Jota Cardona, the repentant boss of the Colombian drug traffickers: 'I wanted to be a mafioso'

His name is Francisco Javier Ramirez Cardona, he is 74 years old, 18 of which he has spent in jail. For a long time he was part of the Medellin cartel, speaking on an equal footing with Griselda Blanco, known as the Black Widow, and working with Pablo Escobar's right-hand man. When he decided to collaborate with the DEA, the American anti-drug agency, he paid back $50 million

  jack cardona 1920 Jota Cardona told his story in Thomas Salme's documentary Rescued from Hell: The Story of Jota Cardona Photo Video

His life changed the day he saw Griselda Blanco, the Black Widow of the Colombian cartels, get out of a super-luxury BMW in a parking lot in his neighborhood of Aranjuez, Medellin. She saw that everyone was kissing her hand and that too bandits they sat on the floor, obsequious. He, who was only 15 years old, impressed by so much deference and by the display of designer clothes, asked a friend who that woman was: “A mafiosa, she answered me. So, I thought, I too want to be a mafioso'. – Photo | video

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HISTORY - His name is Francisco Javier Ramirez 'Jota' Cardona, he is 74 years old today, 18 of which he spent in jail. Nothing compared to the two life sentences plus thirty years he would have faced if one day, from the darkness of his cell, he hadn't decided to change his life and collaborate with the DEA, the American anti-drug agency. Because the little boy really became a drug kingpin. For decades he controlled most of the cocaine in Connecticut and that sold in New York. His story was told to Thomas Salme in the documentary Rescued from Hell: The Story of Jota Cardona , available on Netflix. And it is thanks to him that we filter some questions.

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THE RISE - “I lived in a large family, with an alcoholic father who beat me. I didn't always go to school and I didn't want to live like that anymore, abused. Let alone live in misery. I started out selling fake Visa credit cards, and that's when the first arrest came. Then I started selling small quantities of cocaine in Medellin. Every day was different. I was just thinking about making money.' The father soon dies of cancer. Jota no longer has any control over himself, he meshes and makes his way through a city that at the time had 360 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, almost twenty a day. However, the troubles caused by credit card fraud suggest a change of scenery. He joins two sisters in New Haven, Connecticut. He tries to be a worker, but money is scarce for those who handled a few thousand dollars at a time as a teenager. He goes back to dealing. A friend takes him to New York and this time Griselda doesn't see her from afar.

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I BOSS - He meets her and gets to know her: «She was crazy… completely out of her mind». In fact, when she dies in 2012, the FBI will hold her responsible for trafficking tons of drugs and over 200 murders. Jota befriends Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, alias El mexicano, right arm of Pablo Escobar, who manages the assassins of the Medellin cartel: «With Escobar we smoked marijuana together. He was a seemingly quiet person, loved by many people. But if you went against him you were dead.' From dealing to trafficking is a matter of little: and at just over twenty years old she knows the millions, the good life. And the fastest way to reach it. In fact, she put down roots in Miami, where the exchange at the time took place in a relatively simple way: «The drugs arrived by ship passing through the Bahamas, five hundred kilos at a time. There were no cameras in the large parking lots: the exchange always took place there. Money in a car, cocaine in a van.' It's less easy with planes: at the time, the cost of a kg of coke was 2,500 dollars. Another 2000 are needed to load it on a plane. And again 5000 to download them. The narcos get 16,000, but 2,000 have to go back to Medellin. $4,500 a kilo remains in your pocket. But in between, you have to take risks and bribe a lot of people. But there, from the port of Miami, 'I was making millions every month.' So much so that when he sees Griselda again and tells her about that meeting when he was fifteen, she says to him 'do you really want to become like me?' «I replied: no. I'm like you now.'

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THE MURDER OF THE BROTHER - The money flows in: «The first time they took me they gave me 7 years and I didn't want to collaborate. After two years, I managed to escape from Indiana prison thanks to a girl who had come to see an inmate.' He has a $50,000 bounty on his head. He travels to Chicago and from Los Angeles arrives by taxi to Tijuana, from there to Mexico City and back to Medellin. But death is always around the corner. Two Colombians spread the rumor that he cheated on the cartel and he always has to watch his back. Even if his head is no longer there: showing the Beretta 380 to the youngest of his sixteen-year-old brothers, thinking it was empty of him, he shoots a bullet in the heart and kills him. The investigators will consider it a manslaughter, but it is a remorse that never goes away. «I went out armed with two pistols, I shot in the street arguing with motorists. Inside of me I was hoping that someone would kill me. He saw a lot of people die, but who and how many people he arrested doesn't mean it: 'I made a pact with the Goddess.'

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I AM A DEAD MAN - Because the last time he ends up inside, he spills the beans. But not only that: it returns 50 million dollars. He says it was God who gave him enlightenment. Today he is no longer in the protection program. He still lives in Miami, a guest of a sister. He no longer has a penny and spends his life, along with other repentant narcos, stopping young people on the street and telling them to stay away from drugs. He knows very well that he could be killed at any moment, which would almost certainly happen if he returned to Medellin, despite the fact that almost fifteen years have passed and the Colombians are no longer the leaders of the cartel: «I'm already dead. I'm not afraid of being shot. Today the Mexicans are in charge. They are the laboratories in Colombia, they have also supplanted the Venezuelans and they are the leaders of the traffic of cocaine in the world, which is still the best-selling drug ». Although recently Jota spoke of carfentanil, an opioid that is spreading in the streets of Buenos Aires. Jota has recently launched heavy accusations of collusion with cartels against some members of the Venezuelan government and officials from Argentina: 'Corruption in South America is incredible and in Venezuela drug traffickers are greatly facilitated in the transport of drugs' he confirms. But with Italy, he says, he has never had anything to do with. He knows that Mexican cartels collaborate with the 'Ndrangheta. For the rest, the only criminal of Italian origins that he knew was John Gotti, head of the Gambino family in New York. Because he knows only one Italian word, the one he also repeats in Thomas Salme's documentary: «I wanted to be a mafioso».

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