Was Pablo Escobar a hero?

The history : Pablo Escobar: killer, public enemy, folk hero

As if tossed, the man lies on the roof tiles, his body twisted, his T-shirt slipped up, his stomach bulging out. Blood flows from the corner of his mouth, encrusts his beard. Only the expression on his face doesn't match the traces of violence: Pablo Escobar lies there with his eyes closed, he looks peaceful, almost relieved.

While a crowd gathers below, police officers climb onto the roof. They want to be photographed with Escobar, kneel over him as if they had just killed a wild animal. Escobar seems to have reached for a pistol with one hand. But maybe one of the officers pushed the holster with the Glock next to him to say: See how dangerous he was, right to the end.

Pablo Escobar's mother arrives. At first she laughs at the police's renewed amateurism. Her son's bodyguard, Limón, is dead on the lawn and she thinks the police think Limón is Pablo. But then the limp body of her dead son is heaved from the roof. Three bullets hit him: one in the back, one in the leg and the third, the fatal one, hit Pablo Escobar in the right ear and flew out again in the left.

The world had waited a long time for this shot. The most powerful drug trafficker of all time was killed on December 2, 1993 at around 3 p.m. on Carrera 79a in Medellín's middle-class district of Los Olivos. He died the day after his 44th birthday, which he celebrated with a joint, his great cousin Luzmila and his last bodyguard. The fact that a fly swirled around Escobar during the small ceremony was taken by Luzmila as a bad omen: It was "one of those who sit on corpses".

She told the British photographer James Mollison, who was researching unknown shots from the life of the drug lord in Colombia. Now his book entitled "Escobar - the drug baron" (Heyne Verlag, Munich) has been published in German: Pictures from police files and Escobar's personal photographers, snapshots of family celebrations, his killer gang and his zoo. negligently dressed man with the sleepy look was once the predecessor of Osama bin Laden: the most wanted man in the world. For a decade he fooled Colombian and US special forces - while selling tons of cocaine in the United States.

Escobar's wealth was like a fairy tale. In 1989 he was ranked seventh on the "Forbes" list of the wealthiest people. At the same time he stylized himself as a benefactor and was worshiped by the poor in his hometown of Medellín. The same man who indifferently murdered thousands built 400 houses for the residents of a garbage dump. In the “Barrio Pablo Escobar” his portraits are still displayed next to those of the Blessed Virgin and the Baby Jesus.

In the West, Escobar is one of the mythical figures of Latin America today, in a row with Che Guevara and Evita Peron. It is easy to forget that Escobar was the first drug terrorist to bring an entire state to the brink of collapse. It flooded Colombia with dirty money; between 1976 and 1980 alone, bank balances doubled in the country's four largest cities. Biggest irony in history: Colombia's current President Álvaro Uribe had good contacts with Escobar in the 80s and is now Washington's closest ally in the “war on drugs”.

It would be wrong, however, to attribute Escobar's rise solely to his criminal energy. "Escobar was the product of a time and a society," writes Mark Bowden, author of the book "Killing Pablo".

Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was born on December 1, 1949, the third of seven children in a village in the province of Antioquia. The father is a landowner, the mother a primary school teacher. Conditions in Colombia are chaotic. Few families control the state and its resources when the presidential candidate Jorge Gaitán (“I am the people!”) Steps up to fight injustice in Colombia - and is murdered. The death of Gaitán throws Colombia into chaos, around 200,000 people violently lose their lives in the following years. The Colombians now refer to the period as "La Violencia" - the violence. There is no state monopoly of power, security can only be guaranteed by families and their allies - this is the earliest experience Pablo Escobar had. And he is fascinated by the stories of the bandits, who are admired by the people for their supposed rebellion. Even as a teenager, Pablo leaves school and tells his mother: "I want to make it big." He begins his career selling counterfeit lottery tickets, smuggled cigarettes and robberies. Even before his 20th birthday, Escobar is the head of a gang of thieves who steal cars and sell the citizens of Medellín's car theft insurance. If someone owes him money, the debtor is kidnapped and, if the outstanding amount does not arrive, killed. Kidnapping, as Escobar notes, is a lucrative source of income, and in the summer of 1971 he kidnaps the textile magnate Diego Echavarria, who is considered an exploiter by the workers of Medellín. Six weeks later, Echavarria was found strangled despite paying $ 50,000.

