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
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows' by John Constable
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Arts and Entertainment
Master of ceremony: Jeremy Paxman
tvReview: Victory for Jeremy Paxman in this absorbing, revealing tale
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
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 General

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - London, £60k

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - Central London, £60,000...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Agent / QA Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an est...

Recruitment Genius: C# / XAML Developer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for a talented...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness