Colombias and South Americas feared drug-lord Pablo Escobar was much larger, richer and undoubtedly far more brutal than his idol, Al Capone. The worshipping of him will not stop in his hometown of Medellin, which is undergoing a transformation from one of the world’s most dangerous cities to today’s UN model. The myth of the extreme cocain-smuggler will not die, especially in the poorest areas
By Rune Vitus Harritshøj.
Light´s out in the middle of the salsa-hit and everybody scrambles away from the dance floor and down the stairs down to the taxis and buses in a dangerous race to get away from the city center’s darkened neighborhood and home to the family’s safety on the outskirts. It is June 1992 and I am visiting a Colombian family in the northern metropolis Bucaramanga. The blackout is according to our local host family provoked by the drug cartels or paramilitary groups. Perhaps the guerrilla groups or the security forces themselves. Whoever did it the city center explodes in a very visible fear. The city center´s no-mans land for a couple of hours and the above mentioned parts will use it for raids and reprisals. In this state of emergency has the population of Bucaramanga and Colombia’s major cities lived in during most of the 1980s and early 1990s. In the shadow of the ongoing war between these brutal actors with billions of dollars of cocaine shifting hands and going north to the US in every possible and impossible way.
I squeeze into the backseat of a taxi with the girls from our host family and a Danish travel-companion and race through Bucaramangas dark streets. Naive in every way to be here as a young Scandinavian backpacker.
Three weeks after Pablo Escobar escapes from his luxury prison on his estancia outside Medellin. Hotel Medellin is it called by the C0lombians, it is a self-made prison. Colombia is a country brought to its knees by fear in 1992. Escobar is a capo di tutti capi, the boss over them all. El Patrón is he called – the superintendent. But his escape is the beginning of the end for Escobar, who flees from extradition to the US, the Colombian judiciary and local archenemies. But most of all from his own urge to constantly make more money in spectacular ways. According to biographies of his life, he cant resist the temptation to just trying to fool the US Customs Service and Drug Enforcement Agency yet again. The methods have given Pablo Escobar a place in the history-books forever. The cocaine, which was produced in huge laboratories in Colombia’s remote areas in the mountains and the lowlands of the Amazon rainforest reached dry ground in the United States in every possible way. Mini-submarines from the Colombian and Panamanian shores of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. Light aircraft below the radars. Commercial shipping with bribery of the customs authorities of disembarkation and particularly the port of embarkation. Fast speed-boats from Cuba and the Bahamas. Helicopters. Trucks through Central America. In the tires of midrange aircraft. Or numerous shipments of Colombian-produced jeans of poor quality that flooded Florida until the authorities discovered that they had been dipped in a cocaine mixture that dried up and could easily be dissolved again to the purest cocaine.
Only imagination sets limits to the Medellin cartel’s ingenuity.
Millionaire age of 22, the world drug lord before 30
Pablo Escobar lived in a fairytale world and forfilled all his wildest fantasies. He built his drug-empire from the ground and dropped out of Economics at the University of Medellin while the West went through student rebellions and flower-power. His ambition was to be a millionaire by the age of 22, as he promised his poor parents with a father as peasant and a mother as a teacher. In the first half of the 1970s, he lived underground and had a smlla group of trusted henchmen, who with Escobar slowly created the Medellin cartel. Beginning as robbers and the smuggler of marijuana and only then cocaine. Several times he was close to die being the head of the smuggling convoys or light aircraft across the border to neighboring Panama. But the gods watching over him – being very Catholic to his last breath. When Pablo Escobar celebrated his 30th birthday in 1979, he was the undisputed leader of Colombia’s and Latin America’s most powerful drug cartel. He tried to carve out a political career as a disguise for his drug smuggling, and in 1982 he was elected as an alternate to the Colombian parliament. But it’s impossible to hide the sun with your hand – over time. The Medellin cartels power, ways and means were too obvious and too brutal with hundreds of murders annually on rivals, police men, lawyers and even judges.
Money or Lead
From 1984 the Colombian authorities did everything possible to stop the Medellin cartel. The United States supported with know-how, weapons and specially trained agents. That was the beginning of a decade of anarchy and violence in Colombia. From 1984 until his death in 1993 the Medellin Cartel staged a total war against the Colombian authorities and another even more relentless war on the streets against the archenemies from the Cali cartel a few hundred kilometers southwest. These were crazy times in Colombia with the armed guerrilla groups and paramilitaries lurking as well trying to get their share of the cocaine-trafficking. This venemous cocktail suited Pablo Escobar fine. He hired and trained a fearsome army of assassins, who assured the cocaine´s free transfer from the laboratories in the highlands and jungle to airports and ports and further north to the final destination in the US market. Plata o Plomo – money or lead – was the simple strategy against rivals and authorities. In the second half of 1980ies the Medellin cartel grew to a brutal and strong parallel government who challenged the mere existence of Colombia as a nation. From 1986 to 1989 car bombing killed a dozen judges and fifty witnesses in cases against Pablo Escobar and his henchmen. Bogotá lived in a state of emergency with the de facto curfew in the evenings. In 1989 car bombs exploded 250 times in the four major cities Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Bucaramanga. The culmination for the central authorities and the White House came in August and November 1989, when the Medellin cartel assassinated presidential candidate Luis Galán at a public rally and sabotaged an airliner with 107 aboard. All died except Galáns successor, who at the last minute did not board.
