In the Netflix series Narcos: Mexico, one of the most colorful characters is Rafael Caro-Quintero, known as Rafa. (Warning: This article will contain plot spoilers.)
Rafa is the most inventive member of the Guadalajara cartel (in the fictional version, and in real life.) He’s credited with spotting the potential of the seedless marijuana that gives the cartel its big start. However, he’s also the most out-of-control cartel leader, constantly giving co-founder Felix Gallardo heartburn as he indulges in cocaine himself, agrees to the risky and ultimately fatal kidnapping of an U.S. DEA agent, and wildly engages in an affair with the upper-class daughter of a politician. (You can see photos of the real people who inspired Narcos: Mexico here.)
In the Netflix series, one scene shows Rafa staging the kidnapping of the politician’s daughter so they can continue in their clandestine love affair. She’s also at his side when he’s arrested in a bloody shoot out. The character of Rafael Caro-Quintero is real. He was actually a co-founder of the Guadalajara Cartel, he was brought to justice (at least initially) in the murder of DEA agent Kiki Camarena (although he’s on the run today), and he did pioneer the cartel’s use of sinsemilla marijuana in the 1980s. However, is the love story subplot involving Rafael Caro-Quintero true?
The answer: It has some elements that are anchored in real life. In real life, the girlfriend of Rafael Caro-Quintero was Sara Cosio, not Sofia Conesa.
Here’s what you need to know:
Rafa & Sara Cosio Did Embark on an Ill-fated Romance
The real-life relationship between Sara Cosio and Rafael Caro-Quintero was every bit as dramatic as Netflix shows.
According to an old article in Playboy Magazine, when Caro-Quintero was arrested in the 1980s, he was at the side of a woman. “I’m not kidnapped! I am in love with Caro Quintero,” the woman, whose full name was Sara Cristina Cosío Gaona, “told the commando that broke into the house that she shared with Rafael Caro Quintero that morning,” according to Playboy. (You can see a photo of her here and below).
Sara, known as Sarita, did come from a political family. “Sarita is the daughter of a former education secretary in Jalisco and is the niece of former governor Guillermo Cosío Vidaurri,” Playboy reported. They met at a party, and her father opposed the romance.
According to CapitalMexico.com, “They had fun renting fashionable nightclubs for themselves and the small group of people who accompanied them.”
Was Rafa really as infatuated with love in real life as he is in Netflix? Yes. “I always live in love. I love them all, because I was born of a woman,” he said, according to Playboy. According to the magazine, Caro-Quintero was a lover of many women, not just Sara Cosio.
The book Mexican Postcards by Carlos Monsiváis also deals with the Rafa-Sara affair at great length. According to the book, she was Sara Cosio, the niece of a politician who was then president of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party known as PRI. The book says the story of the pair is “pure legend” and facts mixed together with fantasy and “possible facts.” The story goes that Rafa fell in love with Sara, wanted to marry her, and did in fact “kidnap” her and took her to Sonora in 1984.
Rafa is accused of telling Sara’s father, “I am in love with your daughter and want to marry her. You had better forget her or many people in your family will die.”
According to the book, though, Rafa returned her for Christmas and offered her parents presents, but they were refused. In 1985, according to the book, he ordered that “five luxurious cars be torched in front of the Cosio family residence.”
The love letters attributed to Sara and Rafa were also published widely, according to the book (which indicates they may be true or apocryphal.) One letter, ostensibly by Sara, read in part, “Although everything has been so crazy, you behaved yourself really well and the truth is you are really good and only pretend to be bad.”
After Kiki Camarena’s abduction, heat intensified on the cartel, and Sara’s father Cesar Octavio Cosio Vidaurri announced that she had been kidnapped by Rafa as she returned from a discotheque with his wife and son.
A traced phone call from the mansion where Rafa and Sara were holed up led to his arrest, and she did identify him to arriving DEA agents, according to the book. “Caro Quintero and Sara Cosío were…half-naked (in) bed. When they reacted, they saw their room full of uniformed men, balaclavas and assault rifles,” reports CapitalMexico.com.
Rafael Caro-Quintero was sentenced to serve 40 years in prison for DEA Agent Kiki Camarena’s death in the 1980s, but in 2013, he was freed after a Mexican court, on appeal, ruled that he should have been tried in state court, not federal court. In only days, though, the Mexican Attorney General issued an order for the arrest of Rafael Caro-Quintero. He subsequently disappeared.
In 2018, The Huffington Post described Rafa’s life on the run: “Hunted by Mexican and American authorities, he never sleeps in the same spot twice, according to his guards. His bed is a sleeping bag, his roof the canvas of a tent. During the day, he haunts the mountains like a ghost, his head perpetually craned toward the sky, scanning for the drones that search the impassable mountains for signs of life.”
The U.S. government is offering millions of dollars in reward money for his capture.