This week the story continues as Rocío Gómez divorces her husband Rodrigo, a master drug trafficker in Colombia. Rocío and her children move to Miami where she begins a relationship with a pilot named Carlos, whose dangerous past with the mafia threatens to catch up with Rocío’s family.PLAYLIST
Tomáš Dvořák – The Furnace – Machinarium Soundtrack
Raime – The Last Foundry – Quarter Turns Over a Living Line
Pye Corner Audio – Morning – Prowler
Deaf Center – New Beginning – Owl Splinters
Joshua Abrams – Fenger Peace Summit – Music for Life Itself & The Interrupters
Loscil – Sea Island Murders – Sea Island
Deaf Center – New Beginning – Owl Splinters
Joshua Abrams – Argument – Music for Life Itself & The Interrupters
1 Mile North – New Clock – Glass Wars
Banabila – Rain Painting (Original) – Travelog
Banabila – Antennnas (Original) – Travelog
Savath and Savalas – Binoculars – Folk Songs for Trains, Trees and Honey
Popol Vuh – Why Do I Still Sleep – Agape-Agape
MGR – V – ?
Aramis Camilo – El Motor
Felicia Atkinson – The Owls – The Owls
Daedelus – Not Love – Kneedelus
Tim Hecker – Her Black Horizon – An Imaginary Country
Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel – Thread (feat. Andrew Weathers) – Collaborations
Chihei Hatakeyama & Federico Durand – Maria – Magical Imaginary Child
Banabila – Rain Painting (Original) – Travelog
Hauschka – Ping – Salon des Amateurs
Félicia Atkinson – The Book Is The Territory – A Readymade Ceremony
Sylvain Chauveau – Juni
Raime – Told And Collapsed – Quarter Turns Over a Living Line
Brokeback – Gold! – Brokeback and the Black Rock
Felicia Atkinson – Against Archives – A Readymade Ceremony
Pye Corner Audio – Morning – Prowler
Rocío Gómez + family
Xenia: I had this one uncle who was called El Diablo (The Devil). He is a taller guy and he had a receding hairline, black hair, always very well dressed, nice pants, some sort of snakeskin shoe, silk shirts and that stereotypical, macho Latin man type of thing; unbuttoned down to the middle of his chest, with gold necklaces… Really evil, beady black eyes.
Being a child of two or three years old and being in the same room as El Diablo was terrifying. It was like a negative energy when he came into the room. He would come over to my grandmother’s house, and as soon he would come up, I would run into my room, close the door and play with my dolls, and stay there until he left. I was terrified of him.
Jeff: My dad and his brothers – my uncles – were born in Colombia and inherited huge lots of land in Colombia. I think my dad was the only one that left Colombia to come to the United States. The way that it’s always been in my head was that he was over here, and then one of his brothers was like, “Hey, man… You know, the land and all that that mom and dad left us – we figured out something to do with it. Come back and be a part of it, because we’re making money.” The business was to let the gorillas basically use the land to grow cocaine.
Rocío: It is so hard to break, so hard to get out, because all of Rodrigo’s family was on it. I didn’t wanna cut the relationship with the family, because it was his family. I didn’t like what they were into, but you know… they’re family. Finally, it was a break to come to Florida. I couldn’t be happier. The only thing was that my husband was still in the business, laundering the money. And I knew it, I knew it, I knew it but I didn’t care what break it was. The whole thing was I was going back to the United States.
Xenia: We left Colombia I think late 1983 or early 1984. At the age of 3, we moved to Florida.
Rocío: We would come into a house. It was really nice. It was a beautiful house…
Xenia: A really beautiful house with a pool, and it was on a golf course.
Rocío: So we were there and I got pregnant with my second child, that was Jeff.
Jeff: My sister has memories of my parents actually being together, but I don’t…
Xenia: My parents weren’t divorced at the time, they weren’t separated, so I still had complete attention from my dad.
