Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (1949-93), the most talented and richest of Colombian drug bosses, lived his contradictions. A gold-framed portrait of the Virgin Mary hung over the bed in which he slept with teenage prostitutes, but he was devoted to his wife and family in the properly unconditional Latino manner. 'Whether his concern for his parents or his children would overcome his stringent security consciousness is not clear,' reads an excessively cautious CIA profile quoted by Mark Bowden: by then, Escobar was a hunted man, pursued by what might have been called a 'binational, multi-agency task force' had the Colombian and US drug police, signals-intelligence, national police and military units been better co-ordinated. With the many millions of dollars at his disposal, Escobar could easily have left Medellín and Colombia altogether: in South America there are still many places where one can live without papers and not too badly either, there are first-class plastic surgeons who will produce a better new face, and officials who will sell genuine identity cards and passports to fit it. But Escobar would not abandon his wife and children, whose lives were being threatened by a special Colombian police unit that was after him, acting by way of a convenient gang of supposedly volunteer vigilante terrorists. Escobar remained nearby so that he'd be able to protect them with his remaining network of gunslingers, lawyers, publicists and money-men. It took the most elaborate and costly manhunt ever mounted against a mere criminal 15 months to find him. He was immediately killed: his American and Colombian pursuers would trust no court to convict him, no prison to hold him, or indeed any politicians to administer the process. In 1991 he had surrendered voluntarily after successfully negotiating the passage of an anti-extradition law and his right to be held in a new prison built to his own design with all mod cons and a bit more, whose guards immediately became his servants, procurers, runners and agents.
LRB 4 October 2001 | PDF Download