Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (December 1, 1949–December 2, 1993) was a Colombian drug lord. He is known for having been one of the "World's Greatest Outlaws". Escobar was the hardest cocaine dealer to catch. He is probably the richest and most successful criminal in world history. Some sources say that he was the second richest criminal ever, after Amado Carrillo Fuentes. In 1989, Forbes magazine said that Escobar was the seventh richest man in the world. The magazine said that he had about US $25 billion. He owned many luxury residences and automobiles. In 1986, he tried to enter Colombian politics with success. Escobar even offered to give money to pay the nation's US $10 billion national debt. He had to stop his political career because he was charged as criminal.
Early life[change | edit source]
Escobar was born in Rionegro in Antioquia, Colombia. He was the third of seven children to Abel de Jesus Escobar and Hemilda Gaviria. His father was a farmer and his mother an elementary school teacher. Escobar and his family lived in an adobe hut. They had no electricity but had running water. Pablo Escobar and his brother's school once sent them home because they had no shoes and no money to buy them. Pablo Escobar studied political science at a university nearby. He had to stop studying because he could not pay the fees. This was when he began his criminal career. He started to steal gravestones and removed the words from them to resell them. His brother, Roberto Escobar, said that this was not the truth. He said that the gravestones came from cemetery owners whose clients had stopped paying for site care. Escobar then studied for a short time at the University of Antioquia.
After this, Pablo started doing whatever else he could do to make money. He sold illegal cigarettes and fake lottery tickets. He even stole money from people when they left the bank. At the age of 20, he was already a famous car thief. In the early 1970s, he was a thief and bodyguard. He made $100,000 for kidnapping an executive from Medellín. Then he entered the drug trade. His next aim was to become a millionaire. Therefore, Escobar worked for the multi-millionaire and smuggler, Alvaro Prieto. Escobar became a millionaire at the age of 22.
Rise to power[change | edit source]
The book The Accountant's Story which Pablo Escobar's brother published, Roberto Escobar, discusses how his brother became rich. It explains how he rose from poverty. The book also says how Escobar became one of the richest men of the world. He lead the largest and most successful criminal enterprise in world history.[source?] At times, the Medellín drug cartel was smuggling 15 tons of cocaine a day. This was worth more than half a billion dollars. They sent it to the United States and sold it there. According to Roberto Escobar, Pablo Escobar's accountant, they spent $2,500 a month for buying rubber bands to wrap the stacks of cash. They had more illegal money than they could store in banks. Therefore, they stored the bricks of cash in their warehouses. About 10% were destroyed each year because of rats.
In 1975, Escobar started to develop his cocaine trade. He even flew a plane himself several times, mainly between Colombia and Panama. He smuggled a plane load into the United States. Escobar later bought 15 newer and bigger airplanes (including a Learjet) and 6 helicopters. His reputation grew after he murdered the famous Medellín dealer Fabio Restrepo in 1975. Then, all of Restrepo's workers were told that they now worked for Pablo Escobar. Restrepo had tried to kill Escobar before, but failed. In May 1976, Escobar and several of his men were arrested for dealing drugs. Firstly, Pablo Escobar tried unsuccessfully to bribe the judges in Medellín. They were building the case against him. At this time, he began dealing with the authorities. He either bribed them or killed them.
There were no drug cartels then and only a few drug barons. There was a lot of business for everyone. They bought the cocaine paste in Peru. They refined it in a laboratory in a two-story house in Medellín. At first, they smuggled the cocaine in old planes. The pilot could earn as much as £500,000 for each flight depending on how much he could smuggle.
