The Untold Truth Of Cesar Yusti, The Real-Life Hitman In Narcos

Spoiler warning: this article contains spoilers for "Narcos" Season 3.

The hit Netflix show "Narcos," with three seasons and three more of the ongoing spin-off "Narcos: Mexico," has given audiences a visceral account of the real-life wars of South America's most ruthless and violent drug cartels. From the downfall of Pablo Escobar to the tribulations of the Cali Cartel and the empire building of Miguel Gallardo, the show has maintained the intensity and shock of its very first episodes and remains one of Netflix's most reliably binge-watchable series.

Its ongoing longevity is arguably thanks to its creators' deft turn away from Escobar, who was the primary focus and main draw of the first two seasons. The series introduced a set of new principal characters that effectively "reset the chessboard" in the words of Indiewire's Liz Shannon Miller, transforming "Narcos" into an anthology show ready to explore the wider stories of the South American war on drugs in the process.

While showrunner Eric Newman admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that the show's fact-to-fiction ratio is somewhere in the region of 50/50, the post-Escobar seasons continue to draw their inspiration from real life characters. In Season 3, the Cali Cartel's brutal violence is enacted by "El Navegante," a hitman and enforcer based on a real-life killer named Cesar Yusti. But do the details of Yusti's life match up with those of his fictional counterpart?

An unassuming killer

Cesar Yusti was a real life "sicario" — or hitman — for Colombia's Cali Cartel during their brief reign over the country's cocaine network in the mid-90s. A professional killer in one of the most turbulent periods of the South American drug war, Yusti was certainly not a man you would want to mess with — a fact represented by Juan Sebastian Calero's imposing performance (pictured above). Though he only comes to life on screen in the aftermath of Pablo Escobar's death in Season 2, Navegante is spotted throughout earlier episodes, a character whose innate violence is finally unleashed when the focus finally turns to the Cali Cartel.

Though Calero's portrayal skillfully transmits the character's dark side, according to researchers, the real-life Yusti carried himself in a very different fashion. Veteran Los Angeles Times reporter William C. Rempel, whose book, "At the Devil's Table," chronicled the years that the Cali Cartel head of security Jorge Salcedo spent working with the DEA to bring the organization down. According to Salcedo, Yusti was a "nervous, jittery type," who was simply "plain and balding, with a bad combover" (via the Internet Archive).

Cesar Yusti's relationship with Jorge Salcedo

However, despite appearances, Cesar Yusti was certainly incredibly dangerous — a fact William C. Rempel's book makes clear (via the Internet Archive). Yet in "Narcos," there is very little interaction between the conflicted DEA informant Jorge Salcedo and the undoubtedly psychotic enforcer Navegante before their final, deadly confrontation in the season finale.

According to Rempel, whose book derives from extensive first-hand interviews with Salcedo himself, Salcedo and Yusti had a working relationship in which the two were ordered to organize the killing of Guillermo Pallomari, the accountant-turned-informant of the Cali Cartel who also appears in "Narcos." With Cali kingpin Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela aware of Salcedo's apparent knowledge of Pallomari's whereabouts, the cartel's head of security was put in the unenviable position of being tasked with leading the sicario to his target, an order he couldn't resist without blowing his cover. Salcedo found himself meeting regularly with Yusti, feeding the purported impatient killer information he needed to get the job done.

Yusti's disappearing act

Per the version of events recorded in William C. Rempel's "At the Devil's Table," Jorge Salcedo was gifted some much-needed time in his effort to prevent the murder of Guillermo Pallomari thanks to one of Cesar Yusti's habits: abruptly going missing for days on end, with no explanation (per the Internet Archive). According to Salcedo, his assumption was that Yusti's extended disappearances were related to far-flung murderous assignments out of town — an assumption based on the words of Yusti himself.

Recounting a meeting between Salcedo and Yusti in June 1995 in which the pair staked out the apartment block where Pallomari lived, Rempel writes that Salcedo became aware of Yusti's restlessness. The hitman told him that he is running late for two appointments: a 12:30 hit on a "snitch" dining in a restaurant nearby, followed by the killing of a second target at a bus stop at 2 p.m. It appeared that Yusti's sharpshooting abilities were certainly in high demand.

The possible crimes of Cesar Yusti

While "At the Devil's Table" characterized Cesar Yusti as a skillful and effective sharpshooter — he reportedly told Jorge Salcedo that he worked with a laser assisted automatic pistol, and that he "couldn't miss" — it is likely that the hitman was involved in yet more disturbing acts of violence.

Around the release of "Narcos" Season 3, Entertainment Weekly managed to secure an interview with the real Salcedo, conducted over a secure line from where the former informant was in hiding as part of the U.S. Witness Protection Program. When asked about the show's "embellishments," Salcedo said he understood that the real story had been dramatized, but there was still an element of truth to the more gruesome violence depicted on screen.

"I saw one episode, the first or something, where they pull apart one bad guy with two motorcycles. I will say, though it's horrendous, it's not far from the [actual] happenings. They did that the same. Not with Harleys, they used two Land Cruisers," Salcedo claimed. Though few real-life accounts of Yusti's catalog of crimes exist, we can assume that as the Cali Cartel's enforcer, it is probable that Yusti was likely tasked with doing more than shooting.

Who killed Cesar Yusti?

The finale of Season 3 of "Narcos" ends the way all good crime dramas ought to end: with a bang. A literal one in this case, as Jorge Salcedo takes decisive action and shoots Navegante dead after the killer spots him waiting outside the home of his target, Guillermo Pallomari. Though, as the real-life Salcedo told Entertainment Weekly, the story didn't quite pan out in such a cinematic fashion.

"In reality, I never killed him ... I think the DEA guys did that ... they have some information that somebody killed him, I don't know how ... All I did that night was go to my most secure location to secure my most beloved possession on earth, which is my family. It doesn't make sense that I'm going to go kill a killer. I've never killed anybody," Salcedo recalled.

However, not everyone is convinced of Salcedo's innocence. Matias Varela, the actor who won plaudits from critics for his portrayal of Jorge Salcedo, says he believes that Salcedo did indeed kill Yusti, though perhaps not in the way portrayed in the "Narcos." "The real Salcedo was never convicted of killing anyone. He's always said he was innocent of murdering anyone. Myself, I think he did it. The man did disappear," Varela told Vulture.

Though as readers of "At The Devil's Table" table know, disappearing was, besides killing, Cesar Yusti's greatest talent. For now, the notorious hitman's ultimate fate remains something of a mystery.