Obituary: Pablo Escobar

Pablo Escobar Gaviria, racketeer: born Rionegro, Colombia 1 December 1949; married; died Medellin, Colombia 2 December 1993.

PABLO ESCOBAR, the world's most notorious drug baron, was shot dead by Colombian police on Thursday, in Medellin, the centre of his criminal operations since the 1970s.

Escobar was born in 1949 in Rionegro, Antioquia, towards the humbler end of that department's social scale: his father was a small farmer and his mother a schoolteacher. At that time drugs were of little interest to Colombians. Marijuana was a vice of small-time criminals, but it was not exported. Coca was chewed by some Indians in the Sierra Nevada and in the south of the country as it had been for centuries. The violence that prevailed in Escobar's childhood was still the old sectarian sort of Liberals against Conservatives and that was on the decline. Medellin was still the Manchester of Colombia, rather a staid religious and clannish place whose inhabitants had a reputation for hard work and hard dealing.

Escobar's career in crime began with car-theft and smuggling. He is said to have been prominent in a conflict known as the 'Marlboro Wars', fought to control the supply of Colombia's most smuggled cigarette. This local background gave him the training in violent entrepreneurship that was to bring him such spectacular success in the 1970s, when a combination of circumstances gave Colombia dominance in the world trade in cocaine, and Medellin dominance within Colombia.

Colombia achieved that position thanks to its location as the unavoidable country of transit between the main areas of cultivation in Peru and Bolivia and the market of the United States. The Colombians who rose with the traffic frequently had backgrounds in earlier smuggling, particularly in emeralds and marijuana. The local boom in marijuana exports in the early 1970s was the overture for what came later with cocaine. The Colombians could also draw on an adequate local infrastructure - plenty of practical chemists - and a deserved reputation for ruthlessness. The local forces of law and order in that vast country were not strong.

Escobar's fame began to spread outside criminal circles in the early 1980s with the zoological collection he established in his hacienda Napoles, in the municipality of Puerto Triunfo on the Magdalena River. On top of the hacienda gateway was mounted a light aircraft, the one in which he had first 'crowned' or successfully introduced a cargo into the United States. The zoo could be visited by the curious and the plane was thought rather a good joke. At this time Escobar also sought to enter politics. He was for a while a suplente, or alternate member of the republic's Chamber of Representatives, and some of his resoruces were spent in programmes to make him popular among the Medellin poor. It was not until April 1984 that the menace he represented became fully apparent. His political ambitions brought him into collision with a section of the Liberal Party, and he ordered the assassination of the Minister of Justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla. The government of President Belisario Betancur retaliated by signing an extradition treaty with the United States. President Virgilio Barco, who succeeded Betancur in 1986, believed from the start of his government that Escobar and the Medellin cartel were the greatest threat to Colombia - there is a lot of guerrilla competition - and an all-out offensive was ordered against them after Escobar had ordered the assassination of the Liberal presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan in August 1989. Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, 'the Mexican', was tracked down and killed, but Escobar maintained a defence in depth, and a campaign of both discriminate and indiscriminate terror which included bombing an Avianca airliner in mid-air with 107 passengers aboard. His communications to the government, carefully authenticated with a thumb-print, show that he thought he was fighting a war, and his generalship was indifferent to casualties.

In June 1991 he made a tactical surrender to the government of President Cesar Gaviria. The Constituent Assembly abolished extradition to any other country. Critics of these complicated accords doubted whether the government would be able to hold Escobar or to convict him - there was little direct evidence against him, and he had among other more notorious means of defence some of the best lawyers in a country that is legalistic as well as lawless. The inability to hold him was confirmed when he left his private jail in July 1992 after little more than a year - a most severe blow to the Gaviria government's credibility. His control of the drug business in Medellin was however already threatened, and the pressure of government searches and the retaliation of rivals have since diminished it further.

Escobar's death will not make much difference to the drug business. He was the last survivor of the type of narcotraficante who wanted not only riches but public power and fame, and who were consequently prepared to face open confrontation with the government. The business is now dispersed, and more faceless. More than any other single group, political or criminal, the Medellin cartel bears the responsibility for the increase in violence in Colombia in the last decade. Outside business, Escobar appears to have had few interests. He leaves a wife and two children. Among the countries where they have recently sought refuge are the United States.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn