Pablo Escobar was a household name here in Colombia years ago. His memory has not faded completely. On Colombian television, one can still see countless documentaries about Pablo and his influence on Colombia. Pablo is remembered differently here in Colombia than he is remembered in the United States. In Medellin where he lived, the poor people loved him dearly. He was a ruthless cocaine trafficker on one hand, and a philanthropist on the other. Pablo was well known for his ruthless and brutal tactics as a drug king pin, yet he was very generous when helping the poor and underprivileged people forgotten by the government of Colombia.
Pablo Escobar was born on December 1, 1949 in Reonegro, Antioquia, Colombia to a lower middle class family. He started his criminal career at an early age. Petty theft, smuggling, and street scams were his specialty. He was also a bodyguard for a time. Later he moved into a smuggling operation controlled by a wealthy Colombian, Alvaro Prieto. After the death of Alvaro, a death ordered by Pablo, he filled that void and controlled the majority of the crime in Medellin, Colombia.
When smuggling contraband became too dangerous, Pablo shifted his concentration to drug smuggling. His drug smuggling career began when he flew cocaine from Colombia to Panama and the United States. Because of his success in drug smuggling, Pablo purchased 15 airplanes and 6 helicopters. The cocaine that he was flying to the United States was first processed in Medellin, processed from cocaine paste purchased in Peru. This all began about 1975.
In 1976 Pablo experienced his first arrest. Failing to successfully bribe the judge involved, Pablo bribed the police and the case was withdrawn. This started Pablo to begin the extensive bribing that touched many. He bribed police, politicians, and government officials. If they could not be bribed, then they would be killed. This bribing technique proved to be very successful. Pablo had truly become a very ruthless individual.
An example of his ruthless nature is illustrated in the following example. I was told a story about Pablo by a local here in Colombia. As the story goes: when Pablo was a street criminal, he had to transport his wife to a local hospital because she was pregnant and having a rough delivery. The hospital rejected them because they had no health insurance and no money. Pablo pleaded with the doctor in charge to please help them. But the doctor turned them away. At that point Pablo told the doctor that when he was rich and powerful he would return and kill him. The doctor ignored the threat and showed Pablo and his wife the street. A few years later when Pablo had become more prominent in his criminal career, he returned to see the doctor. He asked the doctor if he remembered him, but the doctor said no. Pablo then refreshed his memory and killed him.
The drug empire that Pablo Escobar built was enormous. His cartel was responsible for 80% of the world cocaine production. Between 1978 and 1982, Normans Cay in the Bahamas was the central distribution center for the Medellin Cartel that Pablo controlled. They had built refrigerated warehouses to store cocaine, and an airstrip where they had a fleet of airplanes. The size and scope of this criminal cartel was truly very large and successful. They were smuggling 15 tons of cocaine a day. They spent $2,500 a month on rubber bands to bind their bundles of money. Because they could not make daily deposits in the local banks, they had to store their cash in warehouses. They would loose 10% of their cash to rat infestation. The rats would eat the cash.
Pablo was hated by the United States and the Colombian National Police, but he was adored by much of the Colombian population, especially the poor. Pablo was responsible for bulldozing several very large poor neighborhoods in Medellin and building all new houses for the poor. He was also credited with building churches, schools, hospitals, soccer fields and for sponsoring children's soccer in western Colombia. The people of Medellin were fiercely loyal to Pablo and were a help in protecting him. He was a master in public relations.
Pablo Escobar had some political aspirations, and he also had some strong political beliefs. This may have been what led him to the assassination of a presidential candidate for Colombia, Luis Carlos Galan. Shortly afterwards, Pablo negotiated a surrender to the Colombian authorities. Before he finished his negotiations he was responsible for influencing the passing of a law that prohibited Colombia from cooperating in the extradition of Colombian citizens. He was imprisoned in La Catedral, a very luxurious facility where he resided in comfort for about a year. When Pablo discovered that the government had plans to move him to another facility, he planned his escape. He escaped in 1992.
Now Pablo was on the run. The United States joined forces with the Colombian National Police, to search and capture Pablo. This group called the Search Bloc was assisted by a vigilante group called “Los Pepes,” which was comprised of past associates of Pablo, people harmed by Pablo, paramilitarios (a guerrilla group in Colombia) and funded by the Cali Cartel ( the main rival cartel of Pablo). The group Los Pepes was nothing more than a death squad. In their pursuit for Pablo, they killed 300 people that were loyal to Pablo.
On December 2, 1993, Pablo Escobar was killed while fleeing across a rooftop in Medellin. After the death of Pablo Escobar, the Cali Cartel took over all of the Medellin Cartel's drug trafficking along with their own gigantic drug network to become the largest criminal enterprise in the world. But nothing lasts for ever because the leaders of the Cali Cartel were soon captured and put in prison.
The drug trafficking in Colombia is now controlled by various guerrilla groups, and the Colombian Mafia. It seems to be non existent, but I think that they are just more discrete. As a resident in Colombia, one is not likely to be affected by the drug trade. But the mafia is alive and well in Colombia. I know of a few people that are in the mafia and I am a foreigner here. My wife has a distant uncle who was high up in the Cali Cartel and is now serving time in a prison in the USA. Pablo is dead but as long as people crave drugs in other parts of the world, there will be a cocaine trade in Colombia.
The video that I am including is an interesting account of the killing of Pablo Escobar.