BUENOS AIRES – Among the many tales, there is one in particular that stands out in the drug kingpin’s biography, sounding much more like urban legend than harsh reality:It was in early 1982, and his oldest son had been arrested by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Having tried everything he could to have his son freed, the father decided to send a letter directly to the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. In the letter, he promised, in exchange for his son’s liberty, to pay off Bolivia’s entire foreign debt: $3.8 billion.
Nothing came of the implausible overture, but sources in the U.S. government insist the offer really did exist.
The man who penned the infamous missive was Roberto Suárez Gómez, a Bolivian drug trafficker who at one point figured out how to sell the lion’s share of the cocaine paste being consumed the world over. Many referred to him simply as the “King of Cocaine.”
Unlike fellow South American drug lord Pablo Escobar, who eventually became his business partner, Suárez Gómez spent his final years in freedom, managing his enormous hacienda. He kept himself surrounded by bodyguards, even though he probably didn’t need them. In the north of Bolivia, where the Amazon jungle begins, most people were quite fond of Suárez Gómez. Few in this impoverished and downtrodden region questioned the business of drugs, which offered people what the State could or would not. In Beni, the province where Suárez Gómez was born, they called him Robin Hood.
Besides Escobar, Suárez Gómez’s list of friends and associates included Roberto Calvi, head of the Banco Ambrosiano, a now defunct Italian bank that had close ties with the Vatican. In June of 1982, Calvi’s lifeless body was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London. There was also the Cuban revolutionary hero Arnaldo Ochoa, who was later charged with drug trafficking and executed by firing squad; U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, implicated and later exonerated in the 1986 Iran-Contra scandal; German Gestapo captain Klaus Barbie – known as the Butcher of Lyon; and former military strongman of Panama, Manuel Noriega.
This story was originally published by WorldCrunch.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.