Rocío: Anything that that little girl would need – anything – he would go out of his way to get it. Even though my husband was dealing with drugs, he was a very good daddy to them. Rodrigo had to travel a lot; he had to travel to Texas, to Arizona, Florida… All over the United States, to make sure that the money would come. I remember once that my husband wasn’t in; a guy came and he says, “I’ve got all this kilos in the car, and I have to leave. What am I gonna do? He has to tell me what to do with it.” I said, “What do you have?” “Yes, I have…” — I don’t even remember, but it was a lot. I almost fainted, and he was in the parking lot of my house. I said, “Sir, you have to take that stuff out of here. You know, I’ve got the kids here.” He said, “Yeah, but tell your husband to tell me what to do with it.”
This is how I got away from them all – I was pregnant with Jeff, I was already on my 6-7th month, and one of my husband’s friends (a pilot) came to visit us with his wife, that I knew from Colombia. They went out, and I stayed with the wife and we started talking. I asked her “How’s everything? How are you?” and she’s telling me about another woman that the husband has. I say, “Why don’t you get a divorce?” I was saying, “You know, it’s just like Rodrigo. I used to see him coming with lipstick on the shirt, and stuff like that.”
She goes to me, “Then you know…?” I said, “Yes, of course.” But that was a lie, I didn’t know nothing. I already was suspecting a lot of stuff, but maybe I didn’t want to believe it. Here I am, seven months pregnant, and she tells me that my husband has a girlfriend, that he had a penthouse, and the girl was living there. She told me her name, she told me everything, all the information. I kept it to myself; I didn’t tell my husband when he came, nothing.
I had a private detective, and he went to the apartment and yes, she was there. I thought about it just for like maybe five seconds that I was not gonna say anything until the baby was born. And I did that.
When Jeff was born I went to a lawyer and put in my divorce. I didn’t want nothing else, nothing. I just wanted to be left alone, start a new life with my kids. That was a way out too, from the family, from everything. Once I close a door, I just close a door.
Xenia: We were living just the three of us – me, my brother and my mother – for one or two years. When I do remember realizing that my parents had divorced was when my mom started dating another man. He started coming around and staying at our house.
How old were you at that point?
Xenia: Maybe six or seven, and I remember thinking, “Wait a second… This isn’t my dad, and this is my dad’s house. My dad’s paying for this house.” I remember being very protective.
Jeff: I don’t have memories of my life without my stepdad, I just don’t. All I knew is that when my stepdad came into the picture, that he was a pilot.
Carlos: All I can tell you, for example, is the best cocaine comes from Colombia, but the Peruvians make the best base. We would go to Peru to bring it back to Colombia, because the Colombians had the cocaine kitchen. The best cooks come from Colombia.
I am Carlos, from Colombia, Bogota. I’ve always been interested in plants. I think it started early… I remember as a kid, moving into a small apartment with my parents, only one bedroom and one bathroom. It was close to the airport, and we’d go to the coast, to the sea and pass the airport, and my parents would say, “Carlos wants to be a pilot. He wants to be a pilot.” I wanted to be proud of something in my life, and I did it, and I consider myself a good one.
It all began with marijuana, and that was along the coast, basically in Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta, the Colombians. That’s where it began. Like anything, it’s like the guy that has a drink today, tomorrow he’ll want two, and who wants two will want three, and so it goes.
So then this other thing is discovered, cocaine. How it is discovered? That much I don’t know. Once everyone figured out how to make it, everyone begins to make their own versions. The problem is who sells it, how do we transport it? It’s all a chain. It’s all a chain.
I began having contacts with pilots that were on the inside, mafia. I started to be friendly with them without really wanting to, so they’d say “Hey, let’s go get a drink at this place. So and so is there.” I would be like, “Hey, what’s up?” to this mafioso, and he’d say, “Oh, don’t worry about it, I’ve got this round” or “I’ll help you out”, and so it went.
Things weren’t going well at this time. I was in the midst of losing a home I’d purchased, so one day one of those friends, a pilot tells me “Carlos, do you remember how I once mentioned if you come along with me as a co-pilot sometime you’d make some good money?” and I said, “Oh, yes. Yes, yes.” And he said, “Well, I need you tomorrow.”
How was the operation going?
