Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The recent post about that Venezuelan prison reminded me of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian cocaine trafficker who was widely viewed as the richest criminal of all time. At his peak he was reportedly worth 25 billion dollars.
I am reminded of him because when the Colombian authorities got fed up with Escobar's hundreds of assassinations, in 1991, he turned himself in only on the condition that he be housed in a prison of his own design, in the cool hills overlooking his hometown of Medellin. He also agreed to be "incarcerated" there only if he could choose his own "guards" (his minions, of course). The Colombian authorities, rather than risk further killings (especially their own), agreed. The prison was widely viewed as a fortress designed to protect Escobar rather than incarcerate him.
The prison grounds included a soccer field, a giant doll house, a bar, a jacuzzi, and a waterfall.
I'm guessing -- this is just a wild guess -- that Escobar didn't lay awake nights worrying about whether he would be raped by bigger, badder inmates.
Escobar continued to direct his operations from inside the prison, but the government's patience wore thin when he ordered his four top lieutenants to the prison, only to have them tortured and killed. When they announced that they were going to move him to another prison, Escobar simply walked out.
At that point he became a fugitive; a year later he was shot and killed, with the help of Delta Force operatives from the United States.
Other tidbits about Escobar:
At its peak the Medellin cartel was smuggling 15 tons of cocaine a day. Pablo and Roberto Escobar spent $2500 a month just for the rubber bands with which they wrapped the cash they had coming in. They had way too much to put in banks, so they stored the bills in warehouses, where rats would come in and nibble at them at night.
In addition to a flotilla of boats and a fleet of airplanes, Escobar had two small submarines which he used to transport cocaine.
Escobar had a fail safe policy for dealing with journalists and policemen and judges: either accept my bribes or die. Seems an easy choice, but there were a surprisingly number of people who refused to bend to his will, and as a result hundreds died. He had Presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan assassinated, and backed the 1985 storming of the Colombian Supreme Court. He tried to enter politics himself and at one point even offered to pay off Colombia's 10 billion dollar debt.
Escobar was hugely popular in his hometown of Medellin for building hospitals, schools, churches, soccer fields, and other sports facilities. The locals saw him as Robin Hood.
Escobar lived only one day past his 44th birthday. But until he died, he was living refutation of the adage that crime doesn't pay.
I'm 57 now, so if I had been him I'd have been dead for thirteen years now. But I'm still not sure I wouldn't rather have lived his life.
Yes, it would have meant being a bad guy. But I can't say being an average guy (morally speaking) has been all that rewarding.