The King of Coke.

Pablo Escobar was the head of Colombia's Medellín cartel. In this role, he was at least partially responsible for "popularizing" cocaine in the 70's and the 80's, in the United States, and throughout much of the rest of the world. Or, at the very least, he was in charge of supplying cocaine to those people who were popularizing it. At the height of his power, his organization was shipping 80 tons of cocaine to the United States, monthly. The massive revenue that this generated made Escobar a very rich individual. By 1989, Forbes magazine was listing him as the 7th richest man in the world.

He managed to accomplish this by being a ruthless son of a bitch. No ruths for him. He was willing to kill anyone who got in his way, from police informants, uncooperative subordinates, cops, military personnel, government officials, Supreme Court Justices, presidential candidates... oh, and their families too. Well, let's just suffice it to say that he was willing to kill anyone who got in his way. At one point, there was even a plan in the works by his cartel to kill American president George Bush, when he visited Colombia in 1989.

Now, generally this isn't something that'll last. You tend to make a few enemies that way. Long story short, he got himself shot. ... What's that? You want the long story? Ok, here goes.


On January 12, 1949, Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was born in Rionegro, a day's walk from Medellín. He started out his life of crime like so many others, as a petty criminal. He was an accomplished car thief, as well as running a number of other scams such as selling fake lotto tickets. Small stuff really.

By the end of the 1960's, he had established himself as a small time dealer of Colombia's rather potent marijuana. Moving on into the 1970's, he got involved in the coke business. Got involved with the Medellín cartel, and started taking over the production side of things. At the time, coca farmers weren't paid that much, so he offered them twice the previous going rate, and they gave him their product. Nearby, he opened up processing facilities required to turn the raw plant into usable cocaine powder.

At the same time, though a combination of murder and bribery, he was working his way up through the ranks of the cartel, eventually first becoming the first amongst equals, and eventually the head of the organization. Not undisputed head, mind you, but those doing the disputing, or those that Pablo just thought might dispute, soon ended up a bit less than mobile, if you know what I mean.

As the discos of the 1970's became flooded with his product, he was starting to get quite rich. And he wasn't one to sit on his cash. He spent it. He spent money building hospitals and schools and soccer and baseball fields, in and around Medellín. For a while, the people loved him for it. So much so, that in 1982, he was elected to the Colombian legislative body.

He had built for himself sprawling mansions, private zoos, bought planes, helicopters, and fast cars. And working at his estates, a great deal of well paid men with a lot of guns.

While he was at the height of his power and popularity, he was of course alienating a whole lot of people. In order to kill a presidential candidate by the name of César Gaviria, the replacement for Luis Galán whom he had had shot during a campaign speech, he blew up the plane that Gaviria was supposed to be flying on. Escobar's plot killed 110 people, without managing to kill Gaviria, who eventually did become president in 1990.

As mentioned earlier, it was common practice for Escobar's hit men to slaughter entire families, not just the person who he deemed to have deserved it. If, for example, you were a police informant against him, if you wanted to him to spare your family, you would have to come to him to be killed, and save him the trouble of finding you and your family. He'd be very careful that none of your blood splattered on the carpets when he shot you in the head. And yes, Pablo Escobar did not have any qualms about carrying out executions himself, instead of leaving the dirty work to henchmen.

And, there was the small matter of the Americans. The DEA wasn't all that pleased with the fact that Escobar's people were flooding their country with nose candy. Especially not once we got into the Reagan years, with his War on Drugs. In order to avoid being shipped off to the United States to face charges there, he used his clout to get the Colombian-American extradition treaty cancelled. I may be wrong, but I believe that situation still persists.

While he technically couldn't be shipped off to the United States (I do doubt they'd have let that little problem stop them if they had found him,) he was still a wanted man in Colombia as well. He was offered a deal. Spend 5 years in prison, give up his drug empire, and come out of it a free man, with a law degree.

Not a bad deal. Oh, and did I mention they let him build his own prison?


La Catedral was the name of the prison, and I use the term loosely, that he had renovated to accommodate him. It wasn't minimum security, by any stretch of the imagination. There were a lot of guards, who had a lot of high powered guns. The problem was that they were on Pablo's payroll, and their job was mainly to keep people out, not to keep him in. The place looked a lot more like a resort than anything you'll see on OZ. He was still able to have visitors, and of course didn't actually give up his business, initially conducting it over the phone, and then moving to verbal communication when he realized that his phone was being tapped. At one point, while in prison, he killed a few of his subordinates who were visiting him.


After this, they tried to transfer him to a real prison. This didn't work out so well, and he escaped during the transfer. In 1992, after having only spent a year in La Catedral, he was now officially on the run. And there were a lot of people that he was running from. A special Colombian police unit was made up to look for him. And of course, the Americans got in on the action, with the CIA, the DEA, the NSA, and the military's Delta Force and the Navy Seals, all looking for one man. In addition, a vigilante group called Los Pepes (People Prosecuted by Pablo Escobar), started to get in on the act. This group was made up of a whole bunch of people that Escobar had pissed off on his way to the top.

One of Escobar's quirks was that he had a deep phobia of dirty bathrooms. Before and while he was in prison, the washroom was to be used only by him, and needed to be cleaned thrice daily. While he was on the run, he still had this limiting factor. Whenever he left a hiding spot, it was easy to figure out that he had been there, because it was usually some run down apartment, with a brand new immaculate bathroom.

Pablo Escobar, despite the wide array of forces looking for him, managed to stay at large for 16 months. During this time, Los Pepes was on a rampage, killing anyone connected with Escobar's organization that they could get their hands on. They were focusing on his lawyers, bankers, launderers, and of course his family. There is some suspicion that the info on who these people were and where they could be found was leaked to Los Pepes by someone in the CIA. His wife and children, who I haven't really found any information about other than this, tried to flee to Germany, who turned them back at the border.

Eventually, however, the Colombian secret police were able use an intercepted cell phone call to pinpoint Escobar's location. On December 2, 1993 Pablo Escobar was shot dead on the roof of an apartment building, trying to escape once again.

The hope was, of course, that by taking out the man on top of cocaine production in Colombia, that said production would fall apart. Methinks that was hopelessly naive, but that could be said about many aspects of the War on Drugs. Instead of falling apart, it seems to have splintered, into many different groups making coke. Impact upon the flow of coke from Colombia was minimal.



Sources:
Cocaine.org, "Pablo Escobar (1949 - 1993)," Cocaine.org. <cocaine.org/colombia/pablo-escobar.html> (November 26, 2004)
Rotten.com, "Pablo Escobar," Rotten.com. <www.rotten.com/library/bio/crime/criminals/pablo-escobar/> (November 26, 2004)
Wikipedia, "Pablo Escobar," Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. November 24 2004. <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Escobar> (November 26, 2004)
Autumn C. Koerbel, "The fall of Pablo Escobar," AskMen.com. <askmen.com/toys/special_feature_60/75_special_feature.html> (November 26, 2004)
Organization of American States, "Biography - Secretary General," 2004. <www.oas.org/documents/eng/biography_sg.asp> (November 27, 2004)
Sam@urbandictionary.com, "Pablo Escobar," Urbandictionary.com. Nov 1, 2004. <www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Pablo+Escobar> (November 26, 2004)

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