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
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

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home