Xenia: The operation? Well, I didn’t know, really. I didn’t know how they cultivate the cocaine, or how they covered it or cooked it. I knew absolutely nothing about the operation. I didn’t even know what it was. I knew it was very good money. Then you start and get a taste of what it really is.
Carlos: We’d fly from Colombia through the jungles of Bolivia, through the Amazon without anything. We’d take off at two or three in the morning without lights; there’s nothing. Also, to be able to return, you had to leave early, and in those times we didn’t even have a radar. When it did come – the American radar – we’d know that the radar would be on at a certain time on this day or that day, and that they’d be focused on certain areas.
However, the Amazon was just too big. They couldn’t really locate us there in Peru, Ecuador, so we’d orient ourselves and navigate through the areas where there’d be no other planes patrolling.
These jobs usually weren’t paid immediately, but this person I was connected with had money already, and I got paid right away. The first thing I did was buy a nine-inch color TV for my mom. Oh, and a car.
So where did you go on the plane? Which countries did you fly to?
Carlos: Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela. Mostly in the South. In Peru you’d have a lot of encounters with cattle during take-off. We were going there to pick up the base for the cocaine. That’s where we went. We would bring it back to Colombia to get cooked. When we went to Mexico, the sale. Peru for the base, Colombia for the cooking, and Mexico was the product.
The owner of these drugs makes an investment. There’s growers – the ones that make the paste – there’s the one that cooks it, the one that transports it, the one that sells it… There’s the person that had to stash the money, the one that picks up the money and the one who returns the money. We’re talking about seven people who have a staff of five, six or ten people. So now we’re talking about 70 people.
Are they paying you a salary, or are you getting paid per ride?
Carlos: Yes, and it increased. For every transport it could be 500, then 1,000, then 1,500. It depended on who you worked with. At that moment in my life I did everything with God in mind. In fact, if you looked through my luggage, you’d see that I’m carrying my Christ from my first communion.
He has accompanied me everywhere I went, through all my flights, everywhere. I entrust myself with him.
I’d say around 1983, about two years into it was when I started to see what cocaine was about. Before that, there wasn’t any research or reports on what this stuff did, what cocaine was, really. All they’d say is “You’re gonna feel a really pleasant sensation, you’re gonna feel good.” We didn’t do it. They gifted it to us… The guys that protected the kitchens would give it to me. At one point I wound up having a kilo in my apartment, or something like that.
What’s even more startling, there were buddies that I would often see disappear. There was one in particular who even had his own business and all that. He was a good friend and a pilot. He left and never returned. There were a lot that left and never returned, especially when they were transporting money. We didn’t like transporting money.
Do you know who the top person is that you were working for at the time?
Carlos: I know… We didn’t just talk to them, we’d talk to all of them.
But did you work for different people? Was there a main person?
Carlos: No, basically one person. Every once in a while I’d do a flight for someone.
What about Pablo Escobar?
Carlos: That I’ll leave to your imagination. In those days, there were a lot of giants in the cartel business and many second to them. I am talking about giants.
* * *
Carlos: I never stopped flying. What happened was at the time things started to get tense; planes began to get more attention. We could keep flying, but with who, or what flight, or who would we listen to? This is how it came about whether I should go to Florida, so I came to the USA.
This guy had a flower business, so he would send four or five kilos of cocaine with the flowers to the U.S., mostly to Florida, and they would distribute it. But he’d stash the merchandise in the cargo. He was alone, and he called another friend who was a very good friend of mine, and until the moment of truth, it was like “Tell that guy Carlos to come with you to Florida. He’ll be part of the deal we have going on.” So I came to Miami.
We lived in a nice apartment in a really nice place in the city, and I remember there used to be a restaurant where the Bee Gees used to eat. My friend told me, “Let’s go see this guy” – this was Rodrigo. So we had a nice time. We ate well, we drank, we listened to music and we had a nice time. That’s when I started an affair with my current wife, Rocío.
Rocío: I remember meeting him like maybe a month before the divorce came final. It was my birthday, we went out… This really good orchestra from Venezuela was gonna be there, and I loved salsa, merengue and all that kind of stuff. Carlos was there with some friends of ours, and I danced with him.
