Mobster Monday 2: Pablo Escobar

Posted: December 29, 2014 in Mobster Monday


Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (December 1, 1949 – December 2, 1993) was a notorious and wealthy Colombian drug lord and an exclusive cocaine trafficker.[1][2] In 1983, he had a short-lived career in Colombian politics. Known as “The King of Cocaine”, he is regarded as the wealthiest criminal in history, with an estimated net-worth of US$30 billion by the early 1990s.

Early life

Pablo Escobar was born in Rionegro, Colombia, the third of nine children to Abel de Jesús Dari Escobar, a farmer, and Hermilda Gaviria, an elementary school teacher.[4] As a teenager on the streets of Medellín, he began his criminal career by allegedly stealing gravestones and sanding them down for resale to smugglers. His brother, Roberto Escobar, denies this, claiming that the gravestones came from cemetery owners whose clients had stopped paying for site care and that they had a relative who had a monuments business.[5] He studied for a short time at the University of Antioquia.[6]

Escobar was involved in many criminal activities with Oscar Bernal Aguirre—running petty street scams, selling contraband cigarettes and fake lottery tickets, and stealing cars.[citation needed] In the early 1970s, he was a thief and bodyguard, and he made a quick $100,000 on the side kidnapping and ransoming a Medellín executive before entering the drug trade.[7] His next step on the ladder was to become a millionaire by working for contraband smuggler Alvaro Prieto. Escobar’s childhood ambition was to become a millionaire by the time he was 22.[8]

Criminal career

In The Accountant’s Story, Pablo’s brother and accountant, Roberto Escobar, discusses the means by which Pablo rose from middle class simplicity and obscurity to become one of the world’s wealthiest men. At the height of its power, the Medellín drug cartel was smuggling fifteen tons of cocaine per day, worth more than half a billion dollars, into the United States. According to Roberto, he and his brother’s operation spent $2500 a month purchasing rubber bands to wrap the stacks of cash, storing most of it in their warehouses; 10% had to be written off a year due to “spoilage” by rats that crept in at night and nibbled on the hundred dollar bills.[8]

In 1975, Escobar started developing his cocaine operation. He even flew a plane himself several times, mainly between Colombia and Panama, to smuggle a load into the United States. When he later bought fifteen new and bigger airplanes (including a Learjet) and six helicopters, he decommissioned the plane and hung it above the gate to his ranch at Hacienda Napoles. His reputation grew after a well known Medellín dealer named Fabio Restrepo was murdered in 1975 ostensibly by Escobar, from whom he had purchased fourteen kilograms. Afterwards, all of Restrepo’s men were informed that they were working for Pablo Escobar. In May 1976, Escobar and several of his men were arrested and found in possession of 39 pounds (18 kg) of white paste after returning to Medellín with a heavy load from Ecuador. Initially, Pablo tried unsuccessfully to bribe the Medellín judges who were forming the case against him. Instead, after many months of legal wrangling, Pablo had the two arresting officers bribed and the case was dropped. It was here that he began his pattern of dealing with the authorities by either bribing them or killing them.[9] Roberto Escobar maintains Pablo fell into the business simply because contraband became too dangerous to traffic. There were no drug cartels then and only a few drug barons, so there was plenty of business for everyone. In Peru, they bought the cocaine paste, which they refined in a laboratory in a two-story house in Medellín. On his first trip, Pablo bought a paltry £30 worth of paste in what was to become the first step towards the building of his empire. At first, he smuggled the cocaine in old plane tires and a pilot could earn as much as £500,000 a flight depending on how much he could smuggle.[10]

