Killing Pablo - Bryn Mawr School Faculty Web Pages
Download Killing Pablo - Bryn Mawr School Faculty Web Pages...
The Pablo Problem What to do about Pablo Escobar
Pablo Escobar was listed by Forbes magazine as the seventh richest man in the world in 1989. He started a housing development in Medellín, Colombia for the poor. He raised money for public works – roads and electric lines. He built roller skating rinks and soccer fields. He regularly gave away money. In 1978, he was elected substitute city council member in Medellín. He ran for Congress in 1982 and was elected as a substitute representative – allowed full privileges of office and sat in when the primary representative could not attend sessions. Pablo founded his own newspaper, Medellín Cívica. He was a civic leader, sponsoring art exhibitions for charity. He started “Medellín Without Slums,” an organization to provide housing programs for the poor. He had lavish estates, including two in Florida. He traveled to the United States and Europe on a regular basis. He was a hero to many, especially in his hometown of Medellín. Pablo used his wealth and power to battle Communist guerrillas in the countryside, an endeavor that found favor with many.
Pablo Escobar was a car thief by the time he was twenty. He then began selling protection from car thieves (himself included). He used kidnapping, first as a means of debt collection, then for other purposes.
He took advantage of the explosion of demand for cocaine in the United States, as the drug came into vogue in the late seventies and eighties. So much money was rolling into Colombia that bank deposits in Colombia’s four largest cities more than doubled between 1976 and 1980. Pablo’s method of dealing with the authorities can be summed up as plata o plomo (silver or lead), meaning take a bribe or a bullet. He could rationalize his business as revolutionary, striking out at the wealthy world establishment, redistributing wealth from rich North Americans to the poor in Colombia. That made him a kind of Robin Hood. Still, he lived lavishly. His seventy four hundred acre ranch, called Hacienda Los Nápoles included an airport, heliport, and roads. He had elephants, buffaloes, lions, rhinos, gazelles, hippos, camels and ostriches. He built six swimming pools and a number of lakes. He had a 1930s car with bullet holes that he said Bonnie and Clyde owned. There was too much money to spend and invest; he buried millions.
Map of Colombia, showing Medellín, Cali, and Bogotá
Extradition In 1979, the United States and Colombia signed an extradition treaty. It stated that drug trafficking was a crime against the United States. Those involved in the shipment of illegal drugs could tried in the United States and imprisoned.
Pablo Escobar was most concerned with the prospect of facing the U.S. justice system; so much of what he would do from that point forward would be designed to overturn, invalidate, avoid the terms of the treaty.
It also meant that the fate of Pablo Escobar, the leader of the Medellín cartel, was of direct concern to the United States.
Background to U.S. involvement: In 1982, President Reagan appointed a cabinet level task force to deal with the issue of drug smuggling. U.S. State Department began testing herbicides on coca fields. Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 221 in April of 1986, which stated that drug trafficking was a threat to national security. This opened the door to U.S. military involvement. After President Bush took office in 1989, the emphasis in the war on drugs shifted from trying to keep drugs out at the borders to targeting narcotics kingpins.
You are a civil servant in the Colombian government. Your job is top secret. Your family thinks that you work supervising road construction and repairs, a tedious if necessary task. In reality, you are working as an advisor to the Colombian president and liaison between the Colombian and United States government. Your area of expertise is drug cartels.
Your task is to provide advice as to the best way to handle the drug trafficking problem, especially the ring leaders of the cartels. Pablo Escobar is your main concern.
You know the importance of your job. With each decision made in each situation, lives are at stake. In this game of chess, the stakes are deadly. One wrong move could get a number of people killed. Still, in each situation, you need to weigh your overall goals of crippling the cartels, restoring law and order to your country, and satisfying the United States. This last goal is somewhat distasteful, since it acknowledges the power of the U.S., but it is necessary for that same reason.