Carlos: Then we started to chat about the moon, the water, this and that, music… “Oh, I like music, too. I like to dance.” “Well, then let’s dance.”
Rocío: I danced with him once, and then we danced twice… I don’t know it was just like, “Damn…” I like the way he dances, I like the way he talks, I like the way he looks… I like the guy.
Carlos: And like this, we became entangled. It was something organic. It happened very quickly.
Rocío: He was married still. He was not in a very great relationship, but he was married. We talked on the phone back and forth.
Carlos: The relationship started then and began to grow and grow…
Rocío: …and he says, “I need to find out if this is gonna work out or it’s not gonna work out”, because he was some friend of my ex-husband, so everybody knew each other.
Jeff: But was it a problem between you and my dad?
Carlos: Well, he didn’t want it to be. He said “With anyone else but not with me.” But that’s what your mom would tell me, I don’t know.
Jeff: But you and dad never talked about it, nothing?
Rocío: It felt good, and then I saw him again and again and again, and that’s when we started. The divorce came through, and he came and moved in with me. I was maybe 28, 29. By that time, I was already in love with him, so here I go again. He was the one that raised my kids, really.
Xenia: I never knew that he was my father’s friend until many years later. I was a teenager and I was going through some pictures in a box. I saw a picture – it was a Polaroid picture of my mom and my dad, with my dad’s arm around my stepfather. They looked like they were at a nightclub, and they looked to be really good friends. I was like, “Holy shit! I cannot believe they knew each other.”
I grilled my mom, and I remember my mom just kind of shrugging it off and being like, “Oh yeah, they were friends…” – when I was young, so she wasn’t very forthcoming, but my father never told me that they knew each other.
I wonder if they withheld it because of potential weirdness, or who knows…? But I couldn’t believe that my mom would be so sneaky and date my dad’s friend, breaking bro code.
Jeff: I think when my mom ended up with my stepdad there was no hard feelings, because he was like, “Well, it’s better than someone I don’t know.” Him and my mom were still close. It wasn’t unheard of for him to come over to the house at all. We didn’t live together, but he lived in the same neighborhood as my mom. I’d see him every weekend, or he’d come over… Then around when I was eight year old, all of a sudden he just disappeared.
Xenia: My mom told me that he was in New York and that he was gonna be there for a long time and explained very simply that he had gotten in trouble and he had to go to court, and I didn’t see him for a few months.
One day I came home and I went up to her room looking for her, and found all of these papers on her bed. The papers were all of the memos, the lawyers’ memos that said the state of New York versus my dad. Then I confronted my mother and she told me that he had been stopped and taken to jail.
Jeff: Back then I didn’t fully understand what it was that he did. They were like, “He got caught trying to bring drugs into the United States”, and that was heavy… It was really confusing.
Xenia: My mother’s not very emotional, so when she told me, she was like “Yeah, so your dad’s in jail because he was selling drugs. And that’s it. Whatever… No big deal”, and walked away.
Rocío: I wasn’t gonna expose that to my kids. Enough was enough. I wanted to do the legal stuff, what I used to be. I wanted my kids to be proud.
Carlos: We got married 13th January 1988. Now we’ve been together for 30 years. Relationships grow with time, not from one day to the next. Everything takes time.
Rocío: I had a mortgage and a house after the divorce; it was my deal to keep paying for the house.
Carlos: During that time I wasn’t doing anything… I didn’t have any work because I didn’t have authorization to work here. I wasn’t legal. With my savings and my things we still had some funds, but unfortunately it was a short time.
One day in Miami there’s a person that recognizes me and says, “Carlos, I know you have some connections. Help me find something so I can make a deal. I’ll give you something in return, man, but you help me out.” I said, “Let’s go talk to my connection.”
I don’t remember how much that stuff cost here, but it was at least a deal of 25,000 or 30,000. I didn’t need it. It was this person that needed to work. I wasn’t going to get anything out of it, really. He went in, made his deal; he ran into some problems and got caught.
The guy who had been given the kilo got busted, and of course, I inherited the debt. I didn’t have a way to pay the connection, so I gave him my car. I gave him the car because I was responsible for the money that the guy owed. I didn’t want to have any problems.
