Pablo Escobar [full names Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria] was born on 1 December 1949 and he died on 2 December 1993 during a police raid, but the Colombian drug lord is still remembered more than two decades after his death.
He was a leader of one of the world’s most powerful criminal organizations ever assembled.
Around the world, this man is known as “one of the greatest outlaws,” but for a lot of reasons, he holds different meanings to Colombians, South Americans, the U.S. and the world in general.
During the height of his power in the 80s, Don Pablo ruled over a large drug empire, and was alleged to have ordered thousands of murders from his throne. He owned mansions, private jets, a private zoo, his own army and even the deadliest assassins were on his payroll.
As a child from a lower middle-class family, Escobar was full of ambitions. He grew up in Medellin, a suburb in Envigado where he always told friends of his desire to be the President of Columbia someday.
However, he chose the street life instead of education as the path to his life dreams.
El Señor, as he was also known, experienced poverty as a child. His father was a farmer and his mother an elementary school teacher. The young boy and his brother were once sent home from a primary school because they had no shoes, and no money to buy them.
As a Political Science student at the University of Antioquia, Escobar abandoned education for criminal activities because he couldn’t afford the fees.
The Colombian drug lord became a ruthless criminal, stealing tombstones and using abrasive blasting to clean them of any engraved work. He would then resell the items to devious traders from Panama.
However, his brother said in an interview that “the gravestones came from cemetery owners whose clients had stopped paying for site care.”
El Patrón, another name for Escobar, also sold contraband cigarettes and engaged in lottery ticket scams.
The famous drug lord later went into carjacking until the 70s when he found the “right path” to money, fame and power: drugs.
In the early 70s, Escobar, who had become a bodyguard and a thief, made $100,000 after kidnapping a government executive from Medellin.
In 1975, Fabio Restrepo [the reigning drug lord in Medellin] was reportedly murdered on Escobar’s command.
The leadership vacuum in Restrepo’s organization gave Escobar a chance to take over his rival’s organization which he expanded for drug business. In a short time, he was said to have controlled over 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States with a turnover estimated at $22 billion per year.
Reports say Escobar was the richest criminal ever, with an estimated net worth of $30 billion in the early 90s. A 1989 report from Forbes magazine named him as the 7th richest man in the world.
In 1982, Escobar was elected to Columbia’s congress. Having acquired economic, political and criminal power, the ambitious drug lord became unstoppable.
The “Cocaine King” had different personalities which many compared to that of a chameleon. His wickedness was legendary.
The “Tzar of the Drugs” was famous for these words “Plata o Plomo” which simply referred to his way of dealing with opposition in and out of the government circles.
A lot of honest politicians, judges, and policemen tried to stop Escobar’s rise to power. While his haters made efforts to clip his wings, the smart kingpin offered “kindness” as a first approach; an approach he called “lead” or “silver” (plata o plomo).
Escobar always made attempts to bribe his way out of trouble, but when his gift is rejected, he will order for them to be killed. He sometimes orders for one or more of the offender’s family members to be killed. In doing so, citizens were overwhelmed with fear as no one dared go against his “government”.
No one was untouchable in Columbia during Escobar’s reign. He could order for anyone to be killed anywhere.
The drug baron reportedly ordered the assassination of some presidential candidates and was even rumored to be the mastermind of a 1985 attack on Colombia’s Supreme Court.
According to reports, the kingpin ordered for Colombia’s Supreme Court to be bombed with some fighter jets in that year, killing a large number of Supreme Court judges.
On 27 November, 1989, Escobar’s Medellin Cartel [as his drug network was known] allegedly planted a bomb on Avianca flight 203, killing all 110 people on board. His target was a presidential candidate who luckily missed the plane.
The total number of people who died on Escobar’s orders remains unknown but reports say they’re probably a few thousands, including journalists, magistrates, policemen and even criminals within his empire.
Image shows Escobar’s prison in Columbia.
Escobar was said to be like Robin Hood. As a smart criminal, he understood that his safety and life depends on the common people of Medellin where he lived. He spent millions of dollars to provide essential amenities like schools, parks, stadiums, churches and even free accommodation for the poor masses.
