How Historically Accurate Is "Pacho" Herrera In 'Narcos'? The Cali Cartel Boss Was An Unexpected Trailblazer
It can be hard to keep track of all the business-minded criminals that populate the world of Narcos. There's Pablo Escobar, of course, but also Judy Moncada, Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela and his brother Miguel, and Helmer "Pacho" Herrera. Herrera (played by Alberto Ammann) has been around since Season 1 of Narcos, but is finally taking the spotlight in Season 3. As a highly-ranked member of the Cali cartel, Herrera and his other real-life associates fill the void left by Pablo Escobar in the wake of his death, which ended Season 2. Is Narcos' Pacho Herrera historically accurate or will history buffs need to go deeper to find out more about this power player?
Narcos showrunner Eric Newman has never been shy about fictionalizing elements of the show. Newman told The Hollywood Reporter that the split between the truth and the fiction of Narcos is "probably 50-50," adding, "The chronology is accurate." While some of Narcos is admittedly fiction, Pacho Herrera is based on a real man. Before Herrera's death at the hands of an unknown assassin in 1998, reported by The Washington Post, Herrera was one of four people running another massive, world-spanning drug operation to rival the other Escobar's Medellin cartel. Narcos Season 3 starts with Pacho at the top of the world, with no major competitors, and it can only go downhill from there as the series goes on.
Pacho Herrera's role within the Cali Cartel was to focus on American distribution. The first episode of Season 3 shows how Helmer "Pacho" Herrera kept business booming in the cartel's "crown jewel," New York City. And Cali's approach to drug trafficking was organized more like a business than an underground drug operation, and Narcos showcases Herrera's important role in making that a reality. In 2001, DEA administrator Robert Bonner told Time, "The Cali cartel is the most powerful criminal organization in the world. No drug organization rivals them today or perhaps any time in history."
While Narcos is first and foremost about the drug trade, the show also takes a look at how Herrera's professional life mixed with his personal. Specifically, the show takes a look at how Herrera lived his life as someone who was openly gay. Per LA Weekly, William C. Rempel's book, At the Devil's Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel, details Herrera's extravagant tastes and honest lifestyle. Narcos highlights that this powerful figure didn't hide his sexuality, even in a darker, less accepting time for the LGBT+ community.
By accurately portraying Pacho's sexuality, the showrunners of Narcos are respecting the truth of the real people in their story, which is a mission that extends to touch the rest of the show's many characters. Pacho Herrera is by no means a hero, but sometimes the stories of those on the wrong side of the law are are just as important as those in the right.