The legendary callous of Colombian gangster, Pablo Escobar, is second to none. He facilitated the movement of an astounding 80% of the cocaine trade into the United States during the 1970s and 1980s, and was personally responsible for over 4,000 deaths. Once named the richest man in the world by Forbes magazine, he was able to rise from the poverty of Medellin, Colombia and ultimately reach his goals of being a millionaire gangster.
In previous editions of Gangster of the Week, we have cast a beneficial light on our subjects and hailed the profiled criminals as a case of honest intentions gone awry. However, in Escobar’s case, he was set on being the richest, most powerful and violent man on earth from an early age.
As always, within this story of tragedy and corruption lies an invaluable lesson that we must all learn from. Here are some things about Pablo Escobar you probably did not know:
His ROI was 20,000%
In business, return on investment (ROI), refers to the return you see on every dollar you invest into your product. Cocaine kingpin Escobar saw an ROI of as much as 20,000%. Simply put, for every $1 invested into the cocaine trade he made about $200 in return.
$1 billion went to the rats annually
The first thing you didn’t know about Pablo Escobar testifies to an uncommon, staggering degree of wealth. According to Roberto Escobar, one of Pablo’s closest brothers, at a time when their estimated profits were circling $20 billion annually “Pablo was earning so much that each year we would write off 10% of the money because the rats would eat it in storage or it would be damaged by water or lost.” If that weren’t enough to drop your jaw, Roberto adds that the cartel spent as much as $2,500 every month on rubber bands to “hold the money together.”
The richest man in the world
In 1989, Forbes magazine famously named Pablo Escobar the seventh richest man in the world with an estimated worth of $25 billion.
Pablo Escobar bought a Learjet to fly his cash
Pablo Escobar had an interesting solution to a very rare kind of cash flow problem. Shortly after the inception of their trade, Escobar and his cartel began to rather quickly attain soaring profits. Working in a cash business, Escobar needed to smuggle his US dollars back to Colombia. For a while, the small plane he used to transport that cash was sufficient, as it could hold about $10 million.
Keeping in mind Escobar’s estimated ROI of 20,000%, and considering that he was getting cocaine to the U.S. by a wide variety of rather clever methods (including a pair of submarines which would each carry about 1,000 kilos), it’s no surprise that he needed an upgrade. Escobar thus bought a Learjet–a substantially faster plane that could carry as much as 10 times the amount of cash. Problem solved.
Cold blooded killer
In addition to being the root cause of crime waves and corruption across the country that inevitably led to countless murders, Escobar was personally responsible for over 4,000 deaths worldwide. He ordered the assassination of a Colombian presidential candidate who supported an extradition treaty with the United States–that was the true extent of this titan’s power. Then, he blew up a commercial airliner to kill a man that wound up not even being a passenger, and leveled several city blocks in the bombing of a government building in Bogota.
It was routine for him to order the murder of judges and politicians, and he had a standing public bounty on police officers. He typically ordered two to three car bombings a day and paralyzed the Colombian community for years, resulting in a significant portion of the population that refused to leave their homes.
Pablo Escobar was suspected of bombing the World Trade Center
Another thing you didn’t know about Pablo Escobar is that he was named as an early suspect in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Shortly after the bombing, which killed six and injured over 1,000, a New York City prosecutor publicly suggested that the bombing could have been carried out by any “enemy of the U.S.,” including Escobar’s Medellin cartel.
Well, Pablo may have assassinated a presidential candidate (Luis Carlos Galán), threatened to kill the offspring of a sitting U.S. president (allegedly one of Bush Sr.’s sons), blown a commercial jet out of the sky (Avianca Flight 203), and orchestrated the attempted slaughter of the Colombian Supreme Court (Palace of Justice siege), but bomb the World Trade Center? Escobar was sufficiently offended, enough so that he had a handwritten note sent to the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia declaring his innocence. “You can take me off the list,” he assured Ambassador Morris Busby, “because if I had done it I would be saying why I did it and what I want.”
Pablo Escobar built his own barrio
Medellin is Colombia’s second largest city (with almost 2.5 million residents), but it is, and always will be, linked by name to the legacy of Pablo Escobar’s cocaine cartel. To many of the city’s poorest people, Escobar — whom they called Don Pablo — was nothing short of Robin Hood in the flesh, a reputation he continues to enjoy among some to this day.
In his prime, he was undeniably a public works tour de force–establishing food programs and building parks and soccer fields–but his masterstroke may well have been Barrio Pablo Escobar, a neighborhood of 450 red brick homes housing a couple thousand of Medellin’s most indigent. Did they pay rent? Nope. Property taxes? No way. The only problem? Writing for the Washington Post in 1989, Michael Isikoff noted a growing frustration among the barrio’s residents with kids from other areas coming to Barrio Pablo Escobar to peddle drugs.
The death sentence
Taking down a gangster of such legendary stature was no easy feat. It necessitated the physical might of a special task force consisting of U.S. Delta Force operators, SEAL Team 6, and the Colombian police that was formed with the explicit purpose of dethroning Pablo. This alliance was known as the Search Bloc, and alongside a group of vigilantes known as Les Pepes, they engaged with Escobar and his gang, unleashing thousands of rounds of munitions during the barrio standoff.
It doesn’t always run in the family
Sebastián Marroquín (a.k.a. Juan Pablo Escobar), was 16 when his billionaire drug lord father was gunned down in Medellín, Colombia. Marroquín has become quite well known for his anti-drug trafficking stances, starring in a 2009 documentary, Pecados de Mi Padre (Sins of My Father), which featured him meeting with the children of men his father had killed.