The idea worked so well that people regarded him as smart local boy who took risks for the masses. Colombians who benefited from Escobar’s generosity were grateful, and granted him protection from the laws in return.
Escobar’s political ambition ended after he was charged as a criminal.
However, he lived a “good life” having married 15-year-old Maria Victoria Henao Vellejo, who later bore him two children, Juan Pablo and Manuela.
El Doctor loved women and had preference for underage girls. He also had extra-marital affairs, notably with Virginia Vallejo, one of his numerous girlfriends who later became a popular TV personality in Columbia.
Despite his shortcomings, Maria stayed married to him until the day he died.
Troubles for Escobar started in 1976 when he and his associates were arrested on their way back from a drug deal in Ecuador. The drug lord ordered an assassination of all arresting officers, and the case was soon closed.
Due to his growing powers and the accusations against him, the U.S. asked for Escobar to be extradited so he could face the laws, but he used his powers to prevent it.
To escape justice from the U.S., Escobar’s lawyers and the government of Columbia came up with a plan in 1991. The drug kingpin turned himself in, and was charged with a 5-year prison term.
Escobar went into agreements with the government which allowed him to build his own prison with the assurance that he would not be extradited to the U.S. He then built La Catedral, a magnificent fortress which featured a football field, a waterfall, a Jacuzzi and a standard bar. The powerful gangster also got a right to select his own guards which enabled him control his drug business right inside the prison.
Don Pablo gave orders to his associates through telephones, and there was no other prisoner in La Catedral except him.
Sadly, the edifice is now in ruins as treasure hunters mowed it in search of hidden Escobar loot.
Roberto Escobar, a trusted brother to Pablo Escobar, wrote a book “The Accountant’s Story” which explained the kingpin’s rise to fame and power.
Roberto served as his brother’s accountant, and revealed in the best-seller that they spent $2,500 each month on rubber bands to tie the huge stacks of cash. He said they had more illegal money than they could save in the bank at that time.
According to the accountant, Don Pablo had to store a large part of his cash in warehouses, and about 10% of the money was unfortunately eaten by rats.
On December 2, 1993, Colombian security forces were said to have used an American technology to locate Escobar’s hiding place at a suburb in Medellin “because he was speaking with his son on the phone.” The “Search Bloc” attempted to arrest and bring him to custody after triangulating his position, but the drug lord fought back.
In a shoot-out that ensued, bullets hit him in the body and leg as he nearly escaped from the rooftop before sustaining a fatal gun shot wound through his ear.
According to a report from Business Insider, Bowden’s account of Escobar’s death claims that, “despite all their gadgets, a positive ID was made only when a member of the Search Bloc spotted Escobar through a second-story window.”
There are wide speculations in the media that Escobar committed suicide due to the position of that kill-shot.
Others say Don Pablo may have ordered one of the Colombian policemen who served as his guards to fire the last shot so he could avoid arrest.
Escobar’s death brought his Medellin Cartel to its knees, paving way for another deadly rival, the Cali Cartel, to dominate drug business in the region until mid-90s when Columbia’s government shut it down.
The pilot’s who smuggled drugs for Escobar earned around £500,000 for each flight, depending on how much was successfully delivered.
At the peak of his career, Escobar earned around $420 million per week. He also made several donations to churches and hospital, excluding the financial help he rendered to many people.
Escobar reportedly offered to pay off Columbia’s foreign debts worth $20 billion, in order to avoid his extradition to the U.S. He also proposed to invest his drug money in the government’s development programs, but was turned down.
Among other facts from the life of Don Pablo was his decision to burn a total of $2 million cash just to keep his daughter warm after the girl suffered pneumonia while Escobar was on the run.
The first anniversary of his death was held on 2 December, 1994, in Medellin.
He once revealed that going to jail was his worst fear, a reason he was quoted as saying: “I’d rather be in a grave in Columbia than a prison in the United States.”
All said, it’s a known fact that majority of the people would love and protect “heroes” or “criminals” who make efforts to change living conditions for the poor masses notwithstanding the nature of their crimes – if it’s not against those benefactors. Politicians and corporate bodies know this to be true.
However, the majority is not always right. In matters of morality and conscience, there’s no place for “the law of the majority”.