Soon, the demand for cocaine was skyrocketing in the United States and Pablo organized more smuggling shipments, routes, and distribution networks in South Florida, California and other parts of the USA. He and Carlos Lehder worked together to develop a new island trans-shipment point in the Bahamas, called Norman’s Cay. Carlos and Robert Vesco purchased most of the land on the Island which included a 3,300 foot airstrip, a harbor, hotel, houses, boats, aircraft and even built a refrigerated warehouse to store the cocaine. From 1978–1982, this was used as a central smuggling route for the Medellín Cartel. (According to his brother’s account, Pablo did not purchase Norman’s Cay. It was, instead, a sole venture of Carlos Lehder.) Escobar was able to purchase the 7.7 square miles (20 km2) of land, which included Hacienda Napoles, for several million dollars. He created a zoo, a lake and other diversions for his family and organization.[11] At one point it was estimated that seventy to eighty tons of cocaine were being shipped from Colombia to the U.S. every month. At the peak of his power in the mid-1980s, he was shipping as much as eleven tons per flight in jetliners to the United States (the biggest load shipped by Pablo was 23,000 kg mixed with fish paste and shipped via boat, as confirmed by his brother in the book Escobar). In addition to using the planes, Pablo’s brother, Roberto Escobar, said he also used two small remote-controlled submarines as a way to transport the massive loads (these subs were, in fact, manned and this is again documented in Roberto’s book).[1]

In 1982 Escobar was elected as an alternate member of the Chamber of Representatives of Colombia as part of the Colombian Liberal Party.[12] He was the official representative of the Colombian government in the swearing in of Felipe González in Spain.[citation needed]

Soon Escobar became known internationally as his drug network gained notoriety; the Medellín Cartel controlled a large portion of the drugs that entered into the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Spain with cocaine produced with coca from Peru and Bolivia through other drug dealers such as Roberto Suárez Gómez, since Colombian coca was initially of substandard quality and demand for more and better cocaine increased. Escobar’s cocaine reached many other countries in America and Europe through Spain; it was even rumoured that his network reached as far as Asia.

Corruption and intimidation characterized Escobar’s dealings with the Colombian system. He had an effective, inescapable policy in dealing with law enforcement and the government, referred to as “plata o plomo,” (literally silver or lead, colloquially [accept] money or [face] bullets). This resulted in the deaths of hundreds of individuals, including civilians, policemen and state officials. At the same time, Escobar bribed countless government officials, judges and other politicians. Escobar was allegedly responsible for the 1989 murder of Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, one of three assassinated candidates who were all competing in the same election, as well as the bombing of Avianca Flight 203 and the DAS Building bombing in Bogotá in 1989. The Medellin Cartel was also involved in a deadly drug war with its primary rival, the Cartel de Cali, for most of its existence. It is sometimes alleged that Escobar backed the 1985 storming of the Colombian Supreme Courtby left-wing guerrillas from the 19th of April Movement, also known as M-19, which resulted in the murder of half the judges on the court. Some of these claims were included in a late 2006 report by a Truth Commission of three judges of the current Supreme Court. One of those who discusses the attack is Jhon Jairo Velásquez, aka “Popeye,”[13] a former Escobar hitman. At the time of the siege, the Supreme Court was studying the constitutionality of Colombia’s extradition treaty with the U.S.[14]Roberto Escobar stated in his book, that indeed the M-19 were paid to break into the building of the supreme court, and burn all papers and files on Los Extraditables—the group of cocaine smugglers who were under threat of being extradited to the US by their Colombian government. But the plan backfired and hostages were taken for negotiation of their release, so Los Extraditables were not directly responsible for the actions of the M-19.