It is spring 1984. Tensions between the drug cartels and the government have been rising. Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla has been taking aggressive action. After publicly exposing the importance of drug money in political campaigns, he shifted to direct action by shutting down laboratories, seizing equipment and making several arrests. Although the arrests were low level, his actions were proving problematic for the drug lords.
You have been working overtime lately, and you decided to take the last week in April off.
It is April 30. The phone rings. The voice on the other end tells you that you need to report to the office right away. Justice Minister Lara has been assassinated. His chauffeur driven car was hit with seven bullets shot by a motorcyclist. While you are not surprised by this, you know that the stakes have just been raised substantially.
You gather your things, leave a note for the family claiming some emergency road repair and head into the office.
President Belisario Betancur asks you to draft a statement for him to make in response to Lara’s assassination.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. We are aggressively seeking the trigger man. The shooter will be brought to justice.” “This is obviously a response to Minister Lara’s actions against the drug lords, but this is a Colombian problem and we will deal with it internally. I see no reason to change my stance against extradition. We will seek justice in Colombia.” “Lara’s death must not be in vain. The country is in a state of siege. We will take the appropriate actions against those ultimately responsible, not just the person who pulled the trigger. I will honor the extradition treaty with the Americans. We will extradite Colombians.”
This is a safe but very weak response. The President is disappointed in you. He tells you to go back to your office and draft a stronger response. The country demands more. You need to be more in tune to the nation. Playing it safe might cost you your job.
Lose 5 points.
This is not a bad response. At least you are acknowledging the people behind the assassination. It serves them notice that the President will stay the course. They have not won the war yet. It buys some time without committing too much. Unfortunately President Betancur is tired of the status quo and is outraged at this level of violence. He believes that he needs to step up the response, and he believes that he needs U.S. help to do it. With the deep pockets of the drug lords and the choice of plata o plomo, he does not think that Colombia can solve this crisis alone. And, the way to gain U.S. help is by supporting extradition. You do not lose points, but you do not gain any with this response either.
This is exactly what is needed, a strong response that will bring the U.S. on board and serve notice to the traffickers that the Colombian government will not back down in the face of such violence. To give in now would be to surrender the control of the country to the drug lords. By changing his stance to support extradition, President Betancur is guaranteeing the help of the U.S. and striking fear in the hearts of the traffickers who dread extradition to the U.S. more than anything else.
Great job. You gain 10 points for your bold and timely effort.
As a result of Betancur’s strong response, the major drug traffickers, including Pablo Escobar, the Ochoa brothers and Carlos Lehder took refuge in Panama.
Almost immediately, Pablo begins to try to negotiate a return to Colombia. He does not want to live in exile or on the run.
President Betancur asks your advice again.
Negotiate with Escobar. You actually have some leverage here. You may be able to control his future actions, and Colombia has had enough violence.
Refuse to negotiate. After all, he is clearly uncomfortable. Maybe the U.S. will be able to get him extradited from Panama, and then he would be their problem.
As distasteful as this option is, President Betancur agrees that it is certainly worth pursuing. It does not hurt to see what can be negotiated. Putting Pablo Escobar behind bars would definitely be an accomplishment. There is a chance then that the government would be able to control him and maybe gain some ground in the war on drugs. It might also appease the Americans.
Good advice, at least it seems to be. The jury is still out. Your score remains unchanged.
A noble and courageous stance to take. It would certainly make a statement that the regime would not negotiate with criminals. Unfortunately, President Betancur does not see things your way. Others have told him persuasively that heroic stances will not move his efforts forward. He knows that there is a time for bold statements and a time for pragmatic responses. He suggests that you be more flexible in your approach. Still, he knows that the proposition of negotiating with someone as powerful as Escobar is risky.
Still, it is too early to tell how this will play out. Your score remains unchanged.
This was one time that Betancur wishes he had listened to you. The outrage caused by his negotiating with Escobar was immediate and strong. He had to back down almost immediately.
