In December of 1993, Colombian security forces closed in on a 2 storey row house in the Los Olivos neighbourhood of Medellín Colombia. After having managed to elude the search attempts of the Colombian National Police for nearly 16mths, Pablo Escobar, a Colombian drug lord, was finally found and shot in a daring escape attempt which took place along the adjoining rooftops of the barrios.
The deadly manhunt which lasted for nearly 15 years was finally over. Colonel Hugo Heliodoro Aguilar, the man who led the assault that day stared down at his body to make sure he was dead, then took his radio and said “Viva Colombia! Pablo Escobar is dead!”
He was regarded as the richest most successful criminal in the world, estimated to have had a fortune of US$9 Billion and was announced in the 1989 issue of Forbes magazine as the seventh richest man in the world. He was the head of the Medellín Cartel, controlling almost 80% of the cocaine shipped to the U.S. He was responsible for hundreds of political killings and terrorist acts in the country of Colombia. He was one of the most ruthless criminals the world had ever seen.
He, was Pablo Escobar~
Born on the 1st of December 1949 in the village of Rionegro in Antioquia, Colombia, Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was the fourth of six children. His Father was peasant and his Mother worked as a School Teacher at the local elementary school. When he was in high school, he started bullying the other children in class. His violent nature soon led to his career as a criminal.
He started out as a small time street criminal, selling contraband cigarettes or stealing tombstones then sandblasting the names off them and reselling them to crooked Panamanians. By the time he was 20, he was already an accomplished car thief and had made his first $100,000 from kidnapping a Business Executive. He then worked his way into the drug trafficking business due to America’s newfound obsession with cocaine in the mid 1970s. By the age of 22, Pablo was a millionaire~
Cocaine had become the more fashionable drug of choice for most people in the U.S. and it was much more profitable than cigarettes and alcohol combined. It was also much more dangerous to smuggle the goods out of the country. He began developing his drug trafficking operations, flying a plane by himself over to the United States to smuggle a load before decommissioning it at his ranch in Hacienda Napoles which he had constructed to run all his drug related operations and where he housed most of the unprocessed coca.
The incident which elevated his malevolence was when he murdered a well known Medellín drug lord named Fabio Restrepo in 1975. Escobar had offered to sell 14 kilos of cocaine to him. 3 weeks later, Restrepo was found dead. Soon after, his men were informed that they were now working for Pablo.
“Pablo Escobar was not a brilliant entrepreneur or organizer. What he was, was more violent and ruthless than most of the people who were engaged in this business. He introduced a level of brutality that they were not used to, and they were really in over their heads.”
(Author of Killing Pablo.)
Having spent most of his life witnessing the violence & corruption that surrounded him on a daily basis, Escobar picked up a few things. He had learned from a young age that in Medellín, law enforcement could be bought. In May 1976, he and several of his men were arrested returning to Medellín after acquiring a hefty shipment of the white dust from Ecuador.
This was his first major run in with the law. And his attempts to bribe the judges who oversaw the case proved unsuccessful. As months went by, the situation intensified and proved to be a threat to Pablo and his organization. He reacted by having two of the arresting officers killed and the case was soon dropped. It was then Pablo began this ruthless style of dealing with authority of either bribing them or having them killed.
He called it “Plata O Plomo”, which literally meant Silver or Lead. If a politician, judge or policemen ever got in his way, his first attempt was to bribe them. If they turned out to be honest or determined enough to still pursue him, he would order them & their families to be killed.
“Everyone has a price; the important thing is to find out what it is.”
Soon, Escobar began making more money than anyone in Colombia could imagine. His ranch in Hacienda Napoles had a private zoo filled with exotic animals like Elephants, Zebras, and Rhinoceros which he had imported from abroad. There were entire airstrips within his estate where he housed his airplanes and helicopters & hundreds of jeeps and luxury cars. He had his very own private army, mostly consisting of insurgents and rebel forces which carried out most of his attacks on those who opposed him.
