Roger Reaves: Smuggling Drugs for Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel | Lex Fridman Podcast #199 | Summary and Q&A

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July 11, 2021
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Roger Reaves: Smuggling Drugs for Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel | Lex Fridman Podcast #199

TL;DR

Roger Reeves, one of the most prolific drug smugglers in history, shares his experiences working for Pablo Escobar, Jorge Ochoa, and the Medellin Cartel, as well as his personal reflections on the war on drugs and his own role within it.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What motivated Roger Reeves to become a drug smuggler?

Reeves admits that money was his primary motivation, but he also highlights the thrill and adventure that came with the lifestyle. He compares it to winning big in a casino and not knowing when to walk away.

Q: Did Reeves ever have more money than he knew what to do with?

While Reeves did amass a significant amount of wealth, he explains that he bought everything he could and even invested in several properties and businesses. However, he asserts that money did not bring him happiness and that he is much happier now, despite his past actions.

Q: What was Reeves' relationship with Pablo Escobar and Jorge Ochoa like?

Reeves describes Pablo Escobar as a gentleman who started out with good intentions to help the poor but ultimately became a brutal murderer. He found Escobar to be trustworthy in their business dealings. As for Jorge Ochoa, Reeves perceived him as the brains behind the Medellin Cartel and a true gentleman. He respected Ochoa and had a good rapport with him.

Q: How did Reeves survive in such a violent world?

Reeves states that he was treated well by the cartel members and was viewed as an essential part of their operations. He had a clear understanding with his superiors that he would do what he promised, and as long as he followed through, there was mutual trust.

Q: What motivated Roger Reeves to become a drug smuggler?

Reeves admits that money was his primary motivation, but he also highlights the thrill and adventure that came with the lifestyle. He compares it to winning big in a casino and not knowing when to walk away.

More Insights

  • The war on drugs has had immense financial costs, with marijuana legalization alone estimated to save billions of dollars and benefit education.

  • The prohibition of drugs has led to hundreds of thousands of people being incarcerated for drug-related offenses, destroying lives beyond repair.

  • Society often idolizes violent criminals while demonizing those who engage in non-violent crimes like drug smuggling.

  • The line between murder and killing can be blurred, but Reeves argues that self-defense or defense of others falls under "killing" rather than "murder."

  • It is possible for individuals involved in illegal activities, like drug smuggling, to have integrity and operate with a sense of honesty and honor within their own moral code.

  • The relationship between power, money, and greed can lead to betrayal, but there are certain individuals who rise above the temptation.

Note: This analysis is a summary based on the provided content and may not reflect the true events or perspectives of those involved.

Summary

In this conversation, Lex Friedman speaks with Roger Reeves, one of the most prolific drug smugglers in history, about his experiences working for Pablo Escobar and Jorge Ochoa, the leaders of the Medellin Cartel. Roger shares stories of his successful smuggling operations, his encounters with Escobar and Ochoa, and the challenges he faced as a smuggler. He also discusses the devastating impact of the war on drugs, his arrest and imprisonment, and his thoughts on the nature of good and bad men. The conversation touches on themes of money, power, violence, integrity, and betrayal.

Questions & Answers

Q: What motivated you to become a drug smuggler?

Money was the main motivator, although there were other factors such as the thrill and the power that came with being involved in the drug trade. However, money was the driving force behind my decision.

Q: Was there a point where you had more money than you could possibly know what to do with?

Yes, there were times when I had plenty of money and it seemed like I had more than I could ever spend. It was like winning at a slot machine in Las Vegas with gold coins stumbling around you. But the desire for more money was always there.

Q: What memorable experiences did having that much money make possible for you?

The money allowed me to buy everything that I desired. I owned multiple properties, including farms, and had an option on a huge piece of land. I also had yachts, ships, airplanes, and many other expensive possessions. However, these material possessions didn't bring me happiness.

Q: Did having all those possessions bring you happiness?

