El rey de la cocaína


His favorite drug was power. Roberto Suárez could have been a legitimate politician in his native Bolivia, but instead, he devoted himself to building an empire. An empire where luxury was endless, notoriety shadowed him, and his sense of omnipotence would cost him dearly.

Contrary to one of his most feared and outlandish competitors, Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, Suárez was not a bloodthirsty provocateur of killings that divided his homeland. Rather, he was more like a riddle, one that, almost a decade and a half after his death, his family still tries to decipher.

By turning towards the illegal commerce of producing cocaine hydrochloride or “paste,” the purest and most coveted drug in the world, he spent eight years behind bars, suffered the inconsolable loss of a son, and saw his marriage to Ayda Levy crumble.

Levy tells her story in the book El rey de la cocaína (The cocaine king) published by Vintage Español.

From Bolivia, Gary Suárez, one of the sons of the “king of cocaine,” spoke candidly about his father and his infamous legacy. His mother, the author, was indisposed.

Your father comes from dynasties of barons in the rubber and quinine industries. Why did he turn to cocaine?
Well, according to my father, the whole decision was based on controlling the price of the drug. I never had any other answer. We have discussed this [with the family] countless times. I guarantee you that making “dough” was not what led him into this.

Of course, because you all had money.
Quite a bit… The truth is that I came to understand where he was coming from. His position was logical, no? We never accepted it, it was not right, but it was truthful. He demonstrated it with facts by elevating the price of the drug [making the “merchandise” more expensive so that only people with certain means could acquire it]. My mother also speaks about the bad friendships [sinister characters like Nazi Klaus Barbie], the people that lionized him…

How difficult was it for your mother to tell her story in a book?
Writing the book has been very painful. I helped transcribe it. She can’t speak about it, can’t stand talking about the subject, that’s why I am doing the interview and not her at this moment. It has been very difficult, because it is her life, and the most painful part is the death of my brother; for her, I think even a bit more than the death of my father.

Your three children, what kind of relationship do they have with their grandfather’s complicated past?
My father died 13 years ago, but they still have great memories of him. He was a very loving man, with incredible charisma. You don’t know how loved he was by people. There is proof in Bolivia that he did not harm anyone in a direct way.

About the author
Ayda Levy married Roberto Suárez Gómez in 1958. For 23 years she administered her husband’s cattle business, but when she discovered the truth about his illicit activities, she divorced him in 1981.