Biography of Pablo Escobar, Colombian Drug Kingpin

Pablo Escobar

Colombian National Police/Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

 

Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (December 1, 1949–December 2, 1993) was a Colombian drug lord and the leader of one of the most powerful criminal organizations ever assembled. He was also known as "The King of Cocaine." Over the course of his career, Escobar made billions of dollars, ordered the murders of hundreds of people, and ruled over a personal empire of mansions, airplanes, a private zoo, and his own army of soldiers and hardened criminals.

Fast Facts: Pablo Escobar

  • Known For: Escobar ran the Medellín drug cartel, one of the largest criminal organizations in the world.
  • Also Known As: Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, "The King of Cocaine"
  • Born: December 1, 1949 in Rionegro, Colombia
  • Parents: Abel de Jesús Dari Escobar Echeverri and Hemilda de los Dolores Gaviria Berrío
  • Died: December 2, 1993 in Medellín, Colombia
  • Spouse: Maria Victoria Henao (m. 1976)
  • Children: Sebastián Marroquín (born Juan Pablo Escobar Henao), Manuela Escobar
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Early Life

Escobar was born on December 1, 1949, into a lower-middle-class family and grew up in Medellín, Colombia. As a young man, he was driven and ambitious, telling friends and family that he wanted to be the president of Colombia someday. He got his start as a street criminal. According to legend, Escobar would steal tombstones, sandblast the names off of them, and resell them to crooked Panamanians. Later, he moved up to stealing cars. It was in the 1970s that he found his path to wealth and power: drugs. He would buy coca paste in Bolivia and Peru, refine it, and transport it for sale in the United States.

Rise to Power

In 1975, a local Medellín drug lord named Fabio Restrepo was murdered, reportedly on the orders of Escobar himself. Stepping into the power vacuum, Escobar took over Restrepo’s organization and expanded his operations. Before long, Escobar controlled all organized crime in Medellín and was responsible for as much as 80 percent of the cocaine transported into the United States. In 1982, he was elected to Colombia’s Congress. With economic, criminal, and political power, Escobar’s rise was complete.

In 1976, Escobar married 15-year-old Maria Victoria Henao Vellejo, and they would later have two children, Juan Pablo and Manuela. Escobar was famous for his extramarital affairs and tended to prefer underage girls. One of his girlfriends, Virginia Vallejo, went on to become a famous Colombian television personality. In spite of his affairs, he remained married to María Victoria until his death.

Narcoterrorism

As the leader of the Medellín Cartel, Escobar quickly became legendary for his ruthlessness, and an increasing number of politicians, judges, and policemen publicly opposed him. Escobar had a way of dealing with his enemies: he called it plata o plomo (silver or lead). If a politician, judge, or policeman got in his way, he would almost always first attempt to bribe him or her. If that didn’t work, he would order the person killed, occasionally including the victim's family in the hit. The exact number of men and women killed by Escobar is unknown, but it certainly goes well into the hundreds and possibly into the thousands.

Social status did not matter to Escobar; if he wanted you out of the way, he'd get you out of the way. He ordered the assassination of presidential candidates and was even rumored to be behind the 1985 attack on the Supreme Court, carried out by the 19th of April insurrectionist movement, in which several Supreme Court justices were killed. On November 27, 1989, Escobar’s cartel planted a bomb on Avianca flight 203, killing 110 people. The target, a presidential candidate, was not actually on board. In addition to these high-profile assassinations, Escobar and his organization were responsible for the deaths of countless magistrates, journalists, policemen, and even criminals inside his own organization.

Height of His Power

By the mid-1980s, Escobar was one of the most powerful men in the world, and Forbes magazine listed him as the seventh richest. His empire included an army of soldiers and criminals, a private zoo, mansions and apartments all over Colombia, private airstrips and planes for drug transport, and personal wealth reported to be in the neighborhood of $24 billion. Escobar could order the murder of anyone, anywhere, anytime.

He was a brilliant criminal, and he knew that he would be safer if the common people of Medellín loved him. Therefore, he spent millions on parks, schools, stadiums, churches, and even housing for the poorest of Medellín’s inhabitants. His strategy worked—Escobar was beloved by the common people, who saw him as a local boy who had done well and was giving back to his community.

Legal Troubles

Escobar’s first serious run-in with the law came in 1976 when he and some of his associates were caught returning from a drug run to Ecuador. Escobar ordered the killing of the arresting officers, and the case was soon dropped. Later, at the height of his power, Escobar’s wealth and ruthlessness made it almost impossible for Colombian authorities to bring him to justice. Any time an attempt was made to limit his power, those responsible were bribed, killed, or otherwise neutralized. The pressure was mounting, however, from the United States government, which wanted Escobar extradited to face drug charges. He had to use all of his power to prevent extradition.

In 1991, due to increasing pressure from the U.S., the Colombian government and Escobar’s lawyers came up with an interesting arrangement. Escobar would turn himself in and serve a five-year jail term. In return, he would build his own prison and would not be extradited to the United States or anywhere else. The prison, La Catedral, was an elegant fortress which featured a Jacuzzi, a waterfall, a full bar, and a soccer field. In addition, Escobar had negotiated the right to select his own “guards.” He ran his empire from inside La Catedral, giving orders by telephone. There were no other prisoners in La Catedral. Today, La Catedral is in ruins, having been hacked to pieces by treasure hunters looking for hidden Escobar loot.

On the Run

Everyone knew that Escobar was still running his operation from La Catedral, but in July 1992 it became known that the drug kingpin had ordered some disloyal underlings brought to his “prison,” where they were tortured and killed. This was too much for even the Colombian government, and plans were made to transfer Escobar to a standard prison. Fearing he might be extradited, Escobar escaped and went into hiding. The U.S. government and local police ordered a massive manhunt. By late 1992, there were two organizations searching for him: the Search Bloc, a special, U.S.-trained Colombian task force, and “Los Pepes,” a shadowy organization of Escobar’s enemies made up of family members of his victims and financed by Escobar’s main business rival, the Cali Cartel.

Death

On December 2, 1993, Colombian security forces—using U.S. technology—located Escobar hiding in a home in a middle-class section of Medellín. The Search Bloc moved in, triangulated his position, and attempted to bring him into custody. Escobar fought back, however, and there was a shootout. Escobar was eventually gunned down as he attempted to escape on the rooftop. Although he was also shot in the torso and leg, the fatal wound passed through his ear, leading many to believe that Escobar committed suicide. Others believe one of the Colombian policemen fired the bullet.

Legacy

With Escobar gone, the Medellín Cartel quickly lost power to its rival, the Cali Cartel, which remained dominant until the Colombian government shut it down in the mid-1990s. Escobar is still remembered by the poor of Medellín as a benefactor. He has been the subject of numerous books, movies, and television series, including "Narcos" and "Escobar: Paradise Lost." Many people remain fascinated by the master criminal, who once ruled one of the largest drug empires in history.

Sources

  • Gaviria, Roberto Escobar, and David Fisher. "The Accountant's Story: inside the Violent World of the Medellin Cartel." Grand Central Pub., 2010.
  • Vallejo, Virginia, and Megan McDowell. "Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar." Vintage Books, 2018.