In the history of drug trafficking in the South and even North America, there are some names that will infamously always remain such as Pablo Escobar, the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers, as well as Chepe Santacruz who was popular as Don Chepe. He has been portrayed in Netflix’s crime drama web television series, Narcos, which is based on the life of arguably the most notorious drug lord ever, Escobar.
Santacruz was part of the notorious drug ring, the Cali Cartel which was based in Southern Colombia. Members of the cartel used to be under Escobar before they later broke off. At a point, it controlled a large part of the drug market. Chepe was one of the main leaders and the backbone of the organization before he was killed by the Colombian police in 1996 in a rather controversial manner.
Chepe Santacruz – Biography
Popular as Chepe Santacruz, the infamous kingpin was born José Santacruz Londoño on October 1, 1943, in the small Colombian city of Santiago de Cali. He grew up in Cauca valley in a poor background. He worked his way and went to school where he graduated as an engineer. From there, he went into construction, and gradually, he found his way around.
He joined the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers to later found the Cali Cartel, a group that nicknamed itself the Gentlemen of Cali (Los Caballeros de Cali) which was drawn from the background of the founders who had all attained high social standings. At first, it used to be under Escobar until it later broke away.
When the Cali Cartel started, it was a kidnapping organization that was very notorious. It was known as Las Chemas. Among the victims of the ring of kidnappers were some Swiss Citizens. They were said to have made more than $700,000 US dollars from kidnapping which was used in the drug trafficking business.
Before branching out, when the Cali Cartel began in the 1970s, it was into marijuana trafficking. Much later in the 1980s, Chepe Santacruz and other members of the organization were said to have controlled the US cocaine market by up to 80 percent. More importantly, their control of the European market was by 90 percent.
Its main rival was Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel which was very brutal in its dealing. While Cali was less violent, Don Chepe was seen as the most violent member of the cartel.
In 1993, the reign of Pablo Escobar was cut short after he was killed and so Chepe Santacruz went in to take full control of the market. The only issue was that the Colombian authority was also all out to clamp on the drug business and the Cali Cartel most especially. In 1996, Chepe was killed in a controversial circumstance, and being one of the strongest members of the cartel, his death led to the weakening and eventual demise of the organization.
Life & Death – All You Need To Know
Looking at the life of Chepe Santacruz, he was described as a man that was larger than life. He did everything in style even though his life was turbulent. He was married to Amparo Castro de Santacruz but in total, he was said to have four partners from whom he had six children. More so, he patronized brothels and went for unattractive ladies.
José Santacruz had a sister, Cristina Santacruz, who was kidnapped in 1992 by men loyal to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). They demanded $12 million ransom to be paid, but Chepe instead kidnapped a sister to Pablo Catatumbo (a member of the FARC who was overseeing the peace talks), Amparo Torres. This triggered negotiations that ended with an exchange of the hostages.
Just as his life was controversial, so also was his death. The only certain thing about his death is that he died on March 5, 1996, in Medellín, Colombia. Details regarding his death are mixed as the official report claims he was gunned down when he was fleeing in order to escape arrest while another source claims his murder was orchestrated by the paramilitary.
Before he was eventually killed, Chepe was arrested in 1995, the same year that other leaders of the cartel including Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela also got nabbed. However, Chepe escaped in January 1996, but that was only for a couple of months before he was finally gunned down.
He is being portrayed in the Netflix series Narcos by Portuguese actor Pêpê Rapazote. He has also been portrayed in various other TV series including the Colombian telenovela of 2012 Escobar, el patrón del mal, and the 2013 TV series En la Boca del Lobo.