Escobar escape raises fears of new drug war

MEDELLIN - Nobody knows where Pablo Escobar is. He evaporated before the very eyes of 500 soldiers inside the prison where he had been held for more than a year. The 42-year-old Escobar has once again become one of the most wanted men in the world. The army was still searching for him yesterday, combing the hills around Envigado prison.

The escape of Escobar and nine accomplices must have happened early on Wednesday morning, while the army was trying to put down a mutiny provoked by the government's attempt to transfer Escobar and 14 of his lieutenants to a more secure prison. While the soliders were busy freeing the hostages held by Escobar - the deputy justice minister and the head of the national prisons system - Escobar and his men calmly escaped. Nobody knows how he did it or where he went. Some accounts talk of secret tunnels and others say he made off into the woods.

'If the fugitive gives himself up his life wil be spared,' said President Cesar Gaviria on Wednesday night, when he addressed the country about the events at Envigado. 'My decision to move him was taken to avoid the possibility of a return to the drug war, which seemed to be imminent.' He looked tired and worried. The government knows that its policy of bringing the drug traffickers to justice has collapsed.

Lots of questions are now being asked: for instance, why did the President decide to carry out such a delicate operation on the very day he was supposed to be travelling to Spain? One thing seems clear: the government handed the hostages over on a plate. It was nave, to say the least, to send two judicial officials, neither of them familiar with the case, to tell Escobar that he was to be transferred. 'Colombia again looks absurd in the eyes of the world,' as the Medellin newspaper, El Colombiano, put it.

The president of the Senate, Jose Blackburn, announced yesterday that Congress would be launching an inquiry into the officials involved, but at the end of the day the President was responsible for the operation.

Fabio Ochoa, the father of three convicted drug traffickers, all of them currently held in Itagui prison, told a radio station that, although he admired the government, it had made a mistake on this occasion. But he said he was sure that 'Pablo will turn up again and things will be sorted out by means of dialogue.' The wife and daughter of the Medellin cartel chief also went on the radio, and asked the government to work for peace, 'so that it becomes reality, not just a dream'.

Here in Medellin, however, nobody believes Escobar will give himself up. 'The government didn't keep its word. Escobar was right to do what he did,' said a woman from Envigado. 'Pablo Escobar is a god. It's like he has a pact with the Devil, which gives him the power to disappear,' said a man. 'They were going to kill him or send him to the United States.'

Whatever the truth, alarm is spreading again through Medellin and the surrounding district. You can feel people's fear when they go outside at night. The governor of Antioquia department and the mayor of Medellin both complained that 'the government didn't even have the decency to consult us about the Envigado operation'. The governor, Juan Gomez Martinez, said: 'If they'd talked to us about it we wouldn't be in this mess now.'

Will the drug war resume? Will Escobar once again seek the support of the young hired assassins of Medellin? 'What's happening is very serious. Pablo Escobar is a symbol of the power of crime, the very image of violence. The young admire him for his daring. This image is going to come to the fore once again, and will be even stronger,' one well-informed observer commented.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cabinet Maker / Joiner

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This bespoke furniture and inte...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones