Virginia Vallejo Garcia is a Colombian journalist, anchorwoman, author, columnist, multilevel-marketing Diamond, whistleblower, and political asylee in the United States of America since 2010. Her first book, Amando a Pablo, odiando a Escobar (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar) was published by Random House Spanish in 2007, and became instantly the # 1 continental bestseller. It has been translated to 15 languages, and taken to the cinema in 2017. Virginia Vallejo is known also for her accusations against several Colombian presidents – Alfonso López, Ernesto Samper and Álvaro Uribe -, beneficiaries of the Medellín and Cali cocaine cartels; and President Juan Manuel Santos (Uribe’s defense minister), known for the corruption of his administration, and for the “false positives”- killings of hundreds of poor young men that the Colombian army presented to the US Department of State as “FARC rebels killed in combat”.
Education and first marriage
Virginia Vallejo attended the prestigious Anglo-Colombian School in Bogotá, founded by her great uncle, Jaime Jaramillo Arango, minister of education and ambassador to London during the World War II. She graduated with the highest grades in 1967, and she worked as an English teacher at Centro Colombo Americano from 1967 to 1968. In 1969, she received an offer to work in the presidency of Banco del Comercio. There, she met the architect of the bank, Fernando Borrero Caicedo, founder of Borrero, Zamorano & Giovanelli, the leading architectural firm of Cali in those days. Fernando was a widower, 25 years older than Virginia, and he looked like the movie star Omar Sharif. They got married in a civil court in Venezuela -not in a Catholic church. After their divorce in 1971, Virginia became the director of public relations of Cervecería Andina, the largest Colombian brewery after Bavaria.
Career in television and radio
Her debut in television
In 1972, Virginia Vallejo received her first offer to work in television. In those days, it was uncommon for a society girl to work in the entertainment industry, so she accepted it reluctantly due to the opposition of her family. The television channels and studios were owned by the government, the programs went directly on the air, and the teleprompter was not invented or in use. The magazine, Oiga Colombia, Revista del Sábado, was aired on Saturdays from 8:00 to 10:00 pm, and it was directed by Carlos Lemos Simmonds and Aníbal Fernández de Soto, who became later the Colombian vice president and mayor of Bogota, respectively.
The two politicians were not experts in the television business, so they sold their space to the veteran journalist Alberto Acosta, “El Maestro”, director of TV Sucesos-A3. Due to Virginia Vallejo’s presence and charm, and her carefully trained voice, Acosta saw immediately her potential as a news presenter; he trained her first as a reporter, and in a matter of weeks she was interviewing presidents and personalities. In 1973, she became also the cinema critic of the TV magazine; and in 1976, the international editor of the newscast.
During those years, she hosted other television programs – like children contests and cooking spaces – and musical shows with the biggest Spanish and Latin American stars of those days, aired on Saturdays in prime time.
In 1978-1980, she became the anchorwoman of Noticiero 24 Horas, the most important television newscast – 7:00 pm – directed by Mauricio Gómez and Sergio Arboleda. In 1978 and 1979, she won the award as the “Best television news anchor”.
In 1978, she was elected by her peers as the vice president of the Association of Colombian Announcers, and was invited by the Taiwanese Government to cover the inauguration of President Chiang Ching-kuo, son of General Chang Kai-shek.
From 1978 to 1985, and from 1991 to 1994, she covered the Miss Colombia pageant in Cartagena for Caracol Radio and other stations.
In 1979, she co-hosted Cuidado con las Mujeres! of RTI, and starred in the film Colombian Connection, directed by Gustavo Nieto Roa. In November, she appeared in Town and Country, opening the section The Beautiful Women of El Dorado. In December, she married David Stivel, the prominent Argentinean television, film and theater director, exiled from the dictatorship of the military junta of his country.
From 1980 to 1982, she co-hosted Llegaron las Mujeres! of Caracol Radio; and, to the horror of the sports commentators, she became the first woman journalist to transmit a bullfight from the alley of the bullring.
In 1981, Virginia ended her marriage with David Stivel, but the divorce paperwork lasted two years. In that year, she founded her television production company – TV Impacto – with the journalist Margot Ricci, wife of Juan Gossaín, the powerful director of RCN Radio. In March, the Government of Israel invited them to make a special program about the Holy Land and Massada.
Virginia Vallejo was the only journalist sent by a Colombian media to London to cover the wedding of Charles and Diana of Wales on July 29, 1981. Her sensational broadcast of six hours for Caracol Radio resulted in offers from the BBC, and the Crown Information Center. In that year, the legendary Brazilian plastic surgeon Ivo Pitanguy performed on her a rhinoplasty (“nose job”), and the news appeared in one dozen magazine covers. A Hollywood producer nominated for the Oscar of the Academy saw Virginia’s pictures of Hernán Díaz, the legendary Colombian photographer. He invited her to Los Angeles, and asked her to co-star in his next movie to be filmed in Indonesia; but she had to decline, due to the massive work in her own company and the other television and radio spaces.
