Pablo Escobar was born into a poor family in a village outside Medellín, Colombia. He was forced to drop out of school because his family couldn’t pay for his education. Leaving school was the first step towards a life of crime. He and his brother would steal headstones from cemeteries and sand the names off so they could sell them as new tombstones. They committed other petty crimes to make a small amount of money. He began working for a smuggler after dropping out of college and made his first million dollars by age 22. In 1975, Escobar ordered the murder of Medellín’s most powerful drug lord, Fabio Restrepo. The first time Escobar was arrested came soon after this, though the case was dropped when he ordered the murder of all the arresting officers. People quickly grew terrified of Escobar.
As his control over the drug trade grew, so did his control in Colombia, he was even elected to Congress in 1982. At this point, 80% of the world’s cocaine trade was going through Escobar, and his estimated net worth was $25 billion. Despite being a known criminal, his public persona was a positive one to the people of Colombia. He wanted to be liked by the common people, so he built churches, sports fields, and public parks. People regarded him as their own personal “Robin Hood”.
While in Congress, Escobar became known for his plata o plomo tactic, which roughly means “bribery or death”. He would try to bribe fellow politicians to get policy to sway in his favor, and if the bribery (plata or silver) was refused, he would order the death (plomo or lead) of the opposition. Some of the most prominent men in Colombia fell victim to Escobar’s murderous plots, such as the Colombian Justice Minister, and the head of Colombia’s National Police Anti-Narcotics Unit. Escobar ordered the death of an estimated 600 police officers during his lifetime.
In 1991, Escobar faced multiple drug charges, so his lawyers came up with an unprecedented compromise. Escobar would build his own prison, and choose his own guards. Needless to say, the prison was essentially a mansion, with a Jacuzzi and other luxurious add-ons, and the guards let him carry out business from prison. This lasted until 1992 when the public found out that Escobar tortured and murdered people inside his prison. The Colombian government decided to place Escobar in a real prison, but before they could act Escobar disappeared.
Two organizations were looking for Escobar, one a US trained Colombian task force called Search Bloc, the other Los Pepes, made up of family members of Escobar’s victims and men from a rival Colombian drug cartel. On December 2, 1993, police forces found Escobar hiding in a middle-class house in Medellín and shot and killed him on the roof. Escobar was destined to die no matter which group found him first.
In August 2015, Netflix released Narcos, an American crime drama depicting Pablo Escobar’s rise to drug kingpin. A second season premiered in September 2016, and Netflix has renewed it for a season three and four.