Eventually, Pablo returned to Colombia, his power base, without a deal. He would continue to fight extradition with violence and occasionally offer to turn himself in if the government would agree not to extradite him. The judge investigating him for Lara’s murder was killed in July 1985. Pablo went after the judicial system aggressively. In November, four judges working on the extradition issue were assassinated. Pablo reportedly paid guerrillas to storm the Supreme Court demanding renunciation of the extradition treaty and burning records, including Pablo’s records. A thoroughly intimidated Supreme Court would later invalidate the extradition treaty on a technicality. This would prove to be only temporary as the new President would sign the treaty again.
Pablo kept the heat on. By the end of 1987, the bodies piled up to the point that the U.S. Ambassador warned that the government was in grave danger. Colombian President Barco declared martial law.
In August 1989, the assassination of popular presidential candidate Luis Carlos Gálan, who favored extradition, led to a strong reaction from President Barco who issued an emergency order reinstating extradition, which had been annulled by the Colombian Supreme Court. Pablo Escobar was behind the killing of Gálan.
Three months later, Pablo’s men blew an Avianca airliner up in an effort to kill Gálan’s replacement, César Gaviria. He was not on board but 110 people, including two Americans, were killed. Clearly a danger to American citizens, Pablo Escobar became a military target.
It is 1990. You have survived another administration. Your cover has been maintained (a small miracle) and you have proven valuable at different points in time. Newly elected President Gaviria asks you for advice about how he should approach the drug problem. He has been perceived as a hard liner, but now that he is in power, he is not sure what approach to take.
With kidnappings and bombings reaching the wealthy and powerful, you should play hardball and target the immediate families of the drug leaders and the leaders themselves. You are getting a lot of financial and logistical aid from the U.S.
People are tired of the violence. Escalating the war against the traffickers has only brought more violence. They have too much money and influence. You will never clean the government out of people on their payroll. You may as well try to negotiate. Use extradition to your advantage. Also the war against Pablo has hurt him financially.
The public has tired of the violence. The targets have gotten wider. A large amount of funds and covert surveillance equipment and expertise from the United States have failed to capture the perpetrators or stem the violence. Gaviria’s hard line stance probably cost him more votes than it won him. This is not the right time for this approach. A change is necessary.
Lose 10 points.
Colombians just want peace. They are through being outraged for the moment. They are simply too tired from all of the bombings, killings and kidnappings. You should try to negotiate some form of peace. Pablo seems ready for a deal. By using extradition, which he fears the most, particularly after his colleague Carlos Lehder was sentenced to 135 years in U.S. prison following extradition and trial, you can probably gain favorable terms. It is worth a try. The crackdown has only brought more violence and death to all sides.
Gain 10 points for your astute analysis.
June 19, 1991 •The Constitutional Assembly in Colombia voted to ban extradition in the new Constitution, which would go into effect on July 5. There were objections from the U.S. government and the Gaviria administration, but the vote was 50-13. •Pablo Escobar surrendered to the Colombian government. He was taken to a partially constructed “prison” built especially for his imprisonment. He had visited the site a few weeks earlier with his brother and buried an arsenal of weapons on the property, asserting that some day they would be needed. •To the media, Pablo described his surrender as an act of peace. In the deal, all of the killings and kidnappings were ignored. He pled guilty to brokering a French drug deal for his dead cousin Gustavo. You tell the President what a great victory this is. Now that he has Escobar in jail, he can control him. You take an unpopular stand today, noting that Pablo has gotten what he wants – a safe house, no threat of extradition, a guilty plea on a fairly minor charge; you do not trust him. You tell the President that he has actually lost this round and will have to fight another.
You have shown that you are optimistic and naïve. There is no way that Pablo Escobar would have surrendered unless he was sure that it would suit him. He has many government and military personnel on his payroll. He has set up the prison so that it resembles more of a country club. At best, you can really consider this house arrest.
He goes to nightclubs, shopping malls, and soccer matches. Prison guards act as waiters, serving food and drinks to Pablo and his handpicked fellow inmates. This is a slap in the government’s face.