No, having all those possessions didn't bring me happiness. In fact, I realized that I'm happier now, even without all the material wealth. Happiness doesn't come from material things, but from what is inside of us.

Q: Looking back on your life, would you do it all again?

No, I wouldn't do it all again. Even though there was a thrill to it and it brought me a lot of money, it wasn't worth the 33 years I spent in prison and being away from my family. The consequences far outweighed the benefits.

Q: Was the power that came with being a drug smuggler a motivating factor for you?

The power and the feeling of being on top of the world were definitely enticing. Knowing that nobody could touch you and that you could do whatever you wanted was a thrilling feeling. However, it came with a lot of risks and the constant need to look over my shoulder.

Q: What was it like to meet and work with Pablo Escobar?

When I first met Escobar, he seemed like a gentleman. He was friendly, spoke English, and we shook hands like old friends. He was one of the brains behind the Medellin Cartel and had a reputation for being a powerful figure in the drug trade. However, as time went on, I saw that he was capable of brutal and violent actions.

Q: How do you make sense of the tension between Escobar being a brutal murderer and yet someone you could trust and work with?

It's a complex situation. When I first met Escobar, he seemed like a good man who did what he said he would do. However, as time went on, I saw the dark side of him and realized that he was capable of terrible acts. It's a reminder that people can have both good and bad qualities, and it's not always easy to define someone as purely good or bad.

Q: How did you survive in such a violent place like Colombia?

Oddly enough, I was treated like a hero by the cartel members. They liked me and treated me royally. I was given protection and was treated as an honored guest. I never felt threatened or scared during my time in Colombia.

Q: Did you witness any betrayal or dishonesty within the Medellin Cartel?

Surprisingly, I didn't witness any betrayal or dishonesty among the top members of the cartel. They were making so much money and had a system in place that ensured everyone got paid for their work. The trust and honesty within the organization were essential to its success.

Q: How do you explain the lack of betrayal within the Medellin Cartel, despite the presence of greed and temptation?

I believe that the key players at the top of the food chain didn't need to resort to betrayal or dishonesty. They were making enough money as it was and didn't have to cross any lines. Additionally, these individuals seemed to have a strong sense of integrity and were able to keep their word. They understood that being honest was beneficial in the long run and prevented unnecessary risks.

Q: Can you describe the relationship between Barry Seal and Pablo Escobar?

I didn't personally introduce Barry Seal to Escobar. However, Barry worked for me as a pilot, and I suspect that he may have had contact with Escobar separately. Barry was a skilled pilot and had connections within the drug trade. I trusted him and paid him well for his services.

Q: Was Barry Seal a good man?

Barry Seal was a wonderful man and a true southern gentleman. He was honest, reliable, and looked after his family and those around him. He was well-liked and had a little smile on his face all the time.

Q: What led to Barry Seal's assassination?

After my arrest and imprisonment, Barry continued to work as a pilot. However, his loyalty seemed to shift, and he started working against our interests. He may have been feeding information to the DEA or other authorities. His life eventually ended tragically, with his assassination in what appeared to be a retaliation for his actions.

Takeaways

These conversations shed light on the world of drug smuggling and its complex dynamics. It challenges the perception of individuals involved in the drug trade, highlighting the nuances of morality and the power structures within criminal organizations. The conversation also raises questions about the efficacy and impact of the war on drugs, as well as the corrupting influence of power and money. Ultimately, it serves as a reminder to seek understanding and compassion in our interactions with others.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Roger Reeves, a former drug smuggler, shares his thrilling and dangerous experiences working for the Medellin Cartel and transporting drugs across six continents.

  • He emphasizes the distinction between his role as a transporter and the violent actions of his bosses, like Pablo Escobar and Jorge Ochoa.

  • Reeves challenges societal labels and questions what constitutes a "good" or "bad" person, especially in a world where violence and corruption often go unpunished.

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