Fame in Witness Protection? It’s Complicated
For Jorge Salcedo, who made vengeful enemies of the most notorious crime bosses in the drug world, hiding has been a way of life for nearly two decades.
He was chief of security for Colombia’s Cali cocaine syndicate when he fled cartel assassins and corrupt police hit men for safety and a new life in the U.S. witness protection program. It was September 1995. Yet, after all these years, he still remains in danger.
That’s why, despite the fact that my book about his life has been a bestseller in his native Colombia, Salcedo can not go home again. He still can’t appear openly in public or the media anywhere. It seems the drastic precautions that have kept him and his family safe — somewhere in the U.S. — may never be relaxed, not even as the book continues to make Salcedo something of a celebrity back home in Bogota.
And what is already a decidedly awkward sort of fame figures only to grow in the months ahead.
Later this year, Salcedo’s incredible story is coming to Colombian television as a high-profile, 80-episode telenovela. It will be based on accounts of his cartel years as told in my book – At the Devil’s Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel.
The book was released in Spanish under the title: En la Boca del Lobo (In the Mouth of the Wolf) — its title for Spanish television.
The dramatic series is backed by Sony-Teleset. Filming began in October 2013, mostly on location in Cali and Bogota. No air date has been set, but the program is expected to debut late this summer. It will be broadcast over the Colombian television network RCN, and later throughout Latin America and the U.S. over Univision.
Salcedo has rarely stepped forward publicly since arriving in the United States in 1995. Even as the author of a book about his life, I don’t know his new name or where he lives. After At the Devil’s Table was released in the U.S. and U.K. in 2011, Salcedo agreed to an occasional radio interview, but only under tight security restrictions that he controlled.
His lone TV taping was in disguise on a news segment broadcast by Univision. He has made no other public appearances, except as a witness in U.S. federal courts.
Colombians curious about Salcedo will finally get the chance to see at least an actor’s version of the mystery man when the series appears sometime next summer.
Although the names will be changed to avoid legal complications in Colombia, the role of a character based on Salcedo will be played by an accomplished Latin American actor, Luis Fernando Hoyos.
Among other casting choices, the role of a Cali cartel financial adviser will be filled by Cristobal Erruzuriz. The top cartel accountant in the book was the real-life Guillermo Pallomari who, like Salcedo, is tucked away somewhere in the U.S. witness protection program.
Meanwhile, Salcedo’s story also makes its debut in Brazil with publication this month of a Portuguese edition titled: A Mesa com O Diabo. Besides versions already in print in English, Spanish, and Dutch, a new Polish-language edition is planned by 2015.
As for Jorge Salcedo, whose story is finding ever-widening audiences, hiding as a way of life keeps getting more and more complicated.