Lose 5 points and gain a new boss.
While initially the president is unhappy with what he perceives as disloyalty, it shortly becomes clear that your analysis was on target. Pablo is living a lavish lifestyle, doing much of what he wants, including leaving prison to attend soccer matches and nightclubs and even shop. Under government protection, when the guards are not acting as servants, he is able to rebuild his business with some minor inconveniences. He has to send messages by trained pigeons, but even out of prison his communications were monitored, and he had to stay one step ahead of the law. Gain 10 points and a new assistant.
“The Escobar Problem” President Gaviria has assigned you and a new assistant justice minister named Eduardo Mendoza to deal with what he has called “the Escobar problem.” The main tasks were to find a serious charge that could stick (all Escobar had to do was get the one charge overturned and he would be free) and to build a real prison for him.
You consult Mendoza about where to focus your energy. He argues that the prison is the priority.
You agree with him and get working on that task. After all, it is the simpler of the two, and you have to be seen as making some progress.
You stick your neck out and disagree, arguing that without a serious charge, the prison would be unnecessary.
The obstacles are greater than you could have imagined. Nobody wanted the job. The president had to intervene personally to get the funds approved by the controller. Workers had to be recruited from a distant region so that they would not have ties to Pablo. Pablo’s men harassed workers on a regular basis, since the new prison was being built around the first one. By the summer of 1992 construction was underway and it seemed that the two of you had overcome every obstacle posed by Pablo and his far reaching connections to get the job done. Despite the frustrations that Pablo’s luxuries were actually legally approved and that nobody wanted to confront him about things such as parties within the prison, complete with alcohol and prostitutes, the fact that the new prison was being built was somewhat of a victory.
Gain 10 points for overcoming the bureaucracy owned partially by Pablo.
You make some progress on this front but not much. You got little cooperation from the police, who felt betrayed by the deal. Nobody in the judicial system wanted to prosecute Pablo who had ordered the killings of so many cops and judges over the years.
Lose 5 points for wasting valuable time on this task.
It is Wed. July 21, 1992. President Gaviria’s office calls and asks you to stop by the Presidential Palace. Mendoza is very excited about this summons to see the President. You are tired and would rather be home with your family. They no longer truly believe that you work so hard on Colombia’s road system, but they are too afraid to ask what really causes you to work such long hours.
The pressure from the Americans along with the humiliating realization that they are right about the joke that Gaviria calls Escobar’s imprisonment has caused the President to approve a removal of the prisoner from his current facility to a jail in Bogotá. The last straw had been the executions that Pablo had carried out against associates that he suspected were skimming profits. Along with all of his other problems, Gaviria now faced a drug war among the traffickers. Gaviria insists that one of you go to oversee the operation. Despite the gleam in his eye, Mendoza defers to you to make the decision. You decide to go yourself. This is a career making opportunity. It means coming out about your real work, but you have worked for so long in obscurity. This might be a chance to get some credit for your hard work. You already know that Pablo and his associates know what you really do for a living. There are not many secrets from him.
You can see that Mendoza really wants to go. Besides, you would love nothing more than to spend a quiet evening at home with your family. They would most certainly learn about your real job. It would cause them to worry and fear for your safety. You have managed to stay alive in part because you have worked behind the scenes. Such a public appearance means that Pablo would take notice, and you would become a target. After some thought, you tell Mendoza that he can go.
When you arrive at the prison, you find the general in charge. He tells you that his orders are only to surround the prison. He knows nothing about transferring Escobar to Bogotá. After some frustrating and confusing calls to the capital, you decide to take charge and go inside. Unfortunately, you discover who really runs the prison when Pablo’s men surround you, flash their automatic weapons and detain you. You are now a hostage. Lose 5 points for putting yourself in danger and 5 more points for ruining the President’s planned trip to Spain.
When you hear that Mendoza went into the prison and was taken hostage by Pablo’s men, you are worried about your colleague but can’t help breathing a sigh of relief that you were not faced with the task of executing your orders while the army forces delayed and Pablo was able to see what was happening and plan for his defense.
