Pablo Escobar: Evil Drug Lord or Philanthropist

Olivia Meyer History of Latin America and The Caribbean Fall 2011

The Colombian drug trade that has been going on for decades plays a key role in Colombia's economy, society, and politics. Behind all of this is the notorious man, Pablo Escobar. Escobar managed the entire drug world and dealt with the most dangerous mafias all over the world, including Italia, and Russia. Beginning his criminal career at a young age in the poor town of Medellin, Escobar made his way to the top and became more powerful than any other cartel leader because of his ruthless threats and bribing tactics; he was much bloodier than any other man of his time. Although many historians would positively note his charities of funding houses and building soccer fields, the majority of scholars would agree that Pablo Escobar's over all influence on Colombia was negative because of the corruption and mass murder he caused upon civilians. Throughout history, Colombia has always struggled economically and socially mainly because of land distribution, the competition between political extremists verses the government, and the political rivalry between the liberals and conservatives. However, this drug war created a much bigger problem than ever before. As David Wolcott, professor at the University of Virginia, stated, " Violence has literally become an institution in Colombian society."1 The Medellin Cartel, Pablo's violent cocaine business, was formed in 1982, but cocaine trade in Colombia goes all the way back to the 1950's when they traded with the Cuban Mafia. At first the cartels used mules to transport and smuggle the cocaine into the US, their main


Cran, William. "The Godfather of Cocaine- Pablo Escobar." Frontline. PBS. 25 Mar. 1997. Television 2

consumer, where people would hide small amounts of it attached to their body or in their bag. Since this wasn't profitable enough for Escobar, his cartel upgraded to using private aircrafts where it was easier to transport large amounts. They started transporting as much as 550 pounds of cocaine profiting in around one million dollars per trip and did at least five trips a week.2 As Escobar became more powerful and rich due to his business, he expanded into politics, the media, private armies, real estate and banking. This drug cartel had successfully infiltrated all aspects of Colombian life. Growing up, Pablo and his family lived in poverty and as a result he desperately needed money, so he started steeling and got into the smuggling business and took off on his career track. Professor Robert Filippone from the Tufts University, stated that drug lords such as Pablo Escobar have the mindset that they are businessmen and that power brings them wealth and their practices just so happens to be illegal.3 Filippone believed these men let nothing stand in their way. Since the 1970's they have been using their power and wealth to organize private militias, buy dangerous weapons, and bribe, intimidate, and terrorize Colombia and its citizens. This applied directly to Pablo Escobar, as he gave his victims a choice: a bullet to the head or money in their hands. As Colombian politician Alberto Villamizar said, " Pablo Escobar would offer a lot of money, and if the politicians didn't accept the money, he said I'm going to kill you. So what would they prefer,

2 3

Filippone, Robert. "The Medellin Cartel: Why We Can't Win the Drug War." Web. Filippone, Robert. 3

money or to be killed."4 In Colombia his mercilessness and bribes worked since many Colombian officials gave into his threats. Pablo Escobar funded all steps of the cocaine process from the drug plantations and labs to smuggling operations, and the distribution to all around the world. Bruce Bagley, an associate professor of international relations at university of Miami, emphasizes the amount of power Escobar has in his hands from the illegal drug trade. His cartel controlled around seventy-five to eighty percent of the Andean region's cocaine traffic and earn between two to four billion American dollars a year.5 This gave Pablo an unlimited amount of money, as he had a personal fortune of three billion dollars for himself and could earn fifty million in one day if he wanted to. 6 Forbes magazine listed him as on of the richest criminals alive. Surprisingly, he used a lot of his money on his guilty pleasure of soccer which benefited the country. Before Escobar, Colombian soccer didn't exist, and now it was huge. Since it was now backed up by so much money, this allowed them to recruit great foreign players and keep the best players from leaving. Soccer began to be taken so seriously between various drug lords that, during games, referees and players would be assassinated if they messed up their bet. It was known as 'Narco Soccer', a tug of war between the powerful drug lords within Colombia and other parts of South America. It was through soccer where Pablo and many others would legalize their cocaine money through the process of money laundering.

4 5

Cran, William. Bagley, Bruce M. "Dateline Drug Wars:." Colombia: The Wrong Strategy. Web. 6 Anson, David. The Two Escobars. 2010. Documentary film. Los Angeles Film Festival. 4

