Pablo Escobar: The Story of the ‘Cartel de Medellin’ by Matt Jeffery
Drug baron, philanthropist, murderer, politician, pilot, businessman and 7th on the Forbes rich list. Pablo Escobar was all of these things and more. Reputed to be the world’s most successful criminal ever, having at one point just over $25billion, Escobar’s story is incredible, if not a little tainted.
Colombia is a place recognised for its ties with drugs, most notably cocaine. Coca leaf originates in the slopes of the Andes mountains and has spread across South America as the conditions and climate are perfect for culturing the plant. Currently, the majority of it is produced in Colombia, the home of Pablo Escobar. Half of the worlds cocaine is consumed in the United States. The struggle that South American drug lords have had since the discovery of powdered cocaine is getting it from production to the end user, a dangerous task with authorities and rival drug lords always in the background. Escobar revolutionised this task and the cocaine industry in his rise to the top of the cocaine game. At the peak of its business, the Cartel de Medellin (Escobar’s organisation, Medellin being the town in Colombia Escobar resided in in later life) was responsible for the distribution of 80% of the worlds cocaine. At most, shipments to the United States from the Cartel could reap over half a billion dollars a day. The cartel was so wealthy, it spent $2,500 a month simply buying rubber bands to hold the money they were earning together.
In the search for new smuggling routes into the US – avoiding authorities – Escobar and Medellin Co-founder Carlos Lehder found Norman’s Cay in the Bahamas. This island served as the headquarters to Lehder’s operation from 1978 to 1982. In 1982, the Bahaman authorities began cracking down on the activity at Norman’s Cay and ultimately confiscated the land. In the same year, Escobar was elected as a member of the Chamber of Representatives for the Colombian Liberal Party. Although his stint in politics was short lived, many believed he was the government, virtually running Colombia with his hold over the majority of politicians.
Escobar, the apparent entrepreneurial genius behind the Medellin Cartel had a saying within his organisation, “Plata o plomo” which means ‘silver or lead’ in his native tongue. By this, Escobar means one would commit to him by either taking a bribe or by the bullet. It was known that he preferred not to shed blood in negotiations, but his ruthlessness in business is also all too clear. In 1991, there were 25,000 murders in Colombia due to the power struggle of the drug cartels. At the time, Escobar’s hitmen were rewarded when a police officer was killed, leading to the deaths of 600 public servicemen that year. He is reported to have been responsible also for the bombing of Avianca Flight 203, killing 107 people. He has been likened to Hitler for the violent crimes and cold bloodedness of the Cartel de Medellin.
There is another side to Pablo Escobar however as he is recognised as a serial philanthropist. He used a large proportion of his money giving back to the communities in the poorest areas in Colombia. He built housing, schools and sports stadiums. He provided a good environment for his fellow countrymen. As a result of this, he acquired strong ties with the Roman Catholic Church. The Church overlooked many of his wrongdoings due to the good that he had done for the people, providing for them better than the Colombian government could ever have hoped to. He was an important figure to a huge number of the Colombian people and to this day there is still a loyalty to the man. The peasants in the favelas often acted as lookouts when authorities passed through and would keep certain information from them that offered protection to their provider. He was godly to them, well loved but feared.
On December 2, 1993 Pablo Escobar was killed by a shot to the head whilst running across rooftops in an attempt to evade police. It is said that the authorities in Colombia had teamed up with many organisations from the US and even associates of the Cali Cartel – rivals of the Cartel de Medellin. A firefight between Escobar and the authorities broke out in a small town in Medellin and he and his bodyguard ‘El Limon’ tried to escape, aiming for a back alley. They were both killed, but questions are still being asked about the bullet that killed Escobar. Roberto Escobar, Pablo’s brother claims that Pablo would never have let the authorities put him to rest: “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.”
Escobar died aged 44, his legacy will live on in Colombia and throughout the world. It can be argued any philanthropy and good work he did is far outweighed by the murder, drugs and bribery. He was a ruthless man, but a man that knew exactly what he wanted. The money he used to do good was tainted because of where it came from and the brutality shown by his organisation will go down in history. This article is not to inspire anybody, but to tell the story of a person, the likes of which the world sees rarely. The world will remember ‘El Padrino’ for his empire, for revolutionising the cocaine industry but most of all for his violence and ruthlessness. He has earnt the title of ‘The Godfather of Cocaine’.
“Plata o Plomo”