You cannot honestly say that it would not have been you fearing for your life inside Pablo’s prison. Mendoza had a tough choice to make.
You find out that the general outside the prison refused to attack. The President had to send a special force, which worries you because this unit is known for ferocity and incompetence, a bad combination. You make small talk with your guards, Pablo’s men, about diets, healthy meal choices and other seemingly unimportant things given the circumstances. You are braced for the worst when the special unit attacks, but you only have to deal with the second worst possible outcome. You have survived the attack, but Pablo Escobar has escaped from the prison. President Gaviria is furious. You fear you will be the scapegoat. Lose another 5 points.
You find out that the general outside the prison refused to attack. The President had to send a special force, which worries you because this unit is known for ferocity and incompetence, a bad combination. Mendoza survives the attack but the unthinkable happens – Pablo Escobar escapes. You know how angry President Gaviria must be. You are glad you declined the assignment, but with some dread you head to the office to see how your job has been changed by these events.
Leading the charge into the prison proved to be an especially bad decision. Pablo’s escape was on everyone’s mind. Someone had to be responsible. Both you and your colleague Mendoza are asked to resign. Gaviria decides to clean house, even though only one of you was directly responsible for the decision. It turns out that Pablo and his men walked out of the prison by guards who did not stop them. All they had to do was cut a hole in the wire fence and walk out. To add insult to injury, Pablo publicly denied taking any hostages. Suspicion and accusations fly. You and Mendoza are unable to get jobs; in fact, the only option seems to be to leave the country and start life again. You go to the United States, New York City specifically. You are forced to watch the end of the game from the sidelines. You cannot help but think that you could be of some help, but you can only tell your family and friends what you might have done. Thanks to some friends on the inside, they keep you posted on the latest developments in the hunt for Pablo.
When word gets out about what authorities found at the prison, people are well and truly outraged. He had a photo of Che Guevara on the wall, alongside an illustration from Hustler magazine showing Pablo and friends having an orgy in prison while throwing darts at a picture of President Bush on a tv screen. There were also photos of Pablo dressed up as Pancho Villa and as a Prohibition era gangster. Given the revelations about his incarceration, the reality of his escape and the illegality of extradition, it became clear that the task was not to capture Pablo Escobar but to kill him.
The Colombian government would take full advantage of U.S. cooperation in this endeavor. One tactic the U.S. Embassy wants to employ is reward money for tips. You think that this is a good idea, since it will be an incentive for people to provide information. It will be especially helpful if the United States throws relocation to the U.S. into the deal.
You think this is a bad idea, a waste of time. Pablo will be able to outbid the government. Coupled with the fear he instills, you are not likely to get much useful information. Anyone close enough to him will be controlled by him. All in all it is a waste of time.
The Colombian government did not think this was a good idea. The U.S. Embassy went ahead and did it anyway. The program did lead to the death of one of Pablo’s trusted assassins in what is known as a “gun battle with police” in October 1992. It did not lead to Pablo, but rather escalated the violence. The result was mixed at best. By the end of 1992, twelve major players in Pablo’s organization had been killed in “gun battles” with the Search Bloc formed to hunt down Pablo. On the other hand, Pablo was exacting revenge by killing policemen and members of the Search Bloc whose identities were supposed to be secret. People were growing tired of the violence – the killings and the bombings orchestrated by Pablo.
In response to the violence a vigilante group, known as Los Pepes (People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar), begins to target Pablo’s family members. The Americans are not displeased with this development, but then again, it is not their country. A friend in the government still values your opinion, although you left in disgrace. He asks what you think should be done about Los Pepes. They should be encouraged. After all, Pablo is the target. Other methods have proven ineffective. If these people can get close to Pablo and cause harm to his family, his one vulnerability, he may make mistakes. The government can claim plausible deniability, since Los Pepes is an independent group.