In 1982-1984, she hosted El Magazín del Lunes, from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. In 1982 and 1983, she directed her program ¡Al Ataque! produced by TV Impacto. In 1983, she became the first journalist to interview a philanthropic rookie politician called Pablo Escobar, founder of the cocaine industry and head of the Medellín cartel. The couple fell madly in love, and Pablo helped Virginia to obtain an “express divorce” from David Stivel. Several weeks later, he asked her to become his biographer. The romantic and stormy relationship – marked with long separations – lasted five years. It ended in 1987, on the eve of Escobar’s war with the Cali cartel and the Colombian state.
In 1983 and 1984, she co-hosted the musical El Show de las Estrellas, with Jorge Barón; it was seen in several countries, including the United States. In 1984, Virginia Vallejo became the spokesperson and official image of Medias Di Lido, the #1 Colombian pantyhose brand, for which she made television commercials in Venice, Rio de Janeiro, San Juan, and Cartagena.
In 1984, she became the International editor of Grupo Radial Colombiano, directed by Carlos Lemos Simmonds; and, in 1985, the anchorwoman of Telediario, directed by Arturo Abella. In that year, she declined the offer to become the first news anchor of Canal 51 of Miami, opened recently. (The reasons are explained in her book).
In 1985, she appeared on the covers of Bazaar and Cosmopolitan, and Elenco magazine named her as “The Symbol of an Era”.
In 1988, she obtained from the German government a scholarship to study economic journalism in the Institut für Journalismus in Berlin. She left her country, and returned to Colombia in 1991 to co-star Sombra de tu Sombra, a telenovela of Caracol Television. In that year, she was elected as member of the board of directors of the Association of Colombian Announcers.
In 1992 and 1993, she directed Picantísimo, a radio talk show from 3:00 to 6:00 pm; and from 1992 to 1994, she was the international editor of Noticiero Todelar.
In 1999, the millennium issue of magazine Hombre (Man) chose Virginia Vallejo as one of “The ten sexiest Colombian women of the 20th century”, and posted her picture next to Sofia Vergara’s.
Multilevel marketing Diamond
Commercial agency lawsuit
In 1998, Virginia Vallejo hired Luis Fernando Salazar and Juan Pablo Riveros of Luis Fernando Salazar Asociados to represent her in a commercial agency lawsuit against Neways. The losses of her network, and the exponential growth of her continental operation, were valued in US $30 million by Enrique Luque Carulla, former dean of Universidad de los Andes. Immediately, Neways closed the Colombian branch, and the owners and officers fled the country with millions of dollars from orders of the distributors and their tax retentions.Neways International hired Baker & McKenzie of Colombia as their counsel. Immediately, Juan Pablo Riveros joined the law firm of Virginia’s counterpart, and Luis Fernando Salazar sold her case and evidence to the powerful American law firm. The lawyers of both firms travelled to San Francisco, where they split the retainer of hundreds of thousands of dollars that Thomas Mower had paid to his attorneys. To uninstall the complex accounting systems – that proved the commercial agency and the exponential growth of Vallejo’s network – Baker & McKenzie hired an accountant from the mob as liquidator of Neways. Together, they remade the accounting manually and incinerated US $14 million in orders and tax retentions. The new attorney of Virginia Vallejo requested the exhibition of her 550-long monthly statements in the court of Judge Jaime Chavarro Mahecha. But he denied it, and eight books with the remaining accounting of Neways Colombia disappeared from his court. The judge ignored the multimillion compensations calculated by five court accountants, and he closed the case 14 years later.
Encyclopedia of corruption
In 2000, Virginia Vallejo offered her 550 pages-long monthly statements to the Colombian enforcement agencies; but all of them refused to investigate the multimillionaire fraud against thousands of Neways independent distributors, and the Colombian DIAN and American IRS. The felonies were confirmed by the judicial accountants assigned by Chavarro’s court; but the Inspector General, Edgardo Maya Villazón, and the Attorney General of President Ernesto Samper, Alfonso Gómez Méndez, blocked all the investigations. (Samper had received eight million dollars from the Cali Cartel for his presidential campaign. The day before the opening of Proceso 8000, the senatorial commission appointed to investigate the new president, Gómez Méndez incinerated all the documents that could prove the relationship of the Rodríguez Orejuela of Cali with his boss, President Alfonso López Michelsen, and dozens of senators, congressmen, ambassadors, and generals. The facts were confirmed to Virginia Vallejo by the head of the team of prosecutors of the Colombian Fiscalía in 2006.In 2003, Thomas and Dee Mower and their counsel were indicted in Utah for conspiracy in money laundering and tax fraud of US $4 million in Malaysia and Australia. Virginia’s pleas to the American embassy to investigate the fraud were also ignored by attaches of the IRS, FBI and DOJ. In March 2005, the Department of Justice sentenced Tom and Dee Mower and their lawyer to 36 months in jail for their felonies, and for obstruction of justice during the investigations of the FBI. Before the verdict, several Russian diamond distributors died mysteriously on the eve of their trip to Texas to file a class action lawsuit against Neways International and the Mower family. The “accidental deaths” were confirmed to Virginia in 2006 by the special agent of the FBI in charge of the Mowers’ prosecution.