Pablo Escobar had megalomania. He behaved like a modern and untouchable Sun King with the ruthless extermination of his opponents. 1989 is the deadliest year in Colombia’s recent history. It is also the year when his fortune reportedly topped 200 billion dollars, according to Forbes magazine, which made him the world’s seventh richest. From 1989 until his death in 1993, he was the most wanted in the United States and lived constantly with 15 bodyguards, armored cars and helicopter transport in the dead of the nights to lure the authorities. He couldn´t live Colombia anymore because of the extradition orders. He had bombed the US Embassy in Bogota with six dead – outside. And in 1987 the Medellin cartel’s long arms liquidated the Colombian ambassador in Budapest – the former head of the Colombian narcotics police. In 1986, the American pilot Barry Seal, who had worked for Pablo Escobar, was murdered in the state of Florida while Seal was summoned as a witness in a US lawsuit against Escobar. Pablo Escobar began negotiations with the Colombian authorities to gain time. And broke the truce by stepping up his terrorist war throughout Colombia with car bombs and an estimated army of 3,000 sicarios – mercenaries – who from 1989 to 1991 killed 657 police men and 3,127 civilians in a wave of kidnappings and assaults.
Playoff and special forces
Pablo Escobar’s brutality wasttoo much for Colombia and the United States who made special force of 500 elite soldier of Colombians and Americans who hunted the druglord day and night. The earth was burning under Pablo Escobar and his wife and two children. In the spring of 1991 the net closed in so Pablo Escobar voluntarily went to jail to avoid extradition to the US. The prison was his own luxury estancia. The year after he fled in July 1992 because the new Colombian government was in the making of final agreement of extradition to the US. From July 1992 to his death on a rooftop in Medellin December 2, 1993, he lost his army of assassins and bodyguards. He was greatly concerned about his wife and two children whom since his imprisonment in 1991 had been living under permanent police protection. Germany and the United States refused several times to grant them asylum.
On December 2, 1993, he made six calls from his satellite phone to his family. It revealed his hideout in Medellin. A few hours later special forces stormed the building. Whether he shot himself, just above the ear which he had vowed to “get a tomb in Colombia rather than a prison in the United States,” or was killed by special forces, is not known.
In a few weeks I will travel from Buenos Aires to Bogota. In 1993, it was a journey from heaven to hell. Today the jerseys with “El Patrón” are sold everywhere in Medellin. 22 years have passed and Medellin is transformed from the rim of hell to a city that is on everyone’s lips for its economic growth and significant declines in unemployment and crime.
The biggest risk is that you’ll want to stay, is the slogan of Colombia’s tourist authorities.
Drug baron milestones
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, born December 3, 1949 in Rionegro, died December 2, 1993 in Medellin. Married in 1976 with Maria Victoria Henao, children Manuela Sebastián, all three have been given new identities and lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2009 was released the documentary “My Father’s Sins”, where Pablo Escobar’s son explains about his life and asking the victims’ families for forgiveness. Estimates say that Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel were responsible for the 4000 killing perhaps 10,000.
Pablo Escobar began as a teenager stealing tombstones and sell them on the black market. The first half of the 1970s cemented his through selective assassinations of rivals as a capable marihuana- and later cocaine-smuggling. From 1975, the Medellin cartel headed by Pablo Escobar in Colombia and Latin America’s most powerful contacts within law enforcement, politics and justice. Via the mantra, “Plata o Plomo” (money or lead), bribed and murdered cartel to the top. It is said that the Medellin cartel financed the extremely bloody hijacking of the Supreme Court on Nov. 6, 1985, where the guerrilla group M19 in a day held about 1,000 employees including judges kidnapped. The rescue operation cost 109 people their lives including 11 judges.
The absurd and extravagant kingdom was Pablo Escobar’s trademark with the bullfighting arena and hippos in his luxurious fortress in Puerto Triunofo outside Medellin. Ferraris, private jets, yachts and luxury homes in Miami and the Mediterranean coast. Forbes named him in 1989 to the world’s seventh richest man with an estimated fortune of 200 billion. dollar. It is said that the Medellin Cartel spent $ 2,500 a month on rubber bands – that would bind the many dollar bundles. His drug money laundered in the world, but the staging was worn warehouses in Colombia, where moisture and rats according to myth gave a shrinkage of ten percent. Medellin Cartel had a whole fleet of ships, aircraft and even mini-submarines via Central America and Cuba transported the cocaine to the United States. The cocaine was found even in flydækkene and more charges jeans that were soaked by a cocaine mixture that in the United States was pulled out of the fabric. In the late 1980s built his drug dollars schools, hospitals, churches, parks and football stadiums in Medellin and the surrounding area. He handed out as another Robin Hood also cash.
The term Colombian Necktie comes from an extremely brutal assassination method in which the victim’s throat cut and tongue pulled out, forming a small tie. The deterrent method, despite persistent rumors not invented but used by the Medellin cartel during the 1980s. The Colombian necktie comes from the bloody civil war known as “La Violencia” (Violence), which from 1948 to 1958 created the total anarchy in Colombia with daily terrorist operations in the power struggle between the liberal and the conservative party. 300,000 people were killed in ten years. Colombian band members still use the Colombian necktie, like tattoos on the neck of a protruding tongue is usually with them. In the 1994 trial of the American NFL star OJ Simpson was a connection to the Colombian mafia aired because his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her new husband had had his throat cut in the same way