Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’S Greatest Outlaw

By Mark Bowden
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001

Reviewed by Robin Kirk
Researcher, Americas Division, Human Rights Watch

Medellín is a well of desire. Its slums perch on steep Andean slopes, staring down at the opulence of the flats. Violating the rule in Latin America, the poor live high and the rich live low. The steeper the street, the more desperate the desire. The people staring down at the swimming pools and the Ferraris don’t hate the rich. They want to be them. Along Medell’n’s shopping avenues, you can buy designer labels – just the labels, mind you, carefully trimmed – to whipstitch into your wardrobe.

Born in Medell’n, Pablo Escobar learned this lesson early. His grandfather smuggled a Colombian homebrew known as tapetusa in empty coffins and hollowed eggs. Escobar followed in his footsteps by smuggling cigarettes, liquor, clothing and household appliances. Then, a friend told him about cocaine. It was easier to haul and generated fabulous profits.

In Killing Pablo, reporter Mark Bowden writes about Escobar and the hunt that led to his death, presenting it as one episode in the continuing soap opera of America’s war on drugs. For Bowden, Escobar’s genius was not innovation – cocaine was already being imported to the United States when he financed his first kilos – but savagery. Escobar would do anything, absolutely anything, to win. “He wasn’t an entrepreneur, and he wasn’t even an especially talented businessman. He was just ruthless. When he learned about a thriving cocaine processing lab on his turf, he shouldered his way in. If someone had developed a lucrative delivery route north, Pablo demanded a majority of the profits – for protection. No one dared refuse him.”

By 1981, Escobar had killed and threatened his way to the top. U.S. authorities detected only one in every hundred inbound cocaine flights. A plane could take as many as 400 kilos of cocaine a trip. At five flights a week, that meant over $2 billion a year, a fifth of Colombia’s annual exports, right behind oil and more than the value of the country’s entire annual coffee harvest. Escobar was king, El Patr—n, the Boss.

Bowden’s last best seller, Black Hawk Down, told the inside story of how eighteen American soldiers perished in Mogadishu, Somalia. Bowden, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, uses a similar narrative technique in Killing Pablo. Others have chronicled in better detail Escobar’s fabulous wealth, shocking violence, and the destruction produced by his obsession with converting his fortune into political power. Where Bowden excels is in describing how shadowy American teams helped track Escobar down and kill him in 1993. In doing so, he exposes one of the ugliest truths about America’s effort to stop drugs at the source. Billions of dollars have been spent seizing cocaine and eliminating traffickers like Escobar, yet with little apparent effect on the amount, price, or purity of the drugs reaching the United States. For Colombia, the truth is grimmer. One of the key forces allied with the Americans to bring Escobar down was a rival cartel, which grabbed Escobar’s routes before his body was cold. Bowden shows that “killing Pablo” has had no lasting effect on the amount of illegal narcotics sold on U.S. streets or the violence that now claims over 3,000 Colombians a year.

Based on fresh research and hundreds of interviews, Bowden reveals how U.S. military and intelligence agencies used sophisticated surveillance techniques to track Escobar. A top secret U.S. Army team known as Centra Spike used Beechcraft airplanes packed with specialized equipment and ground-based teams to locate Escobar. Then, they passed the information to the Colombian police in hopes that the police would kill him.

Qualms were few. During his career, Escobar had ordered hundreds killed, placed dozens of bombs in crowded cities, and even brought down a commercial jet, killing all on board. Bowden makes the Americans into clean-cut good guys. He admires the technological know-how and can-do convictions that were used, displaying a Tom Clancy-like gusto for the hardware and hard-body values.

Bowden isn’t as interested in the broader implications of America’s role in the hunt for Escobar, which is a pity. Twisted motives and hidden alliances are the key to the story, not Yankee ingenuity or muscle. In the end, American technology proved remarkably ineffective. The fat, arrogant, lazy, pot-smoking, sly, and vicious Escobar moved in Medell’n like it was his own boudoir, gleefully slipping from house to house while changing cell channels and verbal codes.

It finally took other drug lords to run Escobar down. His rivals in the city of Cali bankrolled a group that called itself People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar, PEPEs for short. Bowden explains how the PEPEs implicitly coordinated with the Americans. But Bowden is too cautious for my taste in interpreting the import of the relationship between the PEPEs and the United States. The PEPEs erased Escobar’s hiding places far more thoroughly than Centra Spike and should get equal credit for his death.

To anyone reading the daily news, the law of unintended consequences for hunting Escobar down seems as glaring as America’s continuing love affair with illegal narcotics. One of the PEPEs, Carlos Casta–o, now leads Colombia’s paramilitaries. He is waging the most brutal war in the hemisphere, ostensibly against leftist guerrillas, but actually on thousands of defenseless civilians. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency claims Casta–o continues to traffic, using his fabulous profits for Uzis and mortar rounds.