Trials of Senator Santofimio and Cali cartel bosses
In early July 2006, the former senator and justice minister Alberto Santofimio – Pablo Escobar’s link to the Colombian political elite – was on trial for conspiracy in the assassination of the presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, committed by the Medellín cartel in 1989. Virginia Vallejo offered her testimony to the Attorney General Iguarán, but the judge of the case and the Inspector General Maya Villazón closed the case immediately.People that offer their cooperation to the Colombian criminal justice system are often killed or disappeared; so Virginia Vallejo asked the American embassy for her protection, in exchange for information and evidence on the criminal organization of the Mower family in 38 countries, and the links of the Cali cartel bosses with Colombian presidents and prominent politicians. The family of Gilberto and Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela had owned Grupo Radial Colombiano, the network of stations where Virginia Vallejo had worked as the international editor in 1984, and the trial of the brothers was scheduled to begin in Florida in September 2006.
The United States saves Virginia’s life
On July 18th 2006, the former anchorwoman arrived in Miami in a special flight of the DEA. The news caused media frenzy worldwide, and the official statement of the American embassy in Bogotá read: “Today, for safety and security reasons, we have escorted Ms. Virginia Vallejo to the United States, where her cooperation is sought in ongoing drug investigations”.In the event of her death before her meeting with the Attorney General Iguarán to offer her testimony against Alberto Santofimio, Virginia Vallejo had taped a home video in which she described the links of the former senator, justice minister, and presidential candidate with Pablo Escobar and the Cali cartel. In the video, the journalist described how – in her presence, and in 1983, 1985 and 1987 – Santofimio had instigated the elimination of Luis Carlos Galán’s, “before he became the next president and extradite Escobar to the USA”. Canal RCN of Bogotá purchased the video, and aired it on July 24th 2006. The program literally paralyzed Colombia: it was watched by 14 million people, an audience larger than the final match of the 2006 Soccer World Cup, two weeks before, and Gallup reported the highest ratings in the Colombian television history: 58%.
Virginia Vallejo could not enter the Witness Protection Program of the US Government, because all her information about the links of the two founding cocaine cartels with presidents and politicians were too old for the ongoing investigation of the Cali honchos. In the event that the journalist returned to Colombia, she would be killed, so she decided to stay in Miami and request immediately political asylum.Six weeks later, the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers pleaded guilty without going to trial, and they were sentenced to 30 years in prison. The Department of Justice took control of their fortune of 2.1 billion dollars that had been frozen, and was then split between the American and Colombian governments.
The book “Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar”
On February 14th 2009, Mr. Myles Frechette – the American ambassador to Colombia during Ernesto Samper’s government – expressed his concern “over the connections of César Villegas, director of projects of the Colombian Civil Aviation Agency, with drug traffickers”. “El Bandi” Villegas – a great friend of Samper’s – was appointed as the next director of the agency and was killed in 2002, a few days after Uribe’s triumph as Colombian president, on the eve of a meeting with officers of the DEA at the American embassy in Bogotá.In her book, Virginia describes also the relationship of the Medellín and Cali cartels with Caribbean dictators, billionaire launderers, enforcement agencies, rebel organizations, the Colombian army, and the paramilitary squads founded by Escobar and his partners. In the final part, she describes her separation with Escobar in 1987, her new life in Germany, her suffering during the era of narcoterrorism, and the hunt and death of Escobar’s, on December 2nd 1993.
Testimony in the “Cases of the century’”
Testimony in the case Siege of the Palace of Justice
On July 11th 2008, the new Colombian Attorney General ordered Virginia Vallejo’s testimony in the reopened case of the siege of the Palace of Justice, committed by the rebel group M-19 on November 6-7th 1985. She was asked to explain Escobar’s role in the tragedy, the assassination of the Supreme Court justices, and the massacre committed by the army during the siege and the aftermath. Her testimony was videotaped, and it was supposed to be protected by gag order; but it was delivered immediately to the army and the media owned by the López and Santos families (protectors of Pablo Escobar’s family), and their billionaire launderers of the 80s and 90s. To cover-up the crimes described by her, the media adulterated completely the testimony of Virginia Vallejo, and began posting under her name in Google monetary offers for her death and rape, together with her address, phone numbers, and e-mail accounts.
