The son of Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, former head of Colombia’s powerful Cali drug cartel, says he was never a hitman and worked for his father as a lawyer, fighting a legal battle against the U.S. government that he lost.
“I was my father's lawyer,” said William Rodriguez Abadía. “At that time, the United States was pushing a string of counter-drug proposals (in Colombia) like money laundering, illicit enrichment, seizures of properties and extraditions. In the end, they won everything.”
The confessed drug trafficker granted el Nuevo Herald an interview to criticize Narcos, the popular Netflix series about Medellín cartel chief Pablo Escobar, which Rodríguez Abadía said paints him as an “assassin” and “glorifies” drug trafficking.
“I was not an assassin for my father. I cannot accept their portrayal of me as a criminal, ruthless assassin and psychopath,” he said.
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He acknowledged that his duties within the Cali cartel included handling the legal fight in Colombia to avoid the possibility of extradition, lobbying and bribing politicians and administering the cartel from 1995 to 1997.
But Rodríguez Abadía complained that the TV series is turning drug lords into heroes. “What's the difference between Netflix and us,” he asked.
The Colombia native, who spent five years in U.S. federal prisons and has lived for seven years in Miami under parole, said his lawyer had complained to Netflix, which answered that he was a public figure and that it obtained the information about him from court documents.
Netflix did not response to a request for comment.
Rodríguez Abadía, 53, said he's considering filing a lawsuit but does not have the money needed to fight “a monster like Netflix.” He added that it's “more important to clarify all the misunderstandings” and the more than 10 lies he said were broadcast during the third season of Narcos, which has an audience of more than 3.2 million people around the world.
“I do not run away. I have always admitted the mistakes I made. I surrendered, accepted, served my sentence — short or long, it was what the judge ruled,” he said.
It's not the first time that relatives of former drug traffickers complain to Netflix about Narcos.
Roberto Escobar, 71, brother of Pablo Escobar, is seeking $1 billion from Netflix for the use of the late Medellín cartel chief's image. He told The Hollywood Reporter that if Netflix does not pay up “they will shut down the series.”
Pablo Escobar's son, Sebastián Marroquín, told the Mirror that the TV series is full of errors. The series said his father signed a peace agreement with the Cali cartel, Marroquin said, but, “Pablo never gave the Cali cartel to buy a truce.”
Rodríguez Abadía also told el Nuevo Herald how drug trafficking permeated Colombian politics and argued that the drug cartels became powerful because of “help from society and the political branch.”
“We went through Pablo Escobar, the Rodríguez, the Norte del Valle cartel, the paramilitaries, the guerrillas, and the people in power are the same,” he said. “They were our partners, our allies. We were not the only bad guys.”
He added that he fears returning to Colombia because of the possible “legal vengeance” in retaliation for his informing on “that bunch of criminals, Samper and Serpa.”
Rodríguez Abadía referred to former Colombian President Ernesto Samper, current Sen. Horacio Serpa and the 1994 scandal sparked by the Cali cartel's $10 million donation to Samper's successful presidential campaign in 1994.
“What we sought was a deal to surrender, to legalize our economic empire, for my dad and my uncle to go to jail but with a limited sentence,” he said. “That's why we got close (to Samper), which was a disaster in the end.”
He added that he will take “other names and political secrets” to his grave to protect his wife and daughters and other relatives in Colombia.
But Rodríguez Abadía added that he has no relationship at all now with his father and uncle, both now serving 30-year sentences in U.S. prisons.
He last visited his father four years ago in a federal prison in South Carolina. “It was difficult, seeing him after more than 10 years. At that time he looked strong, good. Today he looks older, changed.”
He also acknowledged that his father is upset with this book, Yo soy el hijo del cartel de Cali, or “I am the son of the Cali cartel.”
“He believes that we have to stay silent, to keep a low profile,” Rodríguez Abadía said of his father. “What bothers him the most are the criticisms I have for him, for his brother, for the mistakes we made.”
Rodríguez Abadía said the “Cali cartel” brand has been a curse for him and his family that he's paid with tears, attempts on his life (he suffered eight bullet wounds during a 1996 attack), four years hiding as a fugitive and then more years in a U.S. prisons.
“I believe my father should suffer every day for the damages he caused his family — destroyed, jailed, in legal battles,” said Rodríguez Abadía, who is hoping to obtain a special U.S. immigrant visa, which could take three years to determine if it will be granted.
He never changed his name out of respect for his wife and daughters, he said, concluding his interview with a defiant declaration. “I am William Rodríguez Abadía. Here I am. I live in Miami and I am not afraid of that.”
Follow Catalina Ruiz Parra and Sonia Osorio on Twitter: @catalinaruiz y @soniaosoriog