On this day in 1993, Pablo Escobar, a wealthy drug lord and leader of one of the most powerful drug empires ever built, was gunned down by Colombian police in a firefight. Over the course of his illicit career, Escobar made billions of dollars; ordered the murder of hundreds of people; and oversaw an empire of mansions, airplanes, and criminals.
Born in Rionegro, Colombia, in 1949, Escobar was the third of seven children born to a farmer and an elementary school teacher. He grew up in an adobe hut with no electricity and was forced to drop out of university when he could not pay the fees. He began a criminal career, allegedly starting with stealing and re-selling gravestones, contraband cigarettes, fake lottery tickets, and stolen cars. By the 1970s, Escobar determined that his way to wealth and power was cocaine. He ordered a local Medellin drug lord killed, replaced him, and grew a cocaine operation. He bought coca paste in Bolivia and Peru, refined it in his own Medellin lab, then transported it to the United States where skyrocketing demand for cocaine brought booming business. By the height of his power in the 1980s, the drug lord’s Medellin cartel shipped 70 to 80 tonnes of cocaine to the US each month, some 80 percent of all cocaine transported to the US. In 1989, Forbes magazine estimated Escobar was the seventh-richest man in the world with an estimated personal wealth of US$25 billion.
Colombians paid for his fortune with their lives. In dealing with his enemies, including police, judges, and civilians, Escobar was legendary for his policy, “”plata o plomo.”” Literally “”silver or lead,”” it dictated that those who stood in his way were dealt with either by bribes (silver) or bullets (lead). It is estimated that hundreds, if not thousands, of people were killed at Escobar’s behest, among them Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan.
But Escobar was public relations-savvy and worked to cultivate a Robin Hood image. By constructing soccer fields, housing projects, hospitals, schools, and churches, he became a hero to the poor in Medellin.
Still, pressure was mounting on Escobar. The US wanted him extradited to face drug and other charges. In 1991, an arrangement was made for Escobar to turn himself in and serve a five-year term in his own, luxuriously appointed prison, La Catedral. Escobar continued to run his cartel from the prison, so the Colombian government made plans to transfer or extradite him. Escobar escaped, spurring on the formation of the Search Bloc, a US-trained special Colombian task force whose sole mission was to find the escaped kingpin. Using radio triangulation technology, a surveillance team found Escobar hiding in a Medellin barrio. As Colombian authorities closed in on him, a firefight ensued between the authorities and Escobar and his bodyguard. They attempted to escape, but Escobar was gunned down. He was killed with a shot through his ear, leading some to believe he killed himself. The drug lord died on 2 December 1993, one day after his 44th birthday.”
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Caption: Pablo Escobar in 1988. Admired by many for using his profits to build infrastructure for the poor, it is estimated that some 20,000 people went to his funeral.