Drugs, money, girls, power. That’s what a majority of people think of when they hear of Pablo Escobar. Many have heard of Escobar through stories and articles, but what people don’t understand is how he became the person he did and what struggles led to his ultimate defeat. To truly understand how Pablo Escobar became the person he was, his family background, economic stability, and financial struggles have to be taken into consideration.
Pablo Escobar was born in Rionegro, Colombia where he developed his criminal mindset at an early age. His family was unable to support him and his siblings financially, so he took matters into his own hands. He started with minuscule crimes such as grave robbing and car hijacking. However, these crimes did not satisfy his desire for more power and respect. He escalated to smuggling and trading business for cigarettes, but then later ended up working for Fabio Restrepo, one of the most respected drug traffickers of his time. Escobar worked under his wing, and quickly learned and retained everything that Fabio taught him. He became his “right hand man,” but that wasn’t enough for Escobar. His power hunger grew so much that he ended up killing Fabio in 1975, and immediately he took over all of his operations and expanded an empire that took the world by a storm.1
As fun as Escobar’s drug empire was, he knew he could not continue to take the throne without getting involved in the political world. Escobar’s dream since he was a young kid was to become the president of Colombia. Every little kid’s dream is to become the president or an astronaut, but to Escobar, this wasn’t a dream, it was going to be his reality. But first, he had to start small to build himself up to his dream. Escobar knew that in order to continue his business and even have a shot of becoming a political leader in Colombia, he had to gain the hearts of the people. And what better way to do this than to go back to the community he was raised in. Escobar knew this was going to gain him a big advantage in the political world when he decided to give back to his own people. Pablo helped construct new houses, pools and stores for the community. He also gave his money away to citizens throughout the community to help people who were financially unstable. Escobar’s most famous “robin hood” act was building a new recreational center for the community. The old recreation center had been destroyed over time and was never kept up, and the community didn’t have the money to fix it. Pablo revamped the recreation center, and this was what really captured the hearts of the people. He was glorified as a saint by the whole community and people worshipped him for everything he did. He was one of their own, someone who came from nothing, but became something big.2
With Escobar being so powerful and impactful, he had to be very persuasive in order to get his way. He would bribe numerous powerful people to get what he wanted, no matter the cost. Escobar had a saying, “Plata o plomo,” meaning, silver or lead.3 This helped describe the kind of influence he had with people. If he didn’t get what he wanted with bribery, he would respond with a retaliation or even death. Instilling fear into people was how he gained the respect he craved. He wanted people to know who he was and to not cross him, or else they would have to deal with the consequences. Soon, Escobar’s hunger for respect turned into a loss of humanity. Escobar was so determined to expand his business that he did not know any limits. Assassinations, suicide, death were all apart of the game to Escobar in order to obtain the bigger picture.4
Escobar killed thousands of innocent people in order to be the kingpin of drug distribution. He would orchestrate bombings, assassinations, and even conduct “drive-bys.” It did not matter who the person was, whether they have a family or kids, Escobar killed to get what he wanted. He conducted numerous assassinations on political leaders, journalists, and even citizens who disagreed or did not contribute to his cause. Escobar knew that his shot at becoming the president of Columbia was not going to happen after he started killing political forces in the government, and also the United States was quickly closing in on Escobar trying to arrest him. He used his rage in retaliation to his enemies, hoping this would help influence the Columbian government. Escobar’s main goal on his agenda was a no-extradition clause and amnesty for drug barons in exchange for giving up the trade. Escobar’s “blacklist” claimed the lives of three Colombian presidential candidates, an attorney general, judges and more than 1,000 police officers. In addition, Escobar was implicated as the mastermind behind the bombing of a Colombian jetliner in 1989 that killed more than 100 people. Escobar’s murder binge eventually turned the public opinion against him and caused a breakup of the alliance of drug traffickers known as The Medellin Cartel.5
Soon after all of Escobar’s affairs started going down the drain, Escobar surrendered to Cesar Gaviria, the President of Columbia. But Escobar wanted something in return. The extradition was lifted, and Escobar was allowed to build his own prison called “La Catedral,” which was guarded by people Escobar handpicked. This allowed Escobar to control everything that happened from inside the prison. Although this was not the ideal “capture” the government wanted along with the United States, which at the time, was going to be their best bet. Escobar could control his entire business by smuggling people, drugs, items, foods, and guns to build his “home away from home.” Escobar had a casino, spa, and nightclub built into his so-called prison. As much as Escobar liked the fact that he was able to construct his own prison with his own security and within whatever parameters he wanted, this was once again not enough for him. He wanted to be free to get back to his empire. To escape, Escobar needed a plan.6
The United States and the Columbian government got wind of Escobar’s plans to escape, so they retaliated against him. They surrounded the compound to try to cover up all of the entrances, but this didn’t stop Escobar. First, they made there way through the main entrance thinking this would block off any and all “escape routes.” But in reality, Escobar hoped they would do this. While they were all coming through the front, Escobar made his way through a secret entrance that he built for this specific situation. All of his guards were having a gun fight outside and throughout the Castle while Escobar was making his infamous “get away.” Escobar escaped into the forest where he fled from the authorities, even though his escape was already planned for another day. It helped that even though there was a snitch inside the prison, there was also one outside that alerted Escobar the authorities were approaching the castle, enabling him to escape when the time was right. The manhunt for the drug lord Pablo Escobar lasted almost a year and a half. The authorities occasionally got tips on Escobar’s location, but these were all false sightings that led to dead ends. Escobar had to be very careful while on the run. But in the end, the law caught up to him. On this fateful day, he had tried to escape, but the police got wind of it. The police pursued this tip, and they ended up closing in on his location. He tried to run through the neighborhood, but he ended up being shot in a shootout, and this is how the reign of Pablo Escobar came to a quick end on December 2, 19937
Escobar even to this day, despite all of the horrible and inhumane acts he committed, is considered a saint for everything he gave to the community. Drug dealer or not, he gave back to his people which left a lasting impression not only in their hearts but in their minds. His actions will never be forgotten by people all around the world. So the question is: Is Pablo Escobar a robin hood or murderer? That’s for you to decide.