By the mid 1980s, Pablo Escobar was one of the most powerful men in the world and he had cultivated a reputation for his violence. Once during a dinner party at his house, a waiter was caught stealing silverware from his kitchen.
Escobar had his men bound the waiter’s hands & feet and tossed him into the swimming pool were everyone stood helpless as they watched him drown. Pablo then turned to the crowd and announced that the same fate would befall anyone who stole from him. He had reached a height of power where he could murder anyone, anywhere, anytime. Pablo was above the law and he knew it. He was, for a man of his time, unstoppable.
“Sometimes I am God, if I say a man dies, he dies that same day.”
Pablo was a brilliant criminal. He spent some of his millions building churches and schools for the people of Medellín and funded housing developments for the homeless. He knew that he would be safer if the public loved him. They saw him as a kind of “Robin Hood” who had done well in his business and was just giving back to his community.
Pablo performed various personal acts of welfare for the poor in Medellín, frequently distributed money to the poor and sponsored many charitable events which gained him a fair amount of popularity from many of Medellín’s citizens, especially the poor people. His notable fame granted him a certain amount of political power, as well as a seat in the Colombian parliament.
While the people of Medellín saw him as somewhat of a local celebrity, he was considered a criminal to the Colombian Government and was under constant pressure by the U.S. to extradite him, which was what Pablo feared the most. In Colombia, he could manipulate the justice system by bribing law officials or killing anyone who got in his way. In the U.S. however, he would just be another defendant.
“I prefer to be in a grave in Colombia than in a jail cell in the United States.”
In 1982, he was elected as a deputy/alternative representative to the Chamber of Representatives of Colombia’s Congress, as part of the Colombian Liberal Party.
But before he had the chance to take his seat in the congress, he was immediately denounced by the Minister of Justice, Rodrigo Lara, who exposed him as a drug trafficker and notorious criminal.
Soon, news of Escobar’s nefarious endeavours quickly spread through the Colombian press. His fall from grace was swift. Pablo was later removed from parliament & banished from the political scene. Having been deeply humiliated by the allegations, he had the Justice Minister killed by one of his gunmen three months after his stand against Escobar at congress. Rodrigo Lara was the first man in Colombia to take a stand against the drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Luis Galán was the leading candidate for presidency during the 1989 Presidential Election. His campaign promised the people of Colombia that he would rid them from the threat of the drug cartels, especially the Medellín Cartel led by Pablo Escobar. Galán announced that he would utilize extradition laws to put a stop to drug lords like Escobar and bring them to justice. Pablo and his men decided that Galán was an obstacle and he needed to be removed before he posed any further threat to his organization. On August 18th 1989, during a campaign speech in Bogotá where Galán was present, Pablo’s armed gunmen opened fire. With the death of presidential candidate Luis Galán, Escobar had, beyond question, declared war with the country.
From that day on, Pablo began kidnapping & sometimes killing many prominent Colombian officials who supported extradition to the United States. He was responsible for killing a total of three Colombian presidential candidates who were competing in the same election including an Attorney General and a Justice Minister. The man who stepped up and took over Luis Galán was his campaign manager named César Gaviria, who was equally determined to bring down Escobar as his predecessor. There was no doubt that his life was to be endangered by the Medillín Cartel.
On November 27th 1989, Gaviria was scheduled to board Flight 203 at Avianca Airlines from Bogotá to Cali. One of Escobar’s Lieutenants was instructed to carry a suitcase, with what he believed to be a listening device, onboard the plane. Unbeknownst to Pablo’s man, the suitcase was in fact a bomb. Five minutes after takeoff, the bomb exploded. It ripped open the haul of the airliner and went down in flames. 110 people were killed in what was seen as the deadliest criminal attack in Colombia’s history of violence. The assassination attempt on presidential candidate César Gaviria left no survivors. But the attempt had failed. Gaviria was never on the plane to begin with.