Escobar would probably remain a medium-caliber criminal unless cocaine became a fashion drug in the United States in the mid-1970s. It becomes Colombia's second most important export product after oil. In 1980 the cartels turned over ten billion dollars from the powder in South Florida alone. It is characteristic of Escobar how he usurps the business. In 1975 he kills Fabio Restrepo, Medellín's most important drug lord. His people are informed that they will work for Escobar from now on. Escobar has no experience of being denied something. When he wanted to marry 15-year-old Victoria Henao in 1976, she was still playing with dolls. But Escobar buys the blessing for the wedding from the Medellín bishop. He also has innumerable lovers. If one of them becomes pregnant, Escobar sends an abortion doctor or a killer.

Escobar counts his money in billions. Sometimes its pilots' biggest problem is finding enough room for the dollars in their fan guns. Escobar parks his money in Switzerland, invests in real estate, buys helicopters and supports the Medellín football team Atlético Nacional, which in 1989 became the first Colombian team to win the Copa Libertadores, South America's counterpart to the European Champions League. Just recently, Escobar's son Juan Pablo revealed that his father once burned two million dollars while on the run to keep the family warm with the fire.

1979 Escobar builds the "Hacienda Los Nápoles" east of Medellín. At the parties on the 300 hectare property, he lets beauty queens race naked - the winners get a sports car. An employee who is caught stealing cutlery is shackled into the pool. In his private zoo, Escobar keeps 200 exotic animal species, including elephants, lions and rhinos. Today Nápoles is neglected, the houses have been smashed by treasure hunters. Only 16 hippos still live in one of the lakes.

In the early 1980s, Escobar reached the height of his power. And “he firmly believed that cocaine would soon be legalized,” says photographer James Mollison, who met Escobar's last living killer, “Popeye”, in prison for his book. “He would then have had the monopoly.” But then in 1981 an extradition agreement between Colombia and the USA came into force, which proclaimed the “War on Drugs”. Escobar fears nothing more than the American judiciary. "Better a grave in Colombia than a prison in the US," he says. In order to gain immunity, he can be elected to parliament, but is complimented out again at his first session.

Embittered, Escobar started a year-long war against the "unpatriotic" extradition agreement. And continues to run his business: at times he controls 80 percent of the global cocaine trade. Equipped with astronomical sums, he let the terror against the state escalate in 1989: In August his killers shoot the left-liberal presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán. In November Avianca flight 203 explodes, on which Escobar suspects Galán's successor. And in December, on his orders, the headquarters of the DAS secret service was blown up. It only seems like a detail that Escobar also had Medellin's new police chief shot in the same year. During an interrogation, he had forbidden Pablo's wife to give the baby daughter the bottle.

In 1991 Escobar brought the state to its knees and a lubricated Congress conceded the extradition law. Three hours after the decision, Escobar faces justice to get himself out of the line of fire. Before that, however, he ensures that he is accommodated in the La Catedral property near Medellín. As soon as he was arrested in this prison that was created especially for him, Escobar bribed the guards, who henceforth turn a blind eye when delivery vans with champagne and prostitutes arrive. Once the Atlético Nacional team came over to a game that Escobar and his bodyguards won on penalties. Atlético's goal is Colombia's national goalkeeper René Higuita, who is famous for his curly hairstyle and his spectacular saves.

Meanwhile, Escobar's earnings continue to gush. When he is betrayed by two colleagues and Escobar murders them in La Catedral, the government decides to have him relocated. But Escobar escaped. From now on he is a hunted one. Special forces and the mysterious killer gang Los Pepes are after him. The Pepes are run by the Castaño brothers. Years before, she and her paramilitary force had fought with Escobar against left-wing guerrillas, now the connection no longer seems opportune. With the secret support of an elite Colombian unit, the Pepes systematically murder all of Escobar's acquaintances and destroy his houses. His opportunities to withdraw are dwindling.

US surveillance teams then point the right track, and on December 2, 1993 the trap snaps shut. Escobar had been on the phone with his son for too long. The house is located, stormed, Escobar is shot. There was tumult at his funeral when the crowd tried to touch the body.

What remains? Escobar's opponents took over the business, and the cocaine trade continues to fuel the war between left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries against the state and among themselves. Shortly after Escobar's death, the magazine “Semana” wrote: “The world used to know Colombia as the country of coffee.” But he made it the epitome of the “narco state” and established the drug trade as one of the most lucrative industries in the world.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page