Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was the infamous Colombian drug lord who’s violent power dominated the cocaine industry for two decades, making him billions of dollars and leading to the murder of hundreds of people.
Pablo Escobar was born in the city of Envigado, Colombia in 1949 and his criminal inclinations can be seen from his youth; it is alleged that he began his criminal career stealing gravestones and sanding them down for resale. The adolescent Pablo tried his hand at most petty crime in Medellin: from selling contraband cigarettes and fake lottery tickets to stealing cars. Escobar’s criminal existence was transformed in the 1970’s through the explosion in demand for cocaine in the United States.
Together with the Ochoa brothers, Escobar formed the Medellin Cartel that quickly came to dominate the cocaine industry, so that by the end of the 1970’s Escobar’s cartel was responsible for more than half of the cocaine shipped to the United States, bringing in not millions but billions of dollars.
Indeed Pablo’s brother Roberto Escobar claimed that the Medellin operation spent $2,500 a month just on rubber bands to wrap the stacks of money they were earning!
While this may be a slight over exaggeration, the money was rolling in and Pablo quickly adopted a flashy lifestyle; spending vast amounts of money on fast cars, planes and women.
Publically Pablo generated an image of philanthropy, making ostensible contributions to Medellin’s poor; building and funding schools, sport centers and churches. However angelic he may have portrayed himself to be, Escobar’s empire was built on brutal violence and dirty corruption. A policy he described himself as ‘plate o plomo’, silver or lead, which in more colloquial terms meant money or bullet. At the end of the 1970’s the sky seemed the limit for Escobar and in 1982 he formally entered politics and was elected as substitute representative to Colombia’s Congress. Thus completing his economic, social and political hegemony in Colombia.
However, Escobar’s criminal lifestyle increasingly came under threat in the 1980’s as Ronald Regan’s administration declared a war on drugs and increasingly put pressure on the Colombian government to capture and extradite Escobar. Then in 1989 Escobar initiated the murder of the popular liberal presidential candidate Luis Galan, an outspoken opponent of the drug industry.
Three months later Escobar attempted to murder Galan’s successor, Cesar Gaviria, by planting a bomb on an Avianca plane that killed 110 people. Following these two acts of unabashed violence the Colombian government finally moved against Escobar.
With solid backing from America, Colombia’s president Barco created a special police unit called ‘Search Bloc’ to hunt Escobar down and at the end of 1990 Escobar gave himself up following intense negotiations with the government. Escobar was granted his own special prison known as ‘La Catedral’, which resembled more of a holiday home than a jail: Escobar was largely free to leave when he liked and marijuana and prostitutes were regularly bought in to the compound. Escobar’s flagrant flouting of justice meant the Colombian government moved to transfer him to a real prison in July 1992. Yet Pablo escaped and an epic manhunt ensued, characterized by intense violence.
A homegrown vigilante movement, made up of a range of Escobar’s opponents called ‘Los Pepos’ or ‘People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar’, initiated a vengeful blood bath against Escobar’s associates and relatives. By 1992 Colombia had become the murder capital of the world, with 27,100 murders that can largely be seen as stemming from Escobar’s violent drug empire. Pablo Escobar was finally found on the 2nd of December 1993 and shot dead as he tried to flee to safety across the rooftops of Medellin.
However the victory of the law was short lived as the rival Cali cartel quickly filled the power vacuum left by Escobar’s death. Thus the sad cycle of the Columbian underworld continues; one criminal tycoon falls, only for another to swiftly rise and take his place.