Don Pablo Escobar
Known to the world as a criminal, but to his people a hero, the controversial legacy of Pablo Escobar has cemented his place as one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century. Amassing a staggering revenue of $30 billion a year through drug trafficking, Pablo Escobar rose to the pinnacle of the cocaine trade, in the process becoming the most notorious drug lord of all time.
From a young age Pablo Escobar knew he would be rich. Born in the slums of Medellin, Colombia in 1949, Escobar would frequently tell friends, “I will not die a poor bastard, I swear. For me God comes first, followed closely by the money!” The son of a teacher and peasant farmer, Pablo’s family struggled to make ends meet throughout his childhood. When his father became too old to work, Pablo decided to leave his University schooling, in exchange for fast money through a life of crime. This decision as an adolescent would set the course for Escobar’s later exploits, embarking on a criminal career that would span the next 30 years. Stealing tombstones sanding them down and removing the names, Escobar would sell the tombstones to smugglers in exchange for cash. Escobar later moved on to car theft, slowly building his criminal resume, while making connections throughout the Medellin underworld.
At 20, Escobar began to earn real wealth working under multi-million dollar drug smuggler Alvaro Prieto. His craftiness and ambition made him a millionaire by 22. In 1975 Escobar began to build his criminal base, developing a cocaine operation comprised of fellow criminals and hired henchman. The legend of Escobar grew with the murder of fellow Medellin dealer Fabio Restrepo, whom Escobar assassinated after a payment was left unresolved. After his death, all of Fabio’s men were notified that they now worked for Pablo Escobar. According to his brother Roberto, Pablo fell into the narcotics business out of logic. He could make more money with one truck loaded with cocaine than 40 carrying booze and cigarettes. At the time there were no other drug cartels, allowing Pablo to establish his operation with little to no competition. Partnering with Jorge Ochoa, Carlos Lehder, and Verónica Rivera de Vargas, the traffickers cooperated to market the product and form smuggling routes from Colombia to various locations in the U.S and Mexico. Smuggling the cocaine in old plane tires to start, Escobar slowly began to build his empire. At the turn of the decade, the demand and subsequent price of cocaine began to skyrocket in the U.S, pushing Escobar’s profits to stratospheric levels.
In 1981, a kilo of 90 percent-pure cocaine cost $20,000 in Bogota; by the time that kilo reached New York City it was worth $60,000. Once it was cut with adulterants like lactose (for added volume) and amphetamines (for a cheaper high), the powder sold on the streets contained about 12 percent pure cocaine, and the original kilo could bring more than $500,000. At the pinnacle of his empire, Pablo’s planes were carrying over 11 tons of cocaine per flight into the U.S. At one point it was estimated that 70 to 80 tons of cocaine were being shipped from Colombia to the U.S. every month.
The money was truly staggering. While rats managed to eat away nearly $1 billion in annual revenue, Pablo was still able to finance a lear jet to fly his cash back into Colombia. Purchasing 7.7 square miles of land in the early 80’s, Escobar built his own personal paradise for his family and associates. He called it Hacienda Nápoles. A Spanish colonial mansion, equipped with a man made lake, zoo, private airport, and cart racing track, Nápoles provided the setting for Pablo’s lavish drug fueled parties. Amassing tremendous wealth throughout the mid-80’s, Pablo even had the gall to try his hand at politics, being elected to the Colombia Congress in 1982.
While violence, fear, and controversy followed Pablo throughout his criminal career, Pablo was seen as a hero to the poor people of Medellin. Using much of his money for philanthropic purposes, Pablo built neighborhoods in the slums of Medellin, financed soccer stadiums, and handed out cash to the poor as well orchestrated public relation initiatives. Pablo longed to be seen as a hero to the people of Medellin, and through his exorbitant wealth, he was able to do just that.
Not the brightest, most clever, or organized drug trafficker, Pablo Escobar rose to supreme domination through sheer violence and intimidation. His murderous ways catapulted his city of Medellin to the murder capital of the world, with 25,100 violent deaths 1991, and 27,100 in 1992. The murders were fueled by Escobar’s lucrative incentives to poor youth, placing $2,500 on the head of any policeman, and $250,000 for the death of any general. Numerous bombings, political assassinations and overall chaos ensued. As Pablo’s power grew, the U.S and international governments became more aware of the havoc he was wrecking. The conflict reached a head on November 27th, 1989 when Escobar ordered a bomb to be planted on Avianca flight 203. The explosion killed 110 people. The target, a presidential candidate, was not actually on board, yet the bombing awoke the international community to the exploits of Escobar.
Striking up a deal with the Colombian government, Escobar had a special prison built for him to reside in to serve his criminal sentences. Equipped with a soccer field, sex toys, televisions and pools, the resort like prison provided Escobar a safe haven to continue running his narcotics operations. Mounting pressure from international governments along with Escobar’s victims families led to an all out manhunt that lasted for over two years. Fleeing prison in 1991 it is said that Escobar escaped over 14,000 raids throughout his years as a fugitive. Declaring an all out war on the country of Colombia, Escobar’s henchman led a violent battle against secret service agents and Colombian police for a number of years. Pablo’s luck finally ran out a day after his birthday on December 3rd, when a phone call to his son was tapped by Colombian police. He was trapped and then shot while attempting to flee his apartment.
Although the death of Pablo Escobar marked the end of the Medellin Cartel, there is no telling the amount of families that were and have been affected by Escobar’s reign of terror. Striking fear into the hearts of all that opposed him, Pablo Escobar will forever be known as the world’s greatest criminal. That is, until someone else comes to take his place.