They should be discouraged. Even if they are successful in helping the government get to Pablo, they are likely members of a rival cartel or disgruntled members of his organization. At any rate, encouraging an extralegal force such as this may lead to bigger problems after Pablo is gone. Someday the government might need to hunt down Los Pepes.
Take no stance at all. That will enable the government to reap the benefits of the actions of Los Pepes but then will be able to turn its forces against the group if it gets out of hand.
This is a bad idea. It is easy for the Americans to think that this death squad is useful, but they will not necessarily be around to pick up the pieces. In a country where justice and information are readily bought and sold, it is impossible to support the group and claim that you are not. You are not exactly sure who is involved but you do know that there is a good chance that the government will have to go after members of Los Pepes at some point. Lawlessness cannot be allowed to rule, even if the effect is helpful in the short term.
Lose 5 points for shortsightedness.
This is a difficult option, but it is also necessary if there is any hope of the government coming out of this whole ordeal with more rather than less control. It is the power that Pablo wields that makes him so dangerous. It is important to take a stance against Los Pepes. They may be doing the government’s dirty work, but the government is going to have to win this one in order for it to have control and credibility once the endgame with Pablo plays out.
Gain 10 points for your courageous and forward thinking position.
Tempting as this is, it a cowardly option. The government would essentially be ceding control to Los Pepes. They may assist in the short run by helping to get Escobar, but then who will help to get them. If the government fails to take a stance, it will lose credibility. People already have little faith in the government. Allowing a vigilante group to command center stage will be a further blow to sovereignty. Lose 5 points for cowardice.
It actually takes several months, but President Gaviria takes a stand. Amidst mounting evidence that there were police and Search Bloc connections to the group, along with the brutal torture and murder of one of Pablo’s lawyers, Gaviria offered a $1.4 million reward for the arrest of the members and sent a note through a top police commander that he was cracking down. Los Pepes responded with an announcement that they were disbanding.
The killings continued.
Meanwhile, the group searching for Pablo monitored phone conversations between Pablo and his son Juan Pablo, who were in constant contact as Pablo was on the run. He was losing much in the battle, but he was most concerned about his family. Officials knew that their best hope of finding Pablo was through them. It just happened that every time they thought they had him cornered, they stormed the house, only to find it empty. There was much frustration in the ranks. The press was exasperated. Allegations of corruption among the Search Bloc inevitably surfaced. There was disagreement in the government about what to do. The attorney general wanted to allow Pablo’s family to leave Colombia in exchange for Pablo’s surrender. Gaviria wanted no parts of that deal.
December 2, 1993
It was a set of reporter’s questions that tripped Pablo up. He often used the media to get his messages across. Juan Pablo had a list of questions from a reporter. Pablo arranged a time to answer them for Juan Pablo on the phone. He was on long enough for the search team to locate the signal and close in. Pablo Escobar was killed trying to flee from one of his safe houses. Mission accomplished. There was celebration, much celebration.
AFTERMATH The cocaine traffic continued. Pablo’s death merely passed leadership onto new people. The Cali cartel replaced the Medellín cartel. Once the Cali cartel was broken, smaller decentralized organizations took over. To this day, the Colombians receive an enormous amount of U.S. aid largely because of the drug problem.
Also, while this war on drugs has been going on, there has also been another war going on, one that has many sides. There are Marxist guerrillas, in different groups, working to overthrow the government. There are also paramilitary groups working outside the government to stop them. The people of Colombia are caught in the middle of these groups. Drug trade is one of the ways that these groups fund themselves, but it is even more complicated than that.
Scoring: 40-50: You earn reinstatement and a promotion. You understand the dynamics and the challenges. If you survive, you could be President someday.
20-40: You have managed to get your job back. Overall, you have provided enough good advice to remain a civil servant.
Less than 20: You have been fired once and for all. You do not have what it takes to work for the Colombian government. You might consider moving to the United States for good.
Bibliography: Bowden, Mark. Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.
Bushnell, David. The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself. Berkley: University of California Press, 1993.