Height of power

During the height of its operations, the cartel brought in more than $60 million per day. Pablo Escobar said that the essence of the cocaine business was “Simple—you bribe someone here, you bribe someone there, and you pay a friendly banker to help you bring the money back.”[15] In 1989, Forbes magazine estimated Escobar to be one of 227 billionaires in the world with a personal net worth of close to US$3 billion[16] while his Medellín cartel controlled 80% of the global cocaine market.[17] It is commonly believed that Escobar was the principal financier behind Medellín’s Atlético Nacional who won South America’s most prestigious football tournament, the Copa Libertadores in 1989.[18]

While seen as an enemy of the United States and Colombian governments, Escobar was a hero to many in Medellín (especially the poor people); he was a natural at public relations and he worked to create goodwill among the poor people of Colombia. A lifelong sports fan, he was credited with building football fields and multi-sports courts, as well as sponsoring children’s football teams.[8]

Escobar was responsible for the construction of many hospitals, schools and churches in western Colombia, which gained him popularity inside the local Roman Catholic Church.[19] He worked hard to cultivate his Robin Hood image, and frequently distributed money to the poor through housing projects and other civic activities, which gained him notable popularity among the poor. The population of Medellín often helped Escobar serving as lookouts, hiding information from the authorities, or doing whatever else they could to protect him.[citation needed]

Many of the wealthier residents of Medellín also viewed him as a threat. At the height of his power, drug traffickers from Medellín and other areas were handing over between 20% and 35% of their Colombian cocaine-related profits to Escobar, because he was the one who shipped the cocaine successfully to the US.[citation needed]

The Colombian cartels’ continuing struggles to maintain supremacy resulted in Colombia quickly becoming the world’s murder capital with 25,100 violent deaths in 1991 and 27,100 in 1992.[20] This increased murder rate was fueled by Escobar’s giving money to his hitmen as a reward for killing police officers, over 600 of whom died in this way.[21]

Personal life

In March 1976 at the age of 26, Escobar married Maria Victoria who was 15 years old. Together they had two children: Juan Pablo and Manuela. Escobar created and lived in a luxurious estate called Hacienda Nápoles (Spanish for Naples Estate) and had planned to construct a Greek-style citadel near it. Construction of the citadel was begun but never finished. The ranch, the zoo and the citadel were expropriated by the government and given to low-income families in the 1990s under a law called extinción de dominio (domain extinction). The property has been converted into a theme park surrounded by 4 luxury hotels overlooking The zoo and tropical park installation.[22]

La Catedral prison

Main article: La Catedral

After the assassination of Luis Carlos Galán, a presidential candidate, the administration of César Gaviria moved against Escobar and the drug cartels. Eventually, the government negotiated with Escobar, convincing him to surrender and cease all criminal activity in exchange for a reduced sentence and preferential treatment during his captivity.

After declaring an end to a series of previous violent acts meant to pressure authorities and public opinion, Escobar turned himself in. He was confined in what became his own luxurious private prison, La Catedral. Before Escobar gave himself up, the extradition of Colombian citizens had been prohibited by the newly approved Colombian Constitution of 1991. That was controversial, as it was suspected that Escobar or other drug lords had influenced members of the Constituent Assembly.

Accounts of Escobar’s continued criminal activities began to surface in the media. When the government found out that Escobar was continuing his criminal activities within La Catedral, it attempted to move Escobar to another jail on July 22, 1992. Escobar’s influence allowed him to discover the plan in advance and make a well-timed, unhurried escape.[23] He was still worried that he could be extradited to the United States.

Search Bloc and Los Pepes

Main articles: Los Pepes and Search Bloc

In 1992, the United States Joint Special Operations Command (consisting of members of the US Navy SEALs and Delta Force) and Centra Spike joined the manhunt for Escobar. They trained and advised a special Colombian police task force, known as the Search Bloc, which had been created to locate Escobar. Later, as the conflict between Escobar and the United States and Colombian governments dragged on and the numbers of his enemies grew, a vigilante group known as Los Pepes(Los Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar, “People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar”) was financed by his rivals and former associates, including the Cali Cartel and right-wing paramilitaries led by Carlos Castaño, who would later found the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá. Los Pepes carried out a bloody campaign fueled by vengeance in which more than 300 of Escobar’s associates and relatives were slain and large amounts of his cartel’s property were destroyed.

