In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar established a cocaine-trafficking empire based in Medellín. By the end if the decade the Medellín Cartel controlled 80% of the global cocaine market and Forbes magazine listed Pablo as the seventh-richest man in the world. The cartel retaliated to a government crackdown by assassinating judges and government leaders, bombing government buildings, and paying a bounty for every policeman killed. Medellín had the highest homicide rate in the world before Pablo was killed by law enforcement in 1993, and continued to be a dangerous place until recent years. I went on a Pablo Escobar tour which included three sites: the Monaco Building, one of Pablo’s 800+ properties that was bombed in a failed bid to kill him; a cemetery with the graves of Pablo and his family members; and one of Pablo’s homes/hideouts. The highlight of the tour was meeting Roberto Escobar, Pablo’s brother and accountant. Roberto told us that he couldn’t launder the earnings quickly enough, so he resorted to burying piles of bills in farm fields, storing cash in dilapidated warehouses, and hiding money in the walls of cartel members’ homes. (He spent $2,500 a month on the rubber bands needed to hold stacks of bills together.) Thieves recently ransacked Pablo’s former home looking for stashed cash, and the tour guide revealed a bullet hole resulting from the gunfight between the intruders and security guards. Roberto met us at the house to answer questions and promote his book The Accountant’s Story: Inside the Violent World of the Medellín Cartel, which romanticizes his legendary, outlaw brother1. The Pablo Escobar tour was a bizarre experience and a highlight of the trip.
- Mark Bowden’s Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw offers an opposing perspective on Pablo Escobar. (Mark Bowden is also the author of Black Hawk Down.) In addition to Roberto’s and Mark’s books, I recommend watching the Netflix original series Narcos. ↩