Soon the demand for cocaine in the United States increased. Escobar started to organize more smuggling ships and routes. He also improved the sale networks in South Florida, California and other parts of the USA. Escobar and Carlos Lehder worked together to develop a new drug center in the Bahamas, called Norman's Cay. Lehder and Robert Vesco bought most of the land on the island. This included an airstrip, a harbor, hotels, houses and boats. They also built a warehouse to store the cocaine. From 1978 to 1982, this was used as a central smuggling route for the Medellín Cartel. Escobar bought 7.7 square miles (20 km2) of land, which included Hacienda Napoles, for several million dollars. He created a zoo, a lake and other things for his family and organization. At one point, about 70 to 80 tons of cocaine were brought from Colombia to the United States every month. At the peak of Escobar's power in the mid-1980s, he sent about 11 tonnes per flight in planes to the United States. In addition to using the planes, Roberto Escobar said he also used two small submarines to transport the massive loads.
In 1982, Escobar was elected as a deputy (alternative) representative to the Chamber of Representatives of Colombia's Congress. He was part of the Colombian Liberal Party. During the 1980s, Escobar became known internationally because his drug network became famous. The Medellín Cartel controlled a large part of the drugs that entered the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The cocaine was mostly from Peru and Bolivia. The Colombian coca was not of best quality. Escobar's product reached many other nations, mostly around the Americas. His network reportedly reached as far as Asia.[source?]
Corruption characterized Escobar's dealings with the Colombian system. He had an effective way of dealing with law enforcements and the government. This is often referred to as "plata o plomo" (literally silver or leador accept money or face bullets). This resulted in the deaths of hundreds of individuals. This included civilians, policemen and state officials. At the same time, Escobar bribed many government officials, judges and other politicians. Escobar was responsible for the murder of Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán. The Cartel de Medellín was also involved in a deadly drug war, their enemy was the Cartel de Cali.
Height of power[change | edit source]
Pablo Escobar once said that the cocaine business was "simple - you bribe someone here, you bribe someone there, and you pay a friendly banker to help you bring the money back." In 1989, his Medellín cartel controlled 80% of the global cocaine market.
The United States and Colombian governments saw Escobar as an enemy. At the same time, Escobar was a hero to many people in Medellín, especially to the poor people as he built houses for them. He was a sports fan, and built football fields and multi-sports courts. He also sponsored children's football teams.
Escobar was responsible for the construction of many hospitals, schools and churches in western Colombia. This made him popular with the local Roman Catholic Church. He worked hard for his "Robin Hood" image. Escobar often gave money to the poor through housing projects and other civic activities. The population of Medellín often helped Escobar by watching the police. They also hid information from the authorities, and did whatever else they could do to protect him.
Despite his popular image among Medellín's community, Escobar was well-known among his business associates to be a calm and sensible partner to deal with. He preferred to use his money before his gun. His brother said that Pablo Escobar knew that money generated more loyalty than fear. Violence was often unnecessary.
The Colombian cartels quickly managed to make Colombia the world’s capital for murder with 25,100 violent deaths in 1991 and 27,100 in 1992. Escobar gave money to his hitmen as a reward for killing police officers. 600 officers died this way. Today, other countries, such as Guatemala, South Africa and Venezuela have more murders than Colombia.
Personal life[change | edit source]
In March 1976 when he was 26, Escobar married Maria Victoria. She was 11 years younger than him. Together they had two children: Juan Pablo and Manuela. Escobar built and lived in a luxurious house with his family. He wanted to construct a Greek-style citadel near it. They began the construction of the citadel but never finished. The ranch, the zoo and the citadel were expropriated by the government. They were given to poor families in the 1990s under a law called extinción de dominio (domain extinction). The property has been converted into a theme park.
La Catedral prison[change | edit source]
After the murder of Luis Carlos Galán, a presidential candidate, the administration of César Gaviria moved against Escobar and the drug cartels. Eventually, the government talked with Escobar. They wanted to him to capitulate and to stop all criminal activity.
Escobar declared an end to a series of previous violence and terrorism, and turned himself in. He was held in what became his own luxurious private prison, La Catedral. Before Escobar gave himself up, the government approved the extradition of Colombian citizens. This was controversial. People suspected that Escobar or other drug lords influenced members of the government.
