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
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
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.
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
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.