Members of the Search Bloc, and also of Colombian and the United States intelligence agencies, in their efforts to find and punish Escobar, either colluded with Los Pepes or moonlighted as both Search Bloc and Los Pepes simultaneously. This coordination was allegedly conducted mainly through the sharing of intelligence in order to allow Los Pepes to bring down Escobar and his few remaining allies, but there are reports that some individual Search Bloc members directly participated in missions of the Los Pepes death squads.[19] One of the leaders of Los Pepes was Diego Murillo Bejarano (also known as “Don Berna”), a former Medellín Cartel associate who became a drug kingpin and eventually emerged as a leader of one of the most powerful factions within the AUC.

Death and afterward

Members of Colonel Hugo Martinez’s Search Bloc celebrate over Pablo Escobar’s body on December 2, 1993. Pablo’s death ended a fifteen-month search effort that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and involved coordination between the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Colombian Police, and the vigilante group Los Pepes

The war against Escobar ended on December 2, 1993, amid another attempt to elude the Search Bloc. Using radio triangulation technology, a Colombian electronic surveillance team, led by Brigadier Hugo Martinez,[24] found him hiding in a middle-class barrio in Medellín. With authorities closing in, a firefight with Escobar and his bodyguard, Alvaro de Jesús Agudelo (a.k.a. “El Limón”), ensued. The two fugitives attempted to escape by running across the roofs of adjoining houses to reach a back street, but both were shot and killed by Colombian National Police.[25] Escobar suffered gunshots to the leg, torso, and the fatal one in his ear. It has never been proven who actually fired the final shot into his head, or determined whether this shot was made during the gunfight or as part of a possible execution, and there is wide speculation about the subject. Some of the family members believe that Escobar could have committed suicide.[26][27] His two brothers, Roberto Escobar and Fernando Sánchez Arellano, believe that he shot himself through the ears: “He committed suicide, he did not get killed. During all the years they went after him, he would say to me every day that if he was really cornered without a way out, he would shoot himself through the ears.”[28]

After Escobar’s death and the fragmentation of the Medellín Cartel, the cocaine market soon became dominated by the rival Cali Cartel, until the mid-1990s when its leaders, too, were either killed or captured by the Colombian government.

The Robin Hood image that he had cultivated continued to have lasting influence in Medellín. Many there, especially many of the city’s poor that had been aided by him while he was alive, mourned his death. About 25,000 were present for his burial.[29]

Virginia Vallejo’s version

See also: Virginia Vallejo, Alberto Santofimio, Alfonso López Michelsen, Ernesto Samper and Álvaro Uribe

On July 4, 2006, Virginia Vallejo, a television anchorwoman who was romantically involved with Escobar from 1983 to 1987, offered her testimony in the trial against former Senator Alberto Santofimio, accused of conspiracy in the 1989 assassination of Presidential Candidate Luis Carlos Galán, to the Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguaran. Iguaran acknowledged that, although Vallejo contacted his office on the 4th, the judge had decided to close the trial on the 9th, several weeks before the prospective closing date and, in (Iguaran’s) opinion, “too soon”.[30]

On July 16, 2006, Vallejo was taken to the United States in a special flight of the Drug Enforcement Administration.[31] According to the American Embassy in Bogotá, this was done for “safety and security reasons” because Vallejo’s cooperation was needed in high-profile criminal cases.[32] On July 24, 2006, a video in which Vallejo accused former Senator Alberto Santofimio of instigating Escobar to eliminate presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán in her presence was aired on Colombian television. In 2007, Vallejo published her book Amando a Pablo, odiando a Escobar[33] (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar),[34] where she describes her relationship with the drug lord during the early years of the cocaine boom, and his charity projects for the poor when he was a deputy congressman. She gives her account of Escobar’s relationship with Caribbean governments and dictators and his role in the birth of the M.A.S. (Death to Kidnappers) and Los Extraditables (The Extraditables). Vallejo also gives her account of numerous incidents throughout Escobar’s political and criminal career, such as the assassination of Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla in 1984, her lover’s feud with the Cali Cartel and the era of narcoterrorism that began after the couple’s farewell in September 1987.