Rocío: I’m thinking, “We’ll repay the money and I’ll take my car back.” The car was used for transporting drugs. They used it to go I don’t know where…
Carlos: Two or three months later I got a letter from the FBI saying my car had been confiscated because it was used to transport drugs. I said, “Wait a minute, I have nothing to do with this. I’m going to the FBI.”
Rocío: They weren’t arresting us of nothing. They knew that we didn’t have nothing to do with it. My husband says, “Well, let’s come out clean, tell the truth.”
Carlos: Simple. I went to the FBI office in Miami. At the window I said, “I just received this letter, I want to talk to someone about it.” Of course, I got their attention.
20-30 minutes later two agents come out, and a secretary. I remember clearly that they started asking questions.
Rocío: They asked my husband – he was Colombian – what profession he has, and he says “a pilot.” “I used to fly for the oil company and politicians, and then I used to fly for drug lords.” He told them.
Carlos: The first meeting was pretty long, because when they said, “Maybe you can help us. What do you know?”, I told them “Yes, I can help you. I flew for a long time. That’s how our relationship was born.”
Rocío: I guess he was already tired of lying and in a way he felt a little relief. When you live like this, so much hiding,and you’re always lying – your life becomes a lie. You always have to put a different face, a different mask to different people. If it’s the cover man, if it’s your neighbor, whoever that worked with you… You become one person here, you become another person here… It gets tiresome.
Carlos: The situation I was in, I was looking for a future, and all I was thinking about in that moment was about supporting my kids. I understood what drugs were by then, so thinking about the future for my kids, I observed that and I didn’t want that. I knew I had to look after the welfare of my family.
So Carlos came clean… What did the FBI say?
Rocío: He opens a door and says, “Here.” A big, big map, and Colombia was there. Pictures of every single people that we know was there. Drug lords and people that used to be our friends. Little arrows pointing to another group, and then people that they were tracking. My husband saw the people that he worked with. Right there, I look and I see some of my ex-husband’s brothers, three of them.
My husband says, “Anything that I can help, I will.” Then he looks at me and he says, “But nothing with this family.” That family are my kid’s family. That’s what my husband told them, and I said the same thing.
Carlos: What they gathered from the FBI was that they were a company that would cover me, help me in that sense. Of course, they did their investigation and went through with the process they had to do to check me out. In the United States, I’m clean, super clean, so it wasn’t a problem.
Then I began to work with them full-time, while they did their processes and paperwork.
Rocío: So that’s what we did for many years, like seven, or something like that. It was a lot of years working with the government.
Carlos: The process was to open an office, an import/export business. Then I run the business and I get a salary. I was helping them as long as there was money to pay me. The information was very straightforward. I would go to Colombia or wherever, and propose a deal. I would talk to the big boss. I’d say, “I have this deal. Interested?” Since they knew me, they knew I had been a pilot for all kinds of people and all the big bosses from Cali, Medellin, Bogota, so they trusted me.
So we got together, we discussed, met the cartel reps, where to deliver it… From there, the FBI can follow them, tap their phones and do those types of things, all the detective work, let’s say.
The first job we did, if I remember correctly, it was ’88 – I have to check my papers to be sure, but I’m giving an idea. The first time I went with my plane was when I had to do an emergency landing at Guantanamo Bay. The cartel sent an 18-wheeler and we did the swap in the airport. The truck arrived and we put the cocaine on a hanger, and later it was delivered.
We loaded it into the truck, with the furniture. “Okay, goodbye… Nice to meet you.” Halfway through the trip, a highway patrol right around West Palm beach or Vero Beach, they get pulled over and asked for papers and what the representative was transporting. “Eeh, no, nothing… I can’t open because it’s sealed.” What they did was open the truck, they got the merchandise, take it and say “Thank you very much. Goodbye…” So the guy left and said that the police had stolen it.
I’d travel to Colombia. Sometimes I would have deals that would fall apart. I’d talk to the FBI all the time, because they didn’t know how to do things, truly. They knew about the rules, laws… But how it worked? No. Let’s say it was 300 kilos at $30,000/kilo. The FBI didn’t know these things.