Killing Pablo is a gripping autopsy of failure. Yet Bowden seems oddly unwilling to draw any conclusions, using the book’s last lines to muse that the final meaning of Escobar’s death is unknowable. It’s as if Bowden spent all his time stringing dates and conversations and radio waves in chronological order, but never stepped back to ask why we should care.

Pablo Escobar: Meaning (information, definition, explanation, facts) –

From The Explanation Guide

Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (January 12, 1949 – December 2, 1993) was a Colombian drug lord who was considered by members of the government, news reporters and the general public alike to be one of the most ruthless, ambitious and powerful drug dealers Colombia ever had. He made millions, or perhaps billions, of dollars smuggling cocaine into the United States.

Escobar began his career as a car thief in the streets of Medellín, Colombia as a teenager. He started building what many have deemed as a drug empire during the 1970s.

Escobar during the 1980s became known internationally because his drug network, known as El Cartel de Medellín, is said to have controlled a large portion of the drugs that entered into Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic with cocaine base brought from Peru and Bolivia. Escobar drugs reached many other international places, mostly around the Americas, although it is said that his network reached as far as Asia. He was also suspected of buying off government officials, judges and country presidents. He had no hesitation to kill any one who would not cooperate with him. He was the prime suspect in the killing of three presidential candidates in Colombia, including one aboard an Avianca jet in 1989. He was also suspected of being behind many terrorist bombings including the bombings of Avianca Flight 203 and a Bogota security building in 1989. Medellín was involved in a deadly drug war with Colombia’s other main drug cartel, Cartel De Cali. He was suspected of ordering more than 100 murders.

Escobar, according to a television documentary shown in the United States, built an air strip in The Bahamas, from where he could direct delivery into the States.

While an enemy of the United States and Colombian governments he was a hero to many of the people of Medellín. A lifelong sports fan, he was credited with building Little League baseball stadiums and sponsoring little league baseball teams in the city. He would also buy gifts and distribute money to the poor. Much of the population worked as free look outs for Escobar and helped hide information from the authorities. The poor of the region also provided the recruits to staff his operations.

Escobar was jailed in a jail named La Catedral (near Medellín), his “private Prison”, which he himself had built under the agreement that, after remaining jailed there for a mandatory 5 year sentence, he would be set free with a Degree in Law. But he escaped on July 22 1992, fearing extradition to the United States. It has been rumored that, while hiding, he was working out a deal with the DEA in which he would surrender, but the DEA would have to arrest members of his rival organization too, though this may be conjecture.

Escobar was killed on December 2, 1993, while trying to run away from the Colombian police, who had found him living in a middle class barrio in Medellin. Some rumors claim snipers of the U.S. Special Operations Command might have taken part in the final hunt for Escobar. Prior to his death, his family had flown to Germany and hoped to get refuge there, but they were denied such a privilege by the German government. Whether Escobar died during an actual shoot out or not has always been debated, but his body lay on the roof of a house when he died.

Escobar is credited with using the “Colombian necktie”: a form of murdering a person whereby their tongue would be pulled through a hole cut into their neck[1].

Escobar has become revered among the peasants to whom he provided financial support, in building schools, hospitals and a wide range of premises in the poorest parts of Colombia. Among them, he came to be called “Don Pablito”.

BIOGRAPHY

NAME: Pablo Escobar / BORN: 01/12/1949 / BIRTH PLACE: Colombia

From the Biography Channel

Escobar was born the son of a teacher and a peasant. Still in school he began his criminal career with the theft of tombstones that he sold to smugglers from Panama.

In the early 1970s he entered the cocaine trade. Under his leadership large amounts of coca paste were purchased in Bolivia and Peru, processed and taken to the United States.

Escobar collaborated with other criminals from the Medellin area. In addition he profited from the business of other dealers and smugglers.

In his last years, Escobar removed himself from direct involvement in drug trafficking. Instead he claimed profits from cocaine dealers through a kind of taxation system, which he considered a compensation for his efforts to have the American-Colombian extradition treaty removed.

Escobar invested his ill gotten gains in real estate, but he also acted as sponsor of charity projects and soccer clubs which earned him popularity and political standing, including a seat in parliament.

But the origin of his wealth became an issue of public debate and the U.S. increased pressure on Colombia to extradite him. By means of terror Escobar tried to influence politicians towards writing a no-extradition clause into the constitution and to grant amnesty to drug barons in exchange for giving up the drug trade.

The terror campaign initiated by Escobar claimed the lives of politicians, civil servants, journalists and ordinary citizens. It turned public opinion against him and caused a break-up of the alliance of drug traffickers.

