The second season of Narcos: Mexico dropped on Netflix on Thursday, February 13.
In the show, Diego Luna plays Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, the former leader of the Guadalajara Cartel.
Today, 74-year-old Gallardo is serving time in a maximum security prison in Altiplano, Mexico.
Warning: This post contains spoilers for Narcos: Mexico.
Narcos: Mexico may be based on real events, but the show doesn’t tell the whole story. From Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna) to Rafa Caro Quintero (Tenoch Huerta), many of the show’s characters are based on real people who are still very much alive.
Narcos: Mexico explains how Gallardo got there. Whereas the first season of Narcos: Mexico followed Gallardo’s transition from a former cop into the most powerful man in Mexico’s illegal drug trade, the next season looks at how he lost that empire.
Season 2 of Narcos: Mexico concludes with Gallardo’s arrest in 1989, paving the way for the next season to most likely focus on Amado Carrillo Fuentes (José María Yazpik), nicknamed “Lord of the Skies” for his fleet of jets used to ferry cocaine over the border.
After running the Guadalajara Cartel for a decade, Gallardo was arrested in 1989.
In the early ’80s, Gallardo managed to unite Mexico’s regional drug enterprises under one system, which he ruled for almost a decade. By the time he was 43, “El Padrino” had an estimated net worth of $500 million, and owned 50 houses and 200 ranches, according to the Associated Press.
His reign came to an end in 1989, when Gallardo was arrested in Guadalajara City, Mexico, along with six police officers who were involved in drug trafficking. At the time, Gallardo’s arrest was described as “clean work, without a single gunshot,” by a spokesperson for the federal attorney general.
Gallardo was arrested on charges of racketeering, drug smuggling, violent crimes, and the murder of DEA agent Kiki Camarena, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Like in the show, Gallardo was arrested by Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni (played by Julio Cesar Cedillo).
In an interview with Frontline, Calderoni gave a play-by-play of the high-stakes arrest, which went far less dramatically in Narcos: Mexico. “One of the agents went upstairs to get the clothes that Miguel Félix’s wife gave him. He was face down. I made him turn over. I put the AK-47 in his mouth and made him stand up slowly. When I took the gun away, he offered me—I can’t remember whether it was $5 or $6 million—in exchange for his release. I told him that his arrest was not negotiable, that he was going to be turned over to the authorities in Mexico,” Calderoni said.
U.S. DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena (Michael Peña) was working to expose the Guadalajara Cartel in the ’80s. Camarena led the DEA’s initiative to find, and destroy, the cartel’s sizable marijuana fields at Rancho Bufalo.
The cartel retaliated by kidnapping 37-year-old Camarena in broad daylight on February 7, 1985. After three days of brutal torture, Camarena was killed. His body was found on March 7, along with the body of Alfredo Zavala-Avelar, a Mexican pilot who helped the DEA. Camarena left behind a wife and three sons.
In retaliation, the DEA launched Operation Leyenda, a homicide investigation aiming to take down everyone involved with Camarena’s murder—including Gallardo.
Gallardo’s cronies, Quintero and Ernesto “Don Neto” Carrillo, were arrested in 1985 for Camarena’s murder. However, both are out of prison today: Carrillo is on house arrest, and Quintero was released in 2013 through a legal loophole. A warrant was issued for Quintero’s re-arrest, but he has evaded capture.
To this day, Gallardo claims he was not involved in the killing. In his prison memoir, Gallardo wrote about coming face-to-face with U.S. officials in the aftermath: “I was taken to the DEA. I greeted them and they wanted to talk. I only answered that I had no involvement in the Camarena case and I said, ‘You said a madman would do it and I am not mad. I am deeply sorry for the loss of your agent.'”
After his imprisonment in 1989, Gallardo continued to be involved with his organization via cell phone. That changed in the ’90s, when Gallardo was transferred to the new Altiplano maximum security prison in Almoloya de Juárez, built specifically for narcotics offenders.
According to a book written by DEA agent Michael S. Vigil, Gallardo knew this would be a devastating change for him and for the cartel, which split into factions soon after. “The commander who transported him to the maximum-security prison told me Félix Gallardo cried the entire trip to the prison and lamented it would be the end of him. It was an accurate assumption…after incarceration there, the reign of Gallardo ended, despite his power and wealth,” Vigil wrote in Deal.
“For more than three years, without any justification, prison authorities have kept him segregated, isolated and without contact with other inmates, and have prevented him from participating in any physical, sports or educational activities,” the letter read, citing other “inhuman” circumstances like “humidity, a lack of ventilation, bad odors, and darkness.”
Gallardo was re-sentenced in 2017.
In 2017, after serving 27 years of his initial 40-year sentence, Gallardo was re-sentenced for the 1985 killing of Camarena. According to the Associated Press, the new sentence is 37 years plus a reparation payment equal to $1.17 million.
Gallardo’s request for house arrest was denied in 2019.
Gallardo was not involved with Narcos: Mexico.
Though he’s still alive, the real Gallardo was not at all involved with Narcos: Mexico. When Luna was offered the chance to meet Gallardo, he refused. “I didn’t meet him, I didn’t talk to him, I didn’t talk to people that knew him. I decided not to go there,” Luna told Al Arabiya , explaining he turned to documentaries and other forms of research to better understand his character.
For more stories like this, sign up for our newsletter.