Among Escobar’s biographers, only Vallejo has given a detailed explanation of his role in the 1985 Palace of Justice siege and the atrocities that took place before, during and after the tragedy. (“Amando a Pablo, odiando a Escobar”, “Aquel Palacio en llamas”, pages 227–264). The journalist stated that Escobar financed the operation, committed by the rebel M-19 group, but blamed the army for the killings of the Supreme Court Justices and the detained after the coup. In 2008, she was asked to testify in the reopened Palace case,[35] and in 2009 most of the events that she had described in her book and testimonial were confirmed by the Commission of Truth.[36] In 2010 and 2011, a high-ranking former colonel [37] and a former general [38] were sentenced to thirty and thirty-five years in prison for forced disappearance of the detained after the siege.

In August 2009, Vallejo testified in the case of Luis Carlos Galán’s assassination, which had also been reopened.[39] She also accused several politicians, including Colombian presidents Alfonso López Michelsen, Ernesto Samper and Álvaro Uribe of links to the drug cartels. Uribe denied Vallejo’s allegations.[40] On June 3, 2010, Vallejo was granted political asylum in the United States of America.


Escobar’s widow, Maria Victoria Henao (now Maria Isabel Santos Caballero), son, Juan Pablo (now Juan Sebastián Marroquín Santos), and daughter, Manuela, fled Colombia in 1995 after failing to find a country that would grant asylum.[41] Argentinian filmmaker Nicolas Entel’s documentary Sins of My Father chronicles Marroquín’s efforts to seek forgiveness from the sons of Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, Colombia’s justice minister in the early 1980s, who was assassinated in 1984, as well as the sons of Luis Carlos Galán, the presidential candidate, who was assassinated in 1989. The film was shown at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and premiered in the US on HBO on October 2010.[42]

Popular depiction

Artist Fernando Botero, a native of Antioquia, the same region as Escobar, portrayed Pablo Escobar’s death in one of his paintings about the violence in Colombia.


Escobar has been the subject of several books. The following are examples:

  • Mark Bowden’s book Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw (2001)[43][44] relates how Escobar was killed and his cartel dismantled by US special forces and intelligence, the Colombian military, and Los Pepes, controlled by the Cali cartel.
  • Gabriel García Márquez’ book, News of a Kidnapping (1998),[45] details the series of abductions that Escobar masterminded to pressure the then Colombian government into guaranteeing him non-extradition if he turned himself in.
  • Photographer James Mollison’s book The Memory of Pablo Escobar (2009) tells Pablo’s story using over 350 photographs and documents.[46]

Films and television

Films and documentary television

Escobar has been the subject of numerous feature films, documentaries, and television shows. Two major feature films on the Colombian drug lord, Escobar and Killing Pablo, were announced in 2007,[47] around the same time.

