I'm trying to get my book Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos published in time for the second Narcos' season. Any feedback you can provide in the comments would be appreciated on chapter 1 below:
Pablo Escobar was born on a cattle ranch in 1949, the second year of The Violence, a civil war that saw millions of Colombians flee their homes and left hundreds of thousands dead. Slicing people up with machetes was popular, and led to a new genre of slaughter methods with ornate names. The Flower Vase Cut began with the severing of the head, arms and legs. The liberated limbs were stuffed down the neck, turning the headless torso into a vase of body parts. A victim stabbed in the neck, who had his tongue pulled out through the gap and hung down his chest was wearing a Columbian Necktie. The turmoil affected nearly every family in Colombia. It accustomed Pablo’s generation to extreme violence and an expectancy of a short and brutal life.
Pablo’s parents were Abel de Jesús Dari Escobar, a hard-working peasant farmer who traded cows and horses, and Hermilda Gaviria, an elementary school teacher. Pablo was the third of seven children. One day, tiny Pablo wandered away from home. Hermilda found him under a tree, with a stick, playing with a snake.
“See, I’m not hurting you,” Pablo said to the snake.
Gazing affectionately, Hermilda knew that Pablo was a sweet boy who loved animals.
Sometimes Hermilda complained about their lack of money. Pablo, at five-years old, said, “Mom, wait until I grow up. I’ll give you everything.”
As The Violence between the Conservative and Liberal parties escalated, the family was warned to leave or else risk having their body parts re-assembled into art. But having no safe place to go, and loving the animals, the beautiful countryside adorned with wildflowers, and air that carried a taste of pine and resin from the forest, they chose to stay.
Pablo was seven when the guerrillas entered his tiny town, Titiribu, near the town of Rionegro, the Black River. Trembling, he heard machetes hacking the front door and threats of murder. He clung to his mother, who was crying and praying. The father said they would be killed, but at least they could try saving the kids. They hid the kids under mattresses and blankets.
The front door was so strong that the guerrillas eventually gave up trying to break in. Instead, they set fire to it. Wincing and coughing in a house filling with smoke, Pablo’s parents braced to die. But soldiers arrived, and the guerrillas disappeared.
With the sun shining over immense green mountains, the town’s survivors were escorted to a schoolhouse. Pablo would never forget the burning bodies and corpses hanging from lampposts. Internalised in the terrified child, the horrors of The Violence would re-emerge, when Pablo kidnapped, murdered and bombed to get ahead.
A year later, Pablo and his brother, Roberto, were sent from the family’s ranch to live with their grandmother in the safety of Medellín, known as the City of the Eternal Spring due to its steady warm climate. Its centre was a cluster of glass and steel skyscrapers, bordering an expanse of houses that grew more dilapidated towards the slums and garbage dumps – places crammed with displaced people and where gangs of street kids roamed. The tough residents of Medellin worked hard to get ahead. Pablo’s grandmother was an astute businesswoman who bottled sauces and spices, and sold them to supermarkets. Under her loving but stern hand, Pablo and Roberto had to go to church and pray every morning.
Although they loved the weather and the mountainous landscape, the second largest city in Colombia with all of its fast cars and over a million people intimidated the brothers, who were accustomed to the tempo of ranch life. They were delighted when their parents eventually joined them. But their father disliked living in a city, so he returned to the countryside to work on other people’s farms. Eventually, the brothers fell in love with Medellín.
The atmosphere at home was heavily religious. They had a figurehead of Jesus Christ with realistic blood. After his mother told him Christ’s story, young Pablo was so sad that when lunch was served, he put a piece of meat in his corn cake, and took it to the figurehead. “Poor man, who made you bleed? Do you want a little meat?” This act convinced his mother that he was kind and religious.
Growing up in a suburb of Medellin, Envigado, with little money, the kids built carts from wood, and raced down hills. They made soccer balls from old clothes wrapped inside of plastic bags, put up some makeshift goalposts, and played with the other kids in the neighbourhood. It was Pablo’s favourite sport. They had egg fights. A favourite prank was to stick chewing gum on a doorbell, so that it rang continuously.
On the streets of Medellín, some of Pablo’s leadership and criminal traits started to emerge. Although the youngest in his group, he’d take the lead. When the police confiscated their soccer ball, he encouraged the group to throw rocks at the patrol car. The police rounded up several of the group, and threatened to keep them in jail all day. Only Pablo spoke up to the commander. He told them they hadn’t done anything bad. They were tired of the ball been taken, and they’d pay to get the ball back. Some of the kids in the group ended up in business with Pablo later on.
As a teenager, Pablo aspired to be a millionaire. According to his brother, Roberto, in his book, Escobar, Pablo developed an interest in history, world politics and poetry. At the public library, he read law books. He practised public speaking on student audiences at lunchtime or on the soccer field. Roberto remembers him speaking passionately about becoming the president of Columbia, taking ten percent of the earnings of the richest people to help the poor to build schools and roads. His idea to create local jobs was to encourage Asian manufacturers to move their plants to Colombia.
