom.
Shot or imprisoned to death
While drug lords in films like “Scarface” or series like “Narcos” lead a glittering life with parties, drugs, women and great wealth, the reality usually looks different.
Colombia’s most famous drug lord Pablo Escobar (1949-1993) had to hide in simple houses and apartments until he was shot while trying to escape from the police. Other influential drug dealers sit in their cells, mostly in US prisons, until they die. Like the Mexican Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán (65). And he has no prospect of ever being released.
Disguised as a farmer on the run
The life of Rafael Caro Quintero (70), the “narco of narcos” and co-founder of the Mexican Guadalajara cartel, is anything but nice. He was arrested in his mid-30s, released again in his 60s, and landed once again on the list of the most wanted drug lords. For nine years he hid in small huts in the Sinaloa mountains.
A Mexican journalist who met him several times reported how he was always watching the sky in constant fear of US drones. How he always had armed security guards around him. And how he dressed like a simple peasant so as not to attract attention in the villages. He was caught in the summer of 2022. Before his arrest, he had hidden in dense bushes – a police dog tracked him down.
Italian mafia boss lived in a shed
Different country, same story. The Italian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano (1933-2016) lived in a shithole until his arrest. After 43 years on the run, the 50-times murderer was arrested by the Italian police in 2006 at the age of 73 in a run-down shed near the Mafia stronghold of Corleone. The former “boss of bosses” only communicated with the outside world with notes on which he told the last remaining followers when he needed fresh laundry.
He was put in solitary confinement and became depressed. There was also hepatitis C disease, memory gaps and prostate carcinoma. In 2012 he attempted suicide in prison. Provenzano died in 2016 at the age of 83 in a hospital, where he was kept under the strictest security measures until the end.
* Name changed
Airplane, freighter, courier: This is how cocaine gets into Switzerland(01:05)