A "WANTED" poster of Escobar
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 in history. He made billions of dollars and became one of the richest men in the world by 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 his drug empire during the 1970s.
During the 1980s, Escobar became known internationally because his drug network, El Cartel de Medellín, is said to have controlled a large portion of the drugs that entered into Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, with cocaine base brought from Peru and Bolivia. Escobar's product reached many other nations, mostly around the Americas, although it is said that his network reached as far as Asia.
Escobar was also suspected of bribing government officials, judges and other politicians. He often personally executed uncooperative subordinates. He was the prime suspect in the killing of three presidential candidates in Colombia, and for the bombing 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.
At the height of his empire, Pablo Escobar was estimated by Forbes Magazine to be the 7th richest man in the world, and his Medellín Cartel controlled 80% of the world's cocaine market. Some estimates place his cartel's wealth at over $28 billion.
While an enemy of the United States and Colombian governments, Escobar was a hero to many in Medellín. A lifelong sports fan, he was credited with building Little League soccer stadiums and sponsoring little league soccer teams in the city. He also bought gifts and distributed money to the poor. Much of the population worked as volunteer lookouts for Escobar and helped hide information from the authorities. The poor of the region also provided the recruits to staff his operations.
In 1991 Escobar turned himself into the Colombian government in order to avoid extradition to the United States and assassination by rival cartel members. Escobar was jailed in La Catedral, his luxuroius 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. But he escaped on July 22 1992, fearing that the Colombian government was going to proceed with extradition to the United States.
In 1992 a special police task force known as the Search Block was created and trained by Navy SEALs and Delta Force operators in Colombia to locate and capture or kill Pablo Escobar. Roughly at the same time, a group known as Los Pepes (People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar), made up of enemies and former allies of Escobar who had broken with him, started a bloody retribution in which more than 300 of Pablo's associates or their relatives were slain. (Some observers claim that some agents of US and Colombian intelligence and law enforcement organizations, in their zeal to find and punish Escobar, colluded with members of Los Pepes, mainly by sharing information and sources.)
Escobar was killed on December 2, 1993, while trying to run away from the Search Block, which had found him living in a middle class barrio in Medellín. Some claim snipers of the U.S. Special Operations Command may have taken part in the final hunt for Escobar. Whether Escobar died during an actual shootout or not has always been debated, but his corpse was found on the roof of a house.
The hunt for Escobar was documented in Mark Bowden's book, Killing Pablo, which will be made into a motion picture.
After Escobar's death the Medellín Cartel fragmented and the cocaine market soon became dominated by the rival Cali Cartel, until the mid-1990s when its leaders were too either killed or captured.
- Killing Pablo, by Mark Bowden, Penguin Books, paperback, 1992. ISBN: 0142000957