What Happened to Rafa Salazar? Is He Dead or Alive?

Rafa Salazar is one of Griselda Blanco’s most powerful enemies in Netflix’s biographical seriesGriselda.’ They meet for the first time when Rafa tries to buy her out for the Ochoa brothers. When Griselda makes it clear that she will remain the Godmother of the drug scene in Miami, they form an intricate partnership. Their companionship ends when Rafa’s partner Marta dies in the presence of Griselda. In reality, Rafa was a highly influential and integral part of the Medellín Cartel, the organization founded by Pablo Escobar, the Ochoas, José Rodríguez Gacha, and Carlos Lehder. Rafa died long before the murder of Griselda!

Rafa Salazar’s Life

Rafael “Rafa” Cardona Salazar was one of the major representatives of the Medellín Cartel in the United States. Rafa trafficked drugs from Latin America to the United States with Max Mermelstein, who oversaw the logistics of the drug shipments to the country by arranging flights, drops, and deliveries. When Max met Rafa, the latter smuggled around fifty kilos of cocaine a week, according to Guy Gugliotta and Jeff Leen’s ‘Kings of Cocaine: Inside the Medellín Cartel – An Astonishing True Story of Murder, Money and International Corruption.’

Rafa distributed cocaine for the Ochoas in the southeastern United States for years. In 1985, along with Max, he was indicted in Los Angeles for smuggling 750 kilos of cocaine into California. When Max was eventually arrested, the downfall of Rafa began. “Based on Mermelstein’s information, Fabio Ochoa, Pablo Escobar, and Rafael Cardona were indicted the next month by a federal grand jury in Baton Rouge. The charge: conspiring to violate Barry Seal’s civil rights by plotting to kill him,” reads ‘Kings of Cocaine.’ In early 1987, the trial began in the Barry Seal murder case. Later the same year, Rafa was killed.

Rafa Salazar’s Death

Rafa Salazar died on December 4, 1987, at the age of thirty-five. The drug dealer was at his antique car dealership outside Medellín, Colombia, when a group of assassins “sprayed” automatic weapons fire on him and his twenty-eight-year-old secretary. Rafa was killed just three days after The Miami Herald published a feature regarding his relationship with Max Mermelstein. Investigative reporter and author Gus Garcia-Roberts, who interviewed Max for a feature published by the LA Weekly, claimed that Rafa’s death was the punishment he received for vouching for Max.

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Gugliotta and Leen provided more context to Rafa’s murder in their book. “Rafael Cardona Salazar was gunned down inside his antique car dealership outside Medellín on December 4, 1987, just three days after The Miami Herald printed a lengthy account of his relationship with Max Mermelstein. Cardona, thirty-five, died in a spray of automatic weapons fire by assassins who also killed his twenty-eight-year-old secretary. Later, Colombian police speculated the Cardona murder was a Cali job, the first killing in the War of the Cartels. The case remains unsolved,” reads ‘Kings of Cocaine.’

Pablo Escobar’s brother Roberto Escobar also linked Rafa’s murder to the Cali Cartel, an organization formed by Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, and José Santacruz Londoño by breaking away from the Medellín Cartel. “Pablo was making so much money and Cali wanted more for themselves. The American DEA said Medellín controlled 80 percent of the cocaine going into America. But other people believe it was the opposite; Cali controlled New York and Chicago and Medellín had Miami and Los Angeles. Then Pablo decided to do business in New York. […] Maybe that started it. Or maybe the war was started because Jorge Ochoa was arrested going to Cali and in return, Rafael Cardona from Cali was killed,” Roberto wrote in ‘The Accountant’s Story.’

In the book ‘Crónicas que da Miedo Contar,’ author Toño Sánchez Jr. claimed that Rafa was killed by fellow drug trafficker Jorge González. As per the book, González dealt with a web of informants in the Colombian police, Army, and courts for Pablo Escobar. Toño wrote that Rafa wanted to “beat” González despite them being friends. When the latter realized Rafa’s intentions, he set out to kill the drug dealer with a group of men who were given Army clothing and non-commissioned badges. The accuracy of Toño’s account may need to be verified.

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