Rocío: They didn’t have a clue. Trust me, they didn’t have a clue. How to deal with Colombians – they had no clue at all. The words that the Colombians use to name something – stuff that nobody else would know, unless you are a drug deal. Code, yes. My husband knew all those codes.
Carlos: For example, “Did you put the merchandise away?” – you could say that. Instead you’d say, “What happened with the family? Where did you put them up?” “Oh, I put them up in my house. I’m hosting them in my house and they’re doing well.” Tomorrow I’m planning to take them for a drive in the city.” In other words, “I brought the merchandise in, I store it and tomorrow I’m gonna take it out and distribute it.” That’s how you’d say it.
Rocío: Me, I was just going with the wave; I’m just the wife, you know? But I would help out, because it was more credible. For me it was an act that I could get into, a lot like that. I’m good at that. My role was a lot of different kind of things – build trust, accommodate them, to feel at ease… “I’m the wife of Carlos.” They feel more at ease if you’re gonna go to the meeting… “Oh, there’s the wife, it’s not only the husband alone.” Everything natural. I speak the language, I’ve got connections, I talked about their families, talked about whatever… I guess a woman has that ability. You are there to set them up.
My husband, he was the one that knew, that had the experience with the Colombians, and they saw that he was so good at it. He played different parts, or whatever the situation required… If it was for him to be the owner of a building, the owner of a hangar – whatever was needed, Carlos was the main guy. He enjoyed it because he knew that he was helping and he knew that he was gonna be able to stop any drugs coming, which he did… He did, and it was a lot.
Carlos: What happened was I had gone as far as I could, because we made deals that were not legal; another that was not legal, then another, then another… How is it possible that someone that does illegal things doesn’t get caught? I had to be the one to go to Colombia and answer for that, where there would be bodyguards, hitmen, 14-20 people asking questions, and worse. It wasn’t easy.
Always I would go to Colombia, I would say, “Here I am”, but I’d have to drink a bottle of scotch to work up the nerve so they’d believe my story. I’m not an aggressive guy; I’m a bad liar. First of all I turn red – right there, that gives me away. That’s why I had to have some drinks.
All the money we were investing. Which drugs… We’re talking about — the last amount was saving a hundred kilos at 30,000 dollars, which amounts to 21 million. So they would lose 21 million. “What happened?” they’d ask. “It got lost,” I’d say.
Rocío Gómez: The only moment that I’d ever felt scared was when I was in Colombia and we were doing this drug lord… Very young guy, fine-looking, with a lot of money. We were in his house outside of Cali, a very beautiful house. We were there, and in the morning we went out to see his cattle, and everything… And he goes to a little one and put a knife into her, and killed it right there.
This guy was having doubts… But they always do that, they don’t trust nobody. And he says, “This is what I do to people that are snitches”, or whatever, and then he just killed it right there, in front of me. It screamed and fell on the ground, and the blood was coming out. I felt scared, but I wasn’t reacting scared. I was just, “Hey, it should be that way. If they’re a snitch, you should kill them like that.” I just showed no fear.
Carlos: The last trip to Colombia was the most difficult, because there was no more bodyguards. Mafiosos put weapons on the table. “Why did this merchandise get lost? Why did that get lost? This person is missing, that person got arrested, and you’re still here.” I had to say, “Everything is there and I’m here. Do you think that if I had something to do with it I’d be here?”
During this last trip, the second-in-command (one of the bosses), he said “We have this guy here… What do we do with him?” That’s when I thought it was over. I don’t know what his response was, but they let me go. From there, I returned and that’s when they said “No more.”
Being an informant had just run its course. I can get up to a certain point, like Al Capone. He made it to a certain point. But after that, you can’t get any further or else we’ll kill the head. That’s when I decided what’s the best thing for my family. The first thing I needed to think about was “How do I protect my family?”, so “Let’s get out.” The only escape was witness protection.
Rocío Gómez + family
Nick van der Kolk, Host, Director & Producer
Brendan Baker, Producer
Steven Jackson, Producer
Paulus Van Horne, Production Assistant
Everything Is Stories