Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was a Colombian drug lord and leader of one of the most powerful criminal organizations ever assembled. During the height of his power in the 1980’s, he controlled a vast empire of drugs and murder that covered the globe. He made billions of dollars, ordered the murder of hundreds if not thousands of people, and ruled over a personal empire of mansions, airplanes, a private zoo and even his own army of soldiers and hardened criminals.
Born on December 1, 1949 into a lower-middle class family, young Pablo grew up in the Medellín suburb of Envigado. As a young man, he was driven and ambitious, telling friends and family that he wanted to be President of Colombia some day. He got his start as a street criminal: according to legend, he would steal tombstones, sandblast the names off of them, and resell them to crooked Panamanians. Later, he moved up to stealing cars. It was in the 1970’s that he found his path to wealth and power: drugs. He would buy coca paste in Bolivia and Peru, refine it, and transport it for sale in the US.
Rise to Power
In 1975, a local Medellín drug lord named Fabio Restrepo was murdered, reportedly on the orders of Escobar himself. Stepping into the power vacuum, Escobar took over Restrepo’s organization and expanded his operations. Before long, he controlled all crime in Medellín and was responsible for as much as 80% of the cocaine transported into the United States. In 1982, he was elected to Colombia’s Congress. With economic, criminal and political power, Escobar’s rise was complete.
“Plata o Plomo”
Escobar’s ruthlessness was legendary. His rise was opposed by many honest politicians, judges and policemen, who did not like the growing influence of this street thug. Escobar had a way of dealing with his enemies: he called it “plata o plomo,” literally, silver or lead. Usually, if a politician, judge or policeman got in his way, he would first attempt to bribe them, and if that didn’t work, he would order them killed, occasionally including their family in the hit. The exact number of honest men and women killed by Escobar is unknown, but it definitely goes well into the hundreds and perhaps into the thousands.
Even being important or high-profile did not protect you from Escobar if he wanted you out of the way. He ordered the assassination of presidential candidates and was even rumored to be behind the 1985 attack on the Supreme Court, carried out by the 19th of April insurrectionist movement in which several Supreme Court Justices were killed. On November 27, 1989, Escobar’s Medellín cartel planted a bomb on Avianca flight 203, killing 110 people. The target, a presidential candidate, was not actually on board. In addition to these high-profile assassinations, Escobar and his organization were responsible for the deaths of countless magistrates, journalists, policemen and even criminals inside his own organization.
The Height of PowerBy the mid- 1980’s, Pablo Escobar was one of the most powerful men in the world. Forbes magazine listed him as the seventh-richest man in the world. His empire included an army of soldiers and criminals, a private zoo, mansions and apartments all over Colombia, private airstrips and planes for drug transport and personal wealth reported to be in the neighborhood of $24 billion. He could order the murder of anyone, anywhere, any time.