With the 1980's economic boom in the United States, the demand for cocaine spiked rapidly so the business grew. But it wasn't until American professional basketball player, Lyn Blas, died of a cocaine overdose, that there was a major turning point. The US Drug Enforcement Administration then made this cocaine problem a high priority and began the search for the Colombian drug lord behind it. Pablo Escobar became the target of the largest manhunt in the history of Colombia. There was nothing Escobar feared more than the US justice system, where he knew his bribes and intimidation tactics wouldn't work. As he always used to say, "Better a grave in Colombia than a cell in the USA."7 Senator Luis Carlos authorized for extradition against all the drug lords who were corrupting the Colombian society, mainly focusing on Pablo Escobar. In response to this new act, Escobar headed Colombia into a civil war and slaughtered half the members of the Supreme Court as a violent strategy to intimidate them and let them know who made the decisions. As the Colombian President stated, "we are up against an organization stronger than the state," as many historians pointed out. 8 This corruption during this time period led many Colombian citizens to loose confidence in their government. Many officials from the DEA viewed the actions of Pablo Escobar as relentless and violent. One DEA official said, "Violence was a trademark of the Medellin Cartel and extraordinary violence was their special trademark and if he had to kill a father,

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Cran, William. Filippone, Robert. 5

he'd kill the whole family."9 Escobar would hire multiple assassins just to be more efficient. In a city with two million people, there were four murders a day. This widespread mass murder and bombings made the Colombian President abolish the policy of extradition. The United States President at the time, Ronald Reagan, was outraged by Escobar's actions since they were affecting America as well. He was even further taken back that the top Nicaraguan officials had become involved with the drug trafficking as well. There was photographic evidence of Rico Van, one of the top rulers of Nicaragua was seen loading an aircraft with illegal drugs headed for the United States. 10 A U.S. senior government official stated "these traffickers are not only criminals, but politically oriented to the extreme right, and mortal enemies of our democracy. "11 They believed that this Colombian cartel was ruining and taking over the government and they must intervene to stop it. While most scholars will agree that Escobar had an over all negative impact on his country, some point out many positive influences he has had especially on the lower class. He may have been ruthless in his assassinations, but he surprisingly cared for his family and his passion of soccer more than anything. A DEA official stated that he was a big family man and would interrupt any business meeting no matter the importance for his kids or wife if they wanted his attention.12 For the poor, he would donate lights and soccer supplies and build fields in their neighborhoods since they couldn't afford them. The best soccer players were born


Cran, William. Ibid 11 Wolcott, David A. Colombia: Democracy Held Hostage. Tech. 1994. Print. 12 Cran, William.


poor like Rene Hiquita, who rose with help from Escobar. Escobar loved his soccer players and he would even tune into the radio for updated news on the soccer tournaments while he was on the run and hiding. Most found it surprising that he could possess these strong emotions for his family and soccer since he seemed so heartless. Escobar gave more to the poor than just soccer. He built them houses, churches, and schools. Although many criticized him for being a drug lord, the poor felt lucky to be given these supplies. The people who came to visit his grave after his death though he was an innocent victim of political persecution and saw him as messiah sent from god, since he had supplied them with so much. As American author Rachel Ehrenfel said, "He did a lot of good building schools. Much more than the Colombian Government did."13 Since he was so powerful and backed up by endless amounts of money, he was able to make a much larger impact on the poor than the Government ever could. Colombia, being a very poor country, was lucky, in a sense, to have him. David Wolcott, a professor at the University of Virginia, agrees with this and that in terms of economics, his influence has been beneficial to Colombia. He has also noticed that with Escobar, the Colombian economy has kept very stable compared to other Latin American institutions. 14 Tom Cash from the DEA seconds these positive observations by saying, "With Pablo there was no recession. Restaurants were filled; bars were filled. 15 Robert Filippone also agrees with the fact that Pablo's business is good for Colombia since it brings n so much
13 14

Cran, William. Wolcott, David A. Colombia: Democracy Held Hostage. Tech. 1994. Print 15 Anson, David. 7

money, development and creates jobs. 16 This was a perspective that many ordinary people were unaware of when the name Pablo Escobar came to mind. Pablo Escobar had the power to control all of Colombia, the strength to kill hundreds, and the money to over power the government. His actions go down in history. Whether or not he had a positive or negative influence on Colombia depends on each individual's opinion. On one side, many scholars agree that if the cartels never rose to power, Colombia would have never gotten through the economic crisis in the 1980's. Yet, the majority of schools believe he made an over all negative influence on his country, selling illegal drugs, causing corruption and leaving many dead.


Filippone, Robert.


Bibliography: Internet: "DEA History Book, 1990 - 1994." Welcome to the United States Department of Justice. Web. 01 Dec. 2011. <>. Articals: Filippone, Robert. "The Medellin Cartel: Why We Can't Win the Drug War." Web. Bagley, Bruce M. "Dateline Drug Wars:." Colombia: The Wrong Strategy. Web. Wolcott, David A. Colombia: Democracy Held Hostage. Tech. 1994. Print. Books: Mollison, James, and Rainbow Nelson. The Memory of Pablo Escobar. London: Chris Boot, 2007. Print.

Film: Anson, David. The Two Escobars. 2010. Documentary film. Los Angeles Film Festival. Cran, William. "The Godfather of Cocaine- Pablo Escobar." Frontline. PBS. 25 Mar. 1997. Television.