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Pablo Escobar

"Everyone has a price. the important thing is to find out what it is."

"There are two hundred million idiots, manipulated by a million intelligent men."

"I'd rather be in a grave in Colombia, than in a prison in the United States."

pablo-escobar-1"Plata o plomo."  ("Silver or lead.")

Pablo Escobar is, unfortunately, the most famous Colombian in history, more known than Shakira or Sofia Vergara and certainly more recognized than Alvaro Uribe or Juan Manuel Santos. Born into a middle class family in Rio Negro, a small town on the outskirts of Medellin, Escobar's unbridled ambition and aptitude for drug smuggling enabled his meteoric rise on the global stage, and unleashed a terrifying wave of violence throughout Colombia.

Escobar started out as a small-time crook, stealing cars and running street scams, until he graduated into the more lucrative world of being a bodyguard. He famously once earned himself a $100,000 pay day by kidnapping and quickly releasing a Medellin executive. Escobar soon went into the contraband smuggling business, and quickly expanded into drug trafficking. At its height Escobar's Medellin Cartel controlled 80% of the world supply, and was exporting 15 tons a day to the United States.

He purchased the cocaine paste largely from Peru and Bolivia, and then refined it in a house in Medellin. He developed elaborate transportation networks and purchased large amounts of land in the Bahamas to serve as trans-shipment points. Escobar proved extremely savvy in manipulating the Colombian political and legal system, and proved to be a shrewd businessman. He even got himself elected to Congress in 1982, and successfully portrayed himself as a champion of Colombia's poor. With his vast wealth he constructed schools, hospitals, and churches, and lavished money on soccer teams and sports programs.


pablo-escobar-2However, Escobar's penchant for violence caught up with him. He famously offered $1,000 to members of his cartel for assassinating police officers, but it was the 1989 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan that proved to be his final undoing. Galan, the candidate of the Liberal Party, rose to front runner status in Colombia's 1990 election, promising to crack down on the Medellin Cartel, and supported an extradition treaty with the United States, which would have allowed the Colombian government to send Escobar to the US for trial. On August 18, 1989, as he walked on stage at a political rally in Soacha, just south of Bogota, he was assassinated by Escobar's hitmen.

Escobar was implicated in this and many other crimes, and agreed to turn himself in. However, he built and controlled the prison where he was to be jailed, a luxurious complex known as La Catedral. When Escobar received word that he was going to be moved to a more secure location, he fled. Thus began a lengthy manhunt in which an elite unit of the Colombian military, aided by US special forces, searched for Escobar. Following a tip from radio triangulation technology, the authorities tracked him down to a middle-class neighborhood in Medellin near Estadio. He was shot dead on December 2, 1993, although it has never been proved who fired the fatal shots, and there has been much speculation that he may have committed suicide.

pablo-escobar-3Following Escobar's death, the Medellin Cartel was greatly weakened, which gave rise to the powerful Cali Cartel. His carefully-cultivated Robin Hood image lasted until the day of his burial, when 25,000 people turned out to pay their respects. His legacy lives on to this day, and Medellin has a conflicted and perhaps somewhat uneasy relationship with Escobar. On the one hand, the notoriety of Escobar is a point of interest in the city. But his life also demonstrates the horrific violence, lack of respect for law and order, and general criminality that he and his minions unleashed, nearly ruining the image of an entire country for years to come. While Escobar will live on in popular culture and entertainment, here's to hoping that other Colombians, who have done good things with their lives, will rise to prominence over Pablo Escobar, el Patron.

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