In Killing Pablo, author Mark Bowden described Pablo as an accomplished car thief by age twenty. Drivers were forced out of their cars by his gang, and the cars dismantled at chop shops. When Pablo had enough money from selling car parts, he used it to bribe officials to issue car certificates, so that stolen cars could be resold without having to be chopped. He started a protection racket whereby people paid him to prevent their cars from being stolen. Always generous with his friends, he gave them stolen cars with clean papers. Pablo and his cousin, Gustavo – Pablo’s sidekick in Narcos wearing his trademark flat cap – built race cars from stolen parts, and entered rallies. Suspected of stealing a red Renault, he was arrested in 1974, but he bribed his way out of a conviction.
Some of the people who owed Pablo money were kidnapped. If the debt wasn’t paid by family members or friends, the victim was killed. Through this means, he gained a reputation as a person not to be trifled with, which helped his business interests grow in a world of opportunists and cutthroats.
He also kidnapped people and held them for ransom. Diego Echavarría Misas was a prominent factory owner and philanthropist who lived in a remake of a mediaeval castle. He became increasingly disliked by the poor, many of whom had lost their jobs at textile mills. Pablo had Echavarría kidnapped and demanded a ransom of $50,000. After the family paid, Echavarría was beaten and strangled to death. With no chain of evidence linking Pablo to the crime, he wasn’t charged. In the eyes of the poor, he’d done them a favour. After that, they gave Pablo the names Dr Echavarría and El Doctor.
Pablo’s brother has claimed that the early stories of Pablo’s brutality documented by authors such as Bowden are untrue, and are based on accusations made by Pablo’s enemies.
Moving on from stealing cars, Pablo started to apply his organisational skills to contraband, a thriving business in Colombia, a country steeped in corruption. Medellin was known as a hub for smugglers. Those who got caught typically bribed their way free. If they were unable to pay a bribe, the police would usually confiscate their contraband, rather than jail them. It was the cost of doing business, and customary throughout Colombia.
So many police were on the payroll of crime bosses, that it was hard to differentiate between the police and the criminals. The police not only gave their criminal associates freedom from jail, but they also committed crimes for the gangs, including kidnappings and contract killings. Shootouts sometimes occurred between different police on the payrolls of different gangs.
The court system was the same. Judges who earned $230 a month could charge up to $30,000 to dismiss a case. Judges who refused were threatened or beat up. Court staff could be bribed to lose files, which was cheaper than paying a judge. If none of that worked, the judge was killed. The court system was considered the softest target in law enforcement. Pablo would become a master of playing the system.
Early on, Narcos presents Pablo as a boss in the contraband smuggling business, but that was false. He was an underling of a powerful mob boss, a contraband kingpin who specialised in transporting cigarettes, electronics, jewellery and clothing in shipping containers from America, England and Japan. The goods were shipped to Colombia via Panama.
Having met Pablo at a soccer match, the kingpin asked him to be a bodyguard, in the hope of reducing worker theft. He told Pablo that the way to make money was to protect the merchandise for the guy who has the money, and that was him.
Pablo brought the poorly-paid workers seafood and wine. He offered them half of his salary forever to work with him. If they stopped stealing, he’d come back and take care of them in two weeks. The workers agreed, and returned the stolen goods they still had.
Specialising in cigarettes, Pablo drove across Colombia in a jeep ahead of half a dozen trucks, transporting contraband. Along the way, he paid the necessary bribes to the police. Delighted with Pablo’s performance, the kingpin offered him ten percent of the business. Pablo demanded fifty. The kingpin asked if Pablo were crazy. Pablo said it was fair because the kingpin had sometimes been losing more than half of the goods. Even after Pablo’s fifty percent, the kingpin would be making more money because there would be no theft. The kingpin agreed to forty percent.
Through the contraband business, Pablo became adept at smuggling goods across the country, without paying government taxes and fees. Supervising two convoys a month earned him up to $200,000. He stashed his profits in hiding places he’d built in the walls of his home. He installed special electronic doors that only he could open. He recruited his brother, Roberto, as an accountant, in charge of handling the payroll, making investments and depositing money into bank accounts with fake names. Over the years, money was invested in real estate, construction businesses and farms. As Roberto was handling so much money, Pablo gave him a gun.
Giving half of his salary to the workers earned their respect, and the name El Patrón or the Boss. He bought his mother a house, a taxicab for his cousin, Gustavo, and an Italian bicycle for his brother. He donated truckloads of food to the poor garbage-dump scavengers. He took about twenty members of his family to Disney World in Florida, where he went on all of the rides with his son.
When a policeman on Pablo’s payroll was moved to another district, he snitched out the operation. The police waited to ambush a convoy of trucks. They would all get rich confiscating so many goods. Pablo had stopped for lunch, and told the convoy to continue without him. Thirty-seven trucks were seized. A driver called Pablo, who said to tell the other drivers not to speak to the police. With the police after him, he took a bus back to Medellín. Lawyers got the drivers released, but were unable to retrieve the merchandise. Pablo’s contraband partnership with the kingpin was over.