“All empires are created of blood and fire.”
The world soon witnessed the malice Pablo Escobar was capable of. After the bombing of Avianca Flight 203, the Colombian government invited the United States to assist in the capturing of Pablo Escobar. There were two American citizens onboard the plane who were killed in the assassination attempt of César Gaviria and under the Long-Arm Statute, it allowed the U.S. to prosecute Escobar for their deaths. He presented a clear & present danger to the United States and he needed to be stopped.
According to United States Constitution, if an individual is declared a threat to National Security or to the lives of American citizens by the President, he or she could become a target for assassination. This meant that the U.S. forces could not only set out to find & arrest Escobar, but they could kill him. The United States began preparing its most elite to deal with the situation in Colombia.
Delta Force was the military’s most top secret counter-terrorism unit which specialized in covert operations. They were tasked to finding Escobar and going after him. They worked together closely with the an intelligence group codenamed, Centra Spike, which specialized in collecting actionable intelligence in order for the advancement of other US special operations forces such as Delta Force.
And so, in 1992, United States counter-terrorist unit, Delta Force & special operations team, Centra Spike joined the all-out manhunt for Escobar. They trained and advised a special Colombian police taskforce known as the Search Bloc, which had been created to locate Escobar. They were initially sent to Medellín with the dangerous task of acting on Centra Spike intelligence. Initially when the Search Bloc was established, Pablo announced that he would kill 60 members within the first month. During which, he made good on his word.
He was playing a dangerous game with the state and both sides were baring heavy losses. In 1991, the Colombian government and Escobar’s lawyers came up with an interesting arrangement: He would cease all activities of his violent campaign against the Colombia government and would turn himself. In return, he was allowed to build his own prison on a mountain top outside Medellín called La Catedral where he would began serving a reduced sentence of five-years and would not be extradited to the United States or anywhere else.
It was a controversial move which had many officials disapproving of the agreement. President Gaviria had been warned about the dangers of negotiating with someone like Pablo Escobar. Nonetheless, the agreement went through. Escobar released the remaining hostages and confined himself to his private prison.
La Catedral was unlike most conventional penitentiaries. It was often called “Hotel Escobar” or “Club Medellín” due to its vast amenities. It featured a Discotheque, a Jacuzzi, a soccer field & even a man-made waterfall. He would often hold parties up at his “resort” and invite prostitutes and members of the Medellín Cartel up.
In addition, Pablo had negotiated the right to select his own “guards” & ran his continued to run his criminal activities from within La Catedral, passing orders out via telephone to his men. Also, as part of the agreement, members of the Colombian national police (i.e. Search Bloc) were not allowed within 20 kilometres of the prison.
During this time, some of Pablo’s subordinates were left to run his drug operations at the Medellín Cartel, mainly the the Moncada and Galeano brothers, who had been helping themselves to a large portions of the profits. Escobar invited the men to La Catedral for a “chat” with him before having them executed.
The Colombian government so far had willingly turned a blind eye to Escobar’s drug trafficking operations from within the prison, but when the murders of the Moncada and Galeano brothers surfaced in the media, the Colombian government had enough and plans were made to transfer Escobar from his self-built prison into a real one. However, he found out about the plan in advance and made a well-timed & unhurried escape.
“Escape is not the correct word, he ‘walked’ out of that prison.”
(US Drug Enforcement Admin., ret.)
A massive manhunt for Pablo Escobar was organized. Over 600 men from the U.S. and Colombian forces of Delta Force, Centra Spike and Search Bloc were searching for him. Escobar had taken the lives of more than 200 judges, a dozen journalists and over 1,000 police officers. He was responsible for a numerous car bombings which killed and injured hundreds of civilians.
In January 30th 1993, one of these car bombs explodes in front of a bookstore in downtown Medellín, killing scores of people, mainly young children who where there shopping for school supplies.
It was then that the gloves had come off in the search for Escobar and it was very clear to everyone involved that the intention was no longer to capture him & bring him to justice. Pablo Escobar needed to be killed.