  • Blow (2001), is a George Jung biopic featuring Escobar (portrayed by Cliff Curtis) as a supporting character.
  • In the film Clear and Present Danger (1994), the fictional character Ernesto Escobedo (portrayed by Miguel Sandoval) was based on Escobar.[48]
  • The 2008 film, Pablo, Angel o Demonio (English title: Pablo of Medellin) by Jorge Granier explores the mixed legacy of a man hailed in the Barrio as a saint while despised elsewhere as a demon. It is the highest grossing documentary of all time in Colombia.
  • Escobar (2009) has been delayed due to producer Oliver Stone’s involvement with the George W. Bush biopic W. (2008). The release date of Escobar remains unconfirmed.[when?].[49] Regarding the film, Stone said: “This is a great project about a fascinating man who took on the system. I think I have to thank Scarface, and maybe even Ari Gold.”[50]
  • In the ESPN broadcast 30 for 30 (2010), a series of sports-themed documentaries timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Entertainment and Sports Network, The Two Escobars, by directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, looks back at Colombia’s World Cup run in 1994 and the relationship of sports and the country’s criminal gangs—notably the Medellín narcotics cartel run by Escobar. The other Escobar in the film title refers to former Colombian National Team defender Andrés Escobar (no relation to Pablo), who was shot and killed one month after an own goal that cost Colombia in the 1994 FIFA World Cup.[51]
  • Killing Pablo (2011), in development for several years and directed by Joe Carnahan, is based on Mark Bowden’s eponymous 2001 book, which in turn is based on his 31-part Philadelphia Inquirer series of articles on the subject.[43][44] The cast was reported to include Christian Bale as Major Steve Jacoby and Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez as Escobar.[52][53] In December 2008, Bob Yari, producer of Killing Pablo, filed for bankruptcy.[54]
  • Caracol TV produced a television series, Pablo Escobar: El Patrón del Mal (Pablo Escobar, The Boss Of Evil), which began airing on 28 May 2012 and stars Andrés Parra as Pablo Escobar, Mauricio Mejía as a young Pablo Escobar, and Juan Pablo Franco as Gen. Miguel Maza Marquez.[55]
  • RTI Producciones produced a television series for RCN TV, Tres Caínes, which began on March 4, 2013 and stars Juan Pablo Franco as Pablo Escobar, but his character was crictized looking like an stereotype.
  • Academy Awarding winner Benicio del Toro plays Escobar in the film Escobar: Paradise Lost (2014).[56][57]

Television episodes

  • In the HBO television series Entourage, actor Vincent Chase (played by Adrian Grenier) plays Escobar in a fictional film entitled Medellin.[citation needed]
  • In the NCIS episode “Deliverance” (2009), it is implied that NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs killed a Colombian drug lord in 1992–1993 and was wounded in Colombia. It is not mentioned if the drug lord was Escobar, but it is strongly implied that it was either the killing of Escobar, or a similar situation.[citation needed]
  • The RCN TV Spanish-language telenovela series Tres Caínes (2013) tells the story of the brothers Castaño Gil, with Juan Pablo Franco portraying Pablo Escobar.
  • In a season three episode of Breaking Bad, Walter, Jr. explains to his father how he is reading a book about Escobar given to him by his uncle Hank, who is recovering from a shooting at the hospital.


  • In the videogame, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002), the airport is named “Escobar International Airport” after Pablo Escobar.
  • In the on-rails shooter game, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles (2009), the main antagonist, Javier Hidalgo, seems to be based on Pablo Escobar. Both: were drug lords, had a daughter called Manuela, possessed a personal militia, had a “mini” zoo of exotic animals (Escobar had a collection of African animals, and Javier had a “collection” of B.O.Ws (Bio Organic Weapons)), had the population under their control, and shared the same fate.
  • In the video game Scarface: The World Is Yours (2006), a random conversation with Tony Montana and a banker makes reference to Escobar, stating that Manuel Noriega stole Pablo’s money and didn’t pay the CIA their cut.


  • The second album of the Mexican-American grindcore metal band Brujeria, Raza Odiada, included a song called “El Patron”, inspired by Escobar.
  • Gucci Mane’s song “Pablo”, on the album Diary of a Trap God, mentions Pablo Escobar .[citation needed]
  • Rapper Nas often refers to himself as “Nas Escobar” where he raps about selling drugs and about enjoying a similar lifestyle to Pablo Escobar’s. This can be heard often on his mafioso rap sophomore album It Was Written (1996)
  • Brazilian-American band Soulfly included a song about Escobar in their album Enslaved (2012), titled “Plata o Plomo”.


  • In 2010, ZORBA began Pablo Escobar tours in Medellín to cater to the hundreds of tourists who visit his grave each year.

Source: Wikipedia


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