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Narcos unmasked: Notorious real-life drug trafficker’s brutal 21 days held hostage exposed

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The Netflix crime drama first focussed on notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar’s cocaine empire before follow-up Narcos: Mexico, which dramatised the mass cannabis trade under the Guadalajara Cartel. Behind the hugely successful TV series are a number of powerful figures of this dark trade, including Luis Antonio Navia. He gave an insight into his 25 years working as a logistical drug trafficker, who helped to smuggle as much as 300 tonnes of cocaine into the US, roughly worth $10billion (£7.6billion). He served five of an 11-year prison sentence after a 12-nation operation that led to the arrest of some of the trade’s highest figures in 2000. He now helps law enforcement agencies to crack down on crime and penned his unbelievable stories in the book Pure Narco, co-written by Jess Fink. In one account from his darker days, when the Cuban-American was known as El Senador meaning “the senator”, he told Express.co.uk about the torture of being kidnapped.

Navia believes he is lucky to be alive today and claims that part of that was attributable to his calm demeanour, refusal to carry a gun and ultimately his talents as a smuggler. 

He said: “Non-violence is a very powerful weapon – it’s like that Gandhi s*** – and that’s a big part of what kept me alive, understanding how to keep my cool and everybody at a nice comfort level.

“I was a drug trafficker in the true sense of the word, a pure narco. I stayed true to the drug business, not the killing business, not the paramilitary business, not the kidnapping business.”

During his stint in the criminal underworld, he was kidnapped three times and was once nearly fed alive to crocodiles. 

But one of the most terrifying for him was being held hostage for 21 days after an associate believed there was a “discrepancy in something that was said”.

He told Express.co.uk: “I considered him a friend but rumours are killers in the business – that and going to bed with the wrong girl.”

Navia claimed that after the rumours spread, he knew it was “better to show-up than wait to get picked up” by gang members because he could protest his innocence and not appear guilty.

He was tied-up and held for three weeks while they “clarified and settled” what had gone on – at any moment, he knew he could be shot or tortured to death. 

Navia told Express.co.uk: “Even if he killed me I would have understood, it was the business I was in and fortunately it worked out in my favour.

“During those 21 days the phone could have rang at any moment that would send the order to have me executed and put in a grave or dumped in a river.

“When I was nearly fed to the crocodiles that all went so fast – they put me in a van and while I tried to make calls to save my life, my adrenaline was so out of control that there was no time to think about being eaten.

“But with those 21 days, I had a lot of time to think and time is what eats you up inside and was the toughest part.”

Navia claimed that knowing that his wife was seven months pregnant with their first daughter was the hardest part because the reality was he might never see her being born. 

In a shocking but brave move, his wife went to the town he was being held at and pleaded with the criminals to spare his life. 

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Fortunately for Luis, the gang confirmed that his story checked out and ended their business dealings together afterwards.

He reflected: “A lot of women would have been so scared but my wife, if there’s a true hero it’s her.

“When I was released I was phased out of it and gone – my mind was elsewhere, the sadness of not seeing my daughter being born had me on another planet.”

While he had made large sums of money and reached the highest echelons of the drug world, the thought of not seeing his first child was terrifying.

The individual who held him hostage revealed why he let him live – a decision Navia is thankful for to this day while claiming he still has “a lot of respect” for his captor.

Navia told Express.co.uk: “Number one, they knew I was not guilty of the rumours, and he told my wife, ‘One thing about Luis, he is a nonviolent guy and will never come after me’. 

“It will be settled – he goes his way and I go my way – it would never be a problem for me because I was not that type of guy.

“So we parted ways and there were bets out on the street, within the inner circle and if I would ever come back.”

Navia, who published his memoir Pure Narco with journalist Jesse Fink last month, explained that bizarrely his terrifying experiences did not stop him from returning to crime.

He said: “Look it’s so weird after all these things that happened to me think, you would think this guy’s intelligent and would walk away. 

“But no, I came out of that and suddenly my mind started to race and I started to regroup right away.

“It never occurred to me to retire and live somewhere, I just continued in my business, it’s crazy.”

Pure Narco: One Man’s True Story Of 25 Years Inside The Columbian And Mexican Cartels was published by Bonnier Books this month and is available here.

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