‘Gripping story ... fascinating ... those interested in how the illegal drug trade and law enforcement interact will be rewarded.’
– PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
‘Pure Narco is an unbelievable insider’s look at the life and times of a real narco. During his 25-year criminal career, Luis Navia learned to work with all of the major Colombian cocaine manufacturing and distribution organisations, something not easily done, and miraculously survived to tell his tale. Jesse Fink and Navia provide a detailed and uncensored look at the underbelly of the beast, the international cocaine trade, and give an account that even most experienced law-enforcement professionals never see.’
– STEVE MURPHY, DEA Special Agent (Retired) who hunted down Pablo Escobar
‘In August 2000, a joint–law enforcement investigation between the U.S. and the British government resulted in the dismantling of a large drug-smuggling ring. Tons of drugs were seized, and arrests were made. Navia, a man who walked a tightrope of criminality and legitimacy, was nabbed after operating in the drug underworld for 25 years. Of Cuban heritage, Navia had worked for Colombia's Medellín and Cali cartels and gradually transferred his skills in working with various cartels in Mexico. He met and sometimes worked with the biggest names in the infamous underground empire: Pablo Escobar, Alberto Sicilia Falcon, the Ochoa Brothers. As recalled to coauthor Fink, Pure Narco amasses Navia's colourful recollections of past exploits in a candid yet guarded fashion. Navia disarms with his charisma and intelligence; his remorse is a little less apparent. He believes that the war on drugs is a hypocritical war with no end. Navia's insights make for a revelatory look inside the treacherous world of organised crime in this new true-crime classic.’
‘Intriguing and thought provoking. While there is no perfect formula when it comes to telling a life story ... there can be an almost ideal result. A truly gripping and detailed account about a life lived on the edge. A must read.’
– C. A. HEIFNER, author of MULE
‘If Howard Marks was the king of the cannabis smuggle, Luis Navia is the Howard Marks of the cocaine trade.’ – GRAHAM HONEY, Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Senior Investigation Officer (Retired)
‘Fascinating story. Pure Narco is quite an amazing book. It’s rare that you get someone who was involved in the illegal narcotics trade to talk so openly about their life and lifestyle. Luis Navia has stories for the fireside more than most.’
– ROSS KEMP, host, THE KEMPCAST podcast
‘I have never read anything like this. I’ve never read anything that drew me in like Pure Narco in this genre, certainly. It drew me in like a great novel.’
– JENNY QUEEN, host, SO WHAT DO YOU ALL DAY? podcast
‘Pure Narco is pacy, uncensored and chaotic, as you’d expect from a book about trafficking cocaine, but Navia holds it together as storyteller and protagonist, racking out anecdotes with gusto and revealing ever knottier plotlines. By any measure, his is a big life to tell, and Fink does wonders to squeeze into its 500 pages so many manic episodes, violent twists, night flights and ocean voyages.
‘Like Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy (the basis for Goodfellas), like Scarface, like all stories about the illicit commercialisation of class-A drugs, Pure Narco moves inexorably towards a debacle – although Navia says he thought he was invincible. As well as a superb true-crime page-turner, Pure Narco is a light-touch morality tale about multiple addictions: to power, money, sex, beauty, business. Documentary-makers have shown interest. But it would work well as a feature film.’
– BIG ISSUE NORTH (UK)
‘The book is a mix of crime, drama and comedy, the gruesome stories of the narco world cleverly alleviated through comedic asides and the journalistic voice of Fink paired with Navia's humour... as you read Pure Narco it’s hard to not envision the story being turned into a Netflix special or a feature film; the women, violence, adventures, it seems as if it was made for the screen.’
– TRUE CRIME NEWS WEEKLY (AUSTRALIA)
‘With a cast of wild, grotesque and often deadly characters, strapped into a rollercoaster they cannot or will not get off, Pure Narco is a deliriously pleasurable ride. Luis Navia was a key trafficker for the biggest Colombian and Mexican cartels, and his insight into how they flooded the USA and Europe with drugs is unparalleled. This is the best insider account ever written of the global cocaine trade and the outrageous but precarious lives of those at the top.’
– PETER WALSH, author of DRUG WAR: THE SECRET HISTORY
‘Luis Navia was one of the biggest drug traffickers ever known – but never heard of. Jesse Fink’s in-depth, entertaining and informative account of Luis’s life during the height of the cocaine trade in the United States in the 1980 and ’90s is like a speck in the eyes of a race-car driver moving at 200 miles an hour, albeit a large speck. Pure Narco reveals how a seemingly regular “businessman” can in reality be a successful drug trafficker.’
– VICENTE M. GARCIA, United States Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent in Charge (Retired)
‘I first met Luis Navia in Miami in 2002. He was cooperating with authorities and had some significant information to share with the United Kingdom. I remember leaving the prison after two days of visits and thinking what an amazing character he was. The discussions with Luis changed my perspective on top-level drug trafficking and traffickers; it was a moment of enlightenment.