After one year in prison, where Escobar had sought refuge from assassins, followed by several more months on the run, he was shot to death by members of a special police unit in 1993.

Pablo Escobar – Article

From The Urban Dictionary

Pablo is the inventor of the Colombian neck-tie: slitting a man’s throat and pulling his tongue out through the hole. Such are the accomplishments of history’s greatest cocaine mogul. Thanks to his tireless efforts in the creation, harvesting, and distribution of cocaine throughout North and South America, Escobar became a multi-billionaire and the progenitor of a booming drug empire that confounded the Colombian government, the American Military, and Nancy Reagan.

Nancy couldn’t stop Pablo. Ronnie couldn’t kill Pablo. George the First sent the military after Pablo, but ultimately couldn’t take him down either. Perhaps he should simply have asked his son to sniff out a lead.
The Snort of Kings

Pablo started out as a poor boy in a poor town in poor Colombia. He was born in Rionegro, just a day’s walk from the eventual headquarters of his empire. For the people of Medellin, the urban namesake of Pablo’s cocaine cartel, Escobar would become a hero, a builder of hospitals, and a leader of men. For American yuppies, he would become a facilitator of all-night orgies, nose bleeds, and Sammy Davis, Jr..

In the early 60’s, Colombian farmers grew and sold coca plants and extracts to outside interests, never really paying attention to what the vegetation was used for. When Escobar came of age in the late 60’s, he quickly realized that all this coca was being snorted up the noses of the rapidly expanding drug culture in America. As such, he decided that the best way to make money off of the sale and processing was to control all sides of the business.

He quickly took over the coca fields around Medellin, paying farmers and workers double what they were making on their own. Escobar then opened processing labs and facilities nearby to turn the plants into sweet, sweet nose candy. Finally, he sent friends and relatives north to America as cocaine Amway salesmen. It’s not a pyramid scheme! It’s a party, man!

By the mid 70’s, Escobar’s efforts allowed entire packs of sweaty bald guys to get their rocks off in the bathrooms of Studio 54.

But the United State’s government wasn’t getting any blow jobs from teenaged coke whores. In a jealous rage, it sent the DEA to shoot communis… er, drug dealers in South America. By the time Reagan was in the white house, Escobar was forced to hide his refining and processing facilities.

El Padre-de-Dios

But by 1982, Pablo Escobar was raking in billions of dollars from American coke heads, and he used those funds to win the hearts and minds of Medellin residents. He built hospitals, schools, and low income housing projects for his loyal workers. By years end, he was even elected to a seat in the Colombian congress.

No lawyer would prosecute him, no judge would hear a trial against him. Pablo was untouchable thanks to mountains of cash and walls made of armed goons. Yet for all his wealth, he was still hounded by a singular, mindless, unshakable enemy: mildew.

Escobar was positively phobic of dirty toilets. His bathroom was private; his only, and it had the be cleaned by hand three times a day. His home was kept spotless, and he took great pains to insure no blood got on the carpet when he shot business partners in the head; a cliche that has spilled over into many movies.

In 1989, Forbes magazine listed Escobar as the seventh richest man in the world.

Despite his wealth, Pablo was living the life of a fugitive. There were arrest warrants issued for him in both Colombia and the United States. He was offered clemency if he turned himself into the Colombian authorities and gave up his empire. After a botched assassination attempt by a rival cartel, Pablo turned himself in to Colombian authorities.

Escobar renovated the Prison he chose for his stint in jail. The facility was on a hill top, and Escobar spent millions of dollars to turn it into his own personal fortress. When all was said and done, he was basically serving his time in a castle guarded by the military. He removed all cell doors and bars, had the bathrooms ripped out and replaced, and placed new parapets around the building for the guards. They weren’t keeping him in; they were keeping everyone else out.

The US monitored Escobar’s actions from outside the prison walls, unable to enter due to the highly motivated and bribed Colombian military prison guards. Pablo began conducting business by carrier pigeon and word of mouth, since he soon realized that his phone conversations were being tapped.

In 1992, Pablo left his swanky jail. His empire was being abused from all sides. His fields were burning, his dealers were changing teams, and the coke-fueled disco was giving way to the ecstasy-powered rave.

While on the run, he placed a bounty on the heads of all police officers, American citizens, and military personnel within Medellin. He paid $300 a head. For the poor folks of this Colombian town, the bounty was a god-send. Dozens of cops and officials were slaughtered and decapitated while Pablo was on the run.

Not Sneaky Enough

It was easy to spot Pablo’s hideouts after he’d left them; they were all run-down houses with shiny new bathrooms. In 1993, Pablo Escobar made a cell phone call from an apartment building in Medellin. The Colombian secret police stormed the building and shot Escobar dead within moments.