Testimony in case Galán’s assassination
On July 3rd 2009, the Attorney General Guillermo Mendoza and the new Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez ordered Virginia Vallejo’s testimony in the reopened case of the former presidential candidate. The purpose was to confirm the claims made in her book against leaders of the paramilitary squads founded by Pablo Escobar, Carlos Lehder, and The Mexican in 1981. The assassination had been committed by 18 hitmen of the Medellin cartel in Bogotá, on August 19th 1989, two years after Vallejo had ended her relationship with Escobar, and when she was living in Germany, cooperating with Bundeskriminalamt (Interpol Weisbaden), and engaged to a wealthy European entrepreneur.
Pablo Escobar’s crimes against humanity
In 2009, the terrorist acts of Pablo Escobar were reclassified as “Crimes against Humanity” by the International Criminal Court; but the Attorney General Mendoza Diago determined that, before referring the families of the victims to the ICC, they had to file their cases individually in Colombia. To prevent the reparation of thousands of victims through a class action lawsuit, Juan Pablo Escobar – Pablo’s son – embarked into a worldwide public relations campaign organized by Semana, the magazine owned by Felipe López and directed by Alejandro Santos, protectors and promoters of his family. The documentary was sponsored by Telmex, the company owned by Carlos Slim, partners of Pablo Escobar’s cousin.On May 14th 2010, Virginia Vallejo filed a request at the Office of the Colombian Inspector General, Alejandro Ordóñez, for the investigation of the consul and the prosecutors that had filtered her testimonies and personal data to the media, following the murder of three more witnesses in the Galán’s case. Ordóñez ignored the request, and refused to investigate the crimes.
Political asylum in the United States
On June 3rd 2010, the American government granted political asylum to Virginia Vallejo under the precepts of the Constitution of the United States, the Geneva Convention against Torture, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The decision of the judge was based on her career as a journalist, her political opinion, the crimes described in her book, and the brutal attacks from the Colombian government, the paramilitary, and media owned by presidential families or billionaires linked to the government.During more than one hour, in front of the attorneys of the petitioner and the Department of Justice, the Honorable Liliana Torreh-Bayouth listed almost one hundred reasons to grant political asylum to Virginia Vallejo. She commented that “in her 15 years as an immigration judge, she had never heard of atrocities like the ones described by the journalist in her book and her testimonies under oath, and the brutal character assassination applied by the Colombian media to the author of a bestselling book about political corruption”. Then, she delivered her decision to the attorneys of the parts, congratulated Virginia Vallejo for her courage, and wished her the best in her new career in the United States of America.
Verdicts in the army and Santofimio cases
Six days later, on June 9th 2010, Colonel (Ret) Alfonso Plazas was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the disappearance of the employees of the cafeteria of the Palace of Justice and a rebel woman detained after the conflagration in 1985. Immediately, President Álvaro Uribe attacked the verdict in television, and announced the retaliation of the army against “corrupt judges”. The following week, an international humanitarian organization had to take Judge Maria Stella Jara and her 4 year-old boy out of Colombia to save their lives.
On April 29th 2011, General (Ret) Jesús Armando Arias Cabrales was sentenced to 35 years in jail for the disappearance of five people after the Palace of Justice siege.
On August 31st 2011 – and after 22 years of delays and appeals – Alberto Santofimio was finally sentenced to 24 years in prison for conspiracy with Pablo Escobar in the homicides of Luis Carlos Galán and two of his bodyguards.
On January 12th 2016, Colonel (Ret) Edilberto Sánchez Rubiano, former commander of the B-2 of the army (military intelligence), was sentenced to 40 years in jail for forced disappearance.
On November 24th 2016, General (Ret) Miguel Maza, former director of the DAS – the Colombian secret service and political police – was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his association with the mafia in Luis Carlos Galán’s crime. The verdict was confirmed by the Colombian Supreme Court Justice on May 12th 2017.
“We, the unarmed”
Her story to Hollywood
On June 3rd 2014, magazine Elenco of El Tiempo dedicated their cover to Virginia Vallejo and her life. The author synthesized her unique fate in three sentences: “Every Hispanic actress wants to play my role for the big screen. The problem is that they don’t have my guts, or my brutal honesty. I suppose that… I am on the way to becoming a legend!”
The movie Loving Pablo (2017), based on the book Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, and starred by Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, was launched during the Venice Film Festival, on September 6th 2017. The European premieres took place during the last semester of that year. The North and Latin American are announced for the second semester of 2018.
Virginia Vallejo’s first book has been translated to 15 languages. The European editions were released in 2017, and the Spanish reprint and English version in 2018.
During her life, she has occupied the covers of dozens of magazines, and her unique story and career have been portrayed in thousands of worldwide media articles and television interviews. She continues to live nearby Miami, in her condition as a political asylee.