‘Much is written and appears on screen about the drugs business but so often it misses the mark. That’s not the case with this insightful book: Pure Narco hits the spot and tells it as it was. Law-enforcement officers have a saying that all top traffickers end up dead or in prison. Very few survive to tell the tale. Typical of the man, Luis is a survivor and tells his own tale in great depth and clarity. This is how it was. But Luis also needed a sympathetic ear to get the best out of his unique story and Jesse Fink has done that by writing the very best account of a remarkable life in cocaine trafficking.
‘Contrary to what we read in news reports and see on TV, trafficking is a highly complex business. It’s not just based on violence, corruption, greed and all the other stereotypes. Every big cocaine shipment happens because of the fixer, the broker, the emissary. Luis Navia was all of these. The reality is the biggest deals or shipments happen because of key individuals with the people and business skills to make things happen. Luis is one of those people. He brought people together, he solved problems, he found a way to get things done.
‘What makes Luis’s story so unique was his ability to transcend the politics between rival groups (cartels). His strength of personality, charm and business brain made him a valued business associate on so many major shipments. Typically, Luis made and lost a fortune: which is so often the case at the top level of international cocaine trafficking. Pure Narco explains how that’s possible and why the business is both richly rewarding while being a precarious and perilous existence. It also explains how the big deals were conceived, planned and delivered. The mechanics of the deals are set out here, as Luis explains the key stages required for a successful shipment and deal. No other book on drug trafficking provides this level of detail.
‘I knew back in the 1990s that the work we were doing was groundbreaking, and that it was an era that would be looked back upon by historians. Pure Narco is a great book and an important part of social history. I loved every page. Having this account from Luis Navia will be part of his legacy. If you have an interest in and want to understand how international drug trafficking really works, you must read Pure Narco.’
– BARRY CLARKE, Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Investigation Officer (Retired)
‘During my 30-year career in federal law enforcement, I often wondered what the back story was to some of the people and organisations I investigated. Cops tend to only see the criminal and we forget that everyone has family and a story. Pure Narco is a true story of redemption ... it offers a rare glimpse into the life of a drug smuggler from the Miami Vice era to the end of the millennium, when it all came crashing down for Luis Navia.’
– NIGEL BROOKS, United States Customs Service Senior Special Agent (Retired)
‘A rare insight into the drug traffickers’ world and law enforcement’s efforts to arrest them and seize the drugs.’
– GRAHAM TITMUSS, Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Investigation Officer (Retired)
‘I was a drug trafficker in the true sense of the word: a pure narco.’
It’s a life story that reads like something out of a John Grisham or Elmore Leonard novel that it’s remarkable it has remained untold for so long.
Careers in the cocaine-trafficking business are usually short. It’s not only a dangerous profession, fraught with the possibility of capture and long jail sentences, but it can be deadly if the cartels get to you first.
Not for Luis Antonio Navia.
For 25 years the Cuban-American smuggled hundreds of tons of white powder for the biggest cartels in Colombia and Mexico, including Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.
In a profession populated by thugs, Navia’s dress sense and good manners earned him the nickname ‘El Senador’ (The Senator). He refused to carry a weapon.
What made him good at his job was amassing trusted contacts, losing very few shipments of coke, and keeping a low profile. He also maintained a normal family life with a Colombian wife and two young children.
But he was never far removed from the most brutal violence imaginable.
One friend got his head cut off. Another was hit over the head, put in a 55-gallon drum full of cement and dumped in a canal. Navia himself was kidnapped three times and went close to being fed alive to crocodiles.
Somehow through it all he managed to survive and spent two decades fooling the DEA and other law-enforcement agencies.
That was until he came under the radar of Robert Harley, a tenacious US Customs special agent in Key West, Florida, who was determined to bring him to justice.
What followed was an international game of cat-and-mouse that culminated in Navia’s 2000 arrest in Venezuela in one of the biggest antinarcotics takedowns of all time, the 12-nation Operation Journey.
Spanning decades, continents and featuring a who’s who of the drug trade, Pure Narco is a fast-paced adventure ride into the dark underworld of cocaine trafficking, written with the cooperation of a dozen law-enforcement agents from the world’s top antinarcotics forces in the United States and Great Britain.
It also contains insider insights into how the global drug business operates and offers some cogent solutions to the never-ending ‘war on drugs’.
Navia served his time in jail and is now free to tell his tale. His is the rare perspective of someone who has worked on both sides of that war: as a cocaine trafficker and US Government consultant.
This book is a redemption story. Luis Navia, the pure narco, has gone full circle.
WITH A FOREWORD BY RETIRED
DEA SPECIAL AGENT ERIC KOLBINSKY
Pure Narco is now through Penguin Random House Australia, John Blake Publishing (UK), Rowman & Littlefield (USA), and Äripaëv (Estonia)
The Penguin promotional trailer
US Customs video of cocaine seizures during the 12-nation Operation Journey
Narrated by Keith Scott
Former DEA special agent Steve Murphy was the inspiration for the Netflix hit series Narcos