Escobar continued his criminal activities. He began to influence the media. The government discovered that Escobar was continuing his criminal activities within La Catedral. They wanted to move Escobar to another prison on July 22, 1992. Escobar's influence allowed him to discover the plan in advance and escape. He was still worried that he could be sent to the United States.
Search Bloc and Los Pepes[change | edit source]
In 1992, United States Special Forces joined the manhunt for Escobar. They trained and advised a special Colombian police task force, called the Search Bloc. It was created to locate Escobar. Later, as the conflict between Escobar and the governments grew, a group known as Los Pepes (Los Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar) formed. His rivals and former associates financed it. They wanted to find Escobar. Los Pepes carried out a bloody campaign and more than 300 of Escobar's associates were killed. Also, a lot of his cartel's property was destroyed.
Rumors said that members of the Search Bloc and of the Colombian and the United States intelligence agencies cooperated with Los Pepes. One of the leaders of Los Pepes was Diego Murillo Bejarano, also known as "Don Berna". Before, he was a Medellín Cartel associate.
Death and afterwards[change | edit source]
The fight against Escobar ended on December 2, 1993. The police used radio triangulation technology to find Escobar. The United States provided this technology to a Colombian electronic surveillance team. The group was led by Brigadier Hugo Martinez. The team found him hiding in a middle-class barrio in Medellín. With the permission from authorities, a firefight with Escobar and his bodyguard, Alvaro de Jesús Agudelo AKA "El Limón", happened. They tried to escape by running across the roofs of nearby houses to reach a back street, but both were shot and killed by Colombian National Police. Escobar suffered gunshots to the leg, torso, and the fatal one in his ear. It is not known who actually fired the final shot into Escobar's head. It is also unknown whether this shot was made during the gunfight or as part of possible execution. There is wide speculation about this. Some of the family members believe that Escobar could have committed suicide. His two brothers, Roberto Escobar and Fernando Sánchez Arellano, believe that he shot himself through the ears. "He committed suicide, he did not get killed. During all the years they went after him, he would say to me every day that if he was really cornered without a way out, he would shoot himself through the ears." The autopsy showed that there was no stippling pattern found around the ear, which suggested that the shot which killed Escobar was fired from further than an arm's length away.
After Escobar's death and the fragmentation of the Medellín Cartel, the rival Cali Cartel took over the cocaine market.
The Robin Hood image of Escabor still influenced Medellín after his death. Some of the people who live there, especially the poor ones, regretted his death.
Exhumation[change | edit source]
On October 28, 2006, Escobar's body was exhumed by request of his nephew Nicolás Escobar. This was two days after the death of mother Hermilda Gaviria, who opposed the exhumation. Nicolás Escobar wanted to verify that the body in the tomb was in fact that of Escobar. Escobar's nephew also collect DNA for a paternity test claim. According to the report by the El Tiempo newspaper, Escobar's widow Maria Victoria was present recording the exhumation with a video camera.
Virginia Vallejo's version[change | edit source]
On July 4, 2006, Virginia Vallejo, the television news speaker offered information in the trial against former Senator Alberto Santofimio to the Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguaran. Vallejo was romantically involved with Escobar between 1983 and 1987. The Senator was accused of conspiracy in the 1989 murder of Presidential Candidate Luis Carlos Galán. Iguaran said that, although Vallejo contacted his office on the 4th, the judge had decided to close the trial on the 9th. This was several weeks before the prospective closing date and, in (Iguaran's) opinion, "too soon".
References[change | edit source]
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- (Spanish) EL TIEMPO - Pablo Escobar's body exhumed
- Video of Escobar's exhumation (Spanish)
- Zero Hour: Killing of the Cocaine King (documentary)
- Kenneth Roberts
- Colombian Attorney General on Virginia Vallejo’s offer to testify against Santofimio