Sometimes I am God. If I say a man dies, he dies that same day. -Pablo Escobar
When you make billions of dollars you can do whatever the hell you want with it.
Drug kingpin Pablo Escobar made sure his amazing cash flow got put to good use.
He purchased 5,000 acres for himself. And his family, of course. With 5,000 acres to play with, the opportunity to do something astounding presented itself. Don Pablo didn’t disappoint.
MTV Cribs would have had to do an entire special on Escobar’s estate. One episode simply wouldn’t suffice. First of all, the size: just one acre is a hell of a lot. To put that in perspective, a football field is 1.32231405 acres.
Hacienda Nápoles featured all of the fixings a proper billionaire should have. An airstrip, zoo, lakes, exotic birds and other animals, and dinosaurs frozen in time (statues), were just some of the sights you would see at this awe-inspiring place.
It bears repeating that lakes and a zoo were part of the estate. Famously, Escobar stocked the zoo with wild animals, some of them hippos, giraffes and elephants. For a man of Escobar’s stature, one hippo wasn’t enough. No, four had to be housed in the Hacienda Nápoles zoo. Four. Today, the estate is a theme park that’s open to the public. Nobody lives there any more and much of the stuff is dilapidated, rotting in an ever-decaying state.
Except the hippos. These massive beasts weren’t native to Colombia. Years after the estate remained abandoned, the hippos didn’t settle on staying around the four lakes on the property. They went loose, venturing where they damn well pleased. The behemoths got busy too, producing enough offspring to place 40 hippos in the wild. You would think the hippos might die out because Colombia wasn’t their natural habitat. But the climate, vegetation and lack of predators ensured the hippos’ survival. See, Escobar’s power continues to affect even the environment in Colombia today.
Sharing the larger-than-life luxury was Escobar’s wife, Maria Victoria Henao, and their children.
“I can replace things, but I could never replace my wife and kids,” Escobar said.
Escobar married Maria when she was just 15 years old (he was 26). They sure have some lax laws in other countries. The Medellín cartel leader had enough money to last a lifetime. He didn’t horde his wealth though.
Robbing The Rich, Giving To The Poor
True, Escobar spent an alarming amount to create his paradise. He kicked down his own money to help the locals. And by help, he basically saved their lives and even created his own barrio. He was a big boss who gave back.
The locals viewed him as a hero. A Robin Hood persona cloaked the cartel leader. People in Medellín supported Escobar despite his cutthroat tactics. From the people’s perspective, what wasn’t to like? They see a self-made man who sold narcotics to the spoiled, rich Americans. The stuck-up addicts and casual drug users had enough cash to waste every month. How else do you explain Escobar and his crew having to spend $2,500 a month on rubber bands to wrap money? It was staggering. Taking their money was justice.
Escobar didn’t just kick down cash and let the people do what they pleased. He took charge, building from the ground up, literally. Schools, soccer fields, churches and hospitals were just some of his goodwill gestures. He paid for children’s soccer teams to operate. Naturally, he built houses and gave money to the poor. They lived rent free. The Catholic Church supported Escobar in his humanitarian efforts. El Señor should have been applauded for his generosity, but was the Catholic Church really that naïve about all the drugs, murder and other illegal activities the Medellín cartel involved itself in?
All of this Robin Hood heroism from Pablo Escobar earned more than a thumbs up from the people.
Support for Escobar in Colombia helped him conceal his crimes. Do-gooders, law enforcement and enemies looking to take down Don Pablo, the name given to Escobar by the locals, were deterred by the people’s misdirection and withholding information.
With that kind of appeal, political influence came next. Except it wasn’t bribery or threats to politicians. Escobar himself got involved.
Imagine someone like him in politics? Kind of like the old World Wrestling Federation when Vince McMahon or Ric Flair comes to the ring in a suit, address the crowd, feeds them lies, then finally bones the opposing wrestler with a crazy stipulation that totally stacks the deck against them. You knew that Escobar wasn’t going to play this straight.
In 1982, Escobar served the Colombian Liberal Party by taking part in the Congress of Colombia’s House of Representatives. Escobar was elected as a deputy/alternative representative. Being entrenched in politics made the cartel’s power that much stronger.
Escobar’s persona went from local drug runner to international outlaw. The United States consumed all the cocaine it could handle. The cartel expanded its reach to South America, some of Europe and rumors began of the powder migrating to Asia. Cue his WWF entrance music.
Even in politics Escobar constantly used plata o plomo to snake his way out of trouble. It didn’t matter that he was a politician. Judges, policemen, civilians and other political leaders either got their wallets stuffed or received a bullet in the brain.
“Everyone has a price, the important thing is to find out that price,” Escobar said.
The Medellín cartel raised hell as it pleased. It continued the strong-armed tactics to get what it wanted. Escobar flexed the most dangerous political muscle in 1989 when presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán met his demise.
Galán openly opposed Escobar and the cartel’s mayhem. He was an idealist who supported extradition with the United States. An international outlaw such as Escobar could face imprisonment if Colombia extradited criminals.
This was an instance in which plata (money) clearly wouldn’t work. In fact, Galán never got the choice. He was leading the polls until Aug. 18, 1989. The cartel had hired hitmen to do the job. Galán received plenty of plomo (lead) when the hitmen fired away in public. This was definitely a message killing. Escobar’s cartel controlled 80 percent of the cocaine market. It didn’t show any signs of slowing down.
Getting His Kicks
Life wasn’t all drugs and murder for Escobar.
Atlético Nacional, Medellín’s soccer team, won the Copa Libertadores in 1989. This was South America’s most prestigious soccer tournament.
It was believed that Don Pablo provided most of the financial backing to build this team into a powerhouse. The cartel money also helped build up the soccer presence of Colombia in general.
Unlike the United States, people all over the world love soccer. In the U.S., soccer’s a huge thing when the World Cup comes around. But in foreign countries, soccer is the sport. To win such a tournament is like capturing the Super Bowl (so what’s winning the World Cup, the Super Super Bowl?).
ESPN made a 30 for 30 documentary called The Two Escobars. It chronicled the rise of Colombian soccer, aided greatly by drug money made by Pablo Escobar. In 1994, controversy struck when a Colombian soccer star named Andrés Escobar (no relation to Pablo) was murdered six days after scoring an own goal against the United States.
Andrés Escobar deflected a ball into the Colombian net, leading to the elimination of the country in the World Cup. Back in Colombia, a cartel bodyguard shot Andrés in a club parking lot at 3 a.m. It is unsure if this was punishment for busting the bets of several cartel higher-ups who bet that Colombia would advance to the next round. Each time the gunman shot, he yelled “Gol!”
Pablo Escobar had nothing to do with this incident. At the time of this incident, Pablito wasn’t around. His presence and violent nature were a threat to many in Colombia and in the United States. Murder rates skyrocketed in 1991 and 1992 as violent deaths reached 25,100 and 27,100 in those years.
Don Pablo became a controversial figure: he was Robin Hood — hero — and mass murderer — villain. Left unchecked, who knows how out of control the cartel could get. Colombia had become the murder capital of the world in the early 1990s and it was all because of one man.
His people and army of cartel members could only protect him for so long. Getting to the top of the mountain definitely pissed some people off. Payback and control of the market were also at stake. And then the big boys in the United States would want to see Escobar out of the picture. His time was drawing to a close.
In part three of this series, it’s the demise of Pablo Escobar and the lasting memories we have of one of the wealthiest and dangerous men ever.
This is the 30 for 30 episode of The Two Escobars, worth taking a look.