A Colombian vigilante group known as the Los Pepes were formed shortly after the incident took place. Its members consisted of those who suffered at the hands of the notorious drug kingpin, and was said to have been funded by his enemies from the rival Cali Cartel. The group targeted and assassinated members of the Medellín Cartel or anyone who was associated with Escobar, even members of his family. The Los Pepes death squad carried out bloody campaigns fuelled by vengeance. There were killings by the group being reported every night in Medellín, more than 300 of Escobar’s associates and relatives were slain. In reality, they were just as ruthless as Escobar and his men.
“I can replace things, but I could never replace my wife and kids.”
Escobar was married to Maria Victoria Henao Vellejo and had two children, Juan Pablo and Manuela.
Despite being known as one of the most feared criminals in the world, he was regarded as a family man & cared about the welfare of his children. With the pressure from Los Pepes posing a threat to his family and fearing extradition to the United States, he was constantly on the run and grew increasingly paranoid.
Escobar was living under extremely strained conditions. He knew that they were closing in on him. His drug empire and the Medellín Cartel had mostly been destroyed and one of the few remaining links to Pablo’s empire was his son Juan Pablo, which he talked to almost every day by radio phone. He became the one person that Escobar trusted to communicate his demands on to the government.
Centra Spike was listening to all of Pablo’s communications and was well aware of the calls he made to his son. Every time he made a call with his radio telephone, a surveillance team would be at work to try & triangulate the precise location of where the call was being made. While Escobar was on the phone strategizing with his son, Juan Pablo, members of Search Bloc (Who had been positioned all over the town of Medellín) would drive around in a telemetry van with a tracking monitor that would either contract or expand, depending on how near or far away they were from the signal.
Captain Hugo Martinez Jr, who led the search team initially thought he had found the building where Pablo was said to have been speaking from. However, immediately after a raid was launch on, Hugo Jr realized that he had read the instruments wrongly. The signal had been bouncing off of water from a nearby canal which caused minor error readings in the tracking equipment.
After making suitable adjustments to the machine, Hugo Jr raced off to the new location and managed to locate the exact position where Pablo was hiding, in a two-story building located in the middle-class of barrio Medellín. As the captain drove pass the house, he observed a silhouette of Pablo Escobar holding a phone in his hand.
“I’ve located him with a zero margin of error. In fact, I’m looking right at him.”
-Captain Hugo Martinez Jr. as he radios his father, Colonel Hugo Martinez (Commander of the Search Bloc) after locating Pablo Escobar.
The Search Bloc team arrives at the scene and immediately makes their assault. Pablo and his lone bodyguard, El Limón makes a break for the window. El Limón was the first to reach the window where he ran towards the direction of a Search Bloc team & opened fire on the officers. He attempted to run along the adjoining rooftops of the houses to escape to the back street but was immediately shot on his way across.
Seconds later, Pablo Escobar emerged wielding two guns in his hands, firing and shouting violently at authorities. He was hiding behind a wall & police were unable to obtain a clear line of sight. Escobar began inching his way along the walls of the rooftops looking for some way to escape. As he moved forward, he exposed himself to the authorities and was eventually gunned down. He had been shot in the torso and leg, but the fatal wound came from a shot through his ear at close range. It is still unknown as to who fired the final shot that killed Escobar. There were also rumours that he had committed suicide. Regardless, Pablo Escobar’s ruthless reign of terror was over.
After his death, the Medellín Cartel soon disbanded. Most of the cocaine market soon became dominated by their rivals, the Cali Cartel, until the Colombian Government finally shut them down in the mid 1990s. Escobar’s ruthlessness was legendary. The impact he left on the world was one that would not soon be forgotten. In an interview with Colombian journalist Elizabeth Mora-Mass, he claimed that his actions were necessary to maintain his kingdom and his absolute power.
And now, that king was dead.
Viva La Colombia~