Escobar had the biggest private zoo in the world

The head of the world’s biggest cocaine cartel in Medellin, a local patriot and philanthropist, but also a ruthless criminal. This is Pablo Escobar, a drug baron, who publicly sentenced to death politicians having intentions to curb his power. He always kept his word and often personally killed inconvenient individuals. He even caused a plane crash with over a hundred victims on board just to get rid of one particular person. The cartel carried out numerous bombings and a series of armed operations. I visit Hacienda Napoles, a 20 square kilometers private property of Escobar to find out more about this legendary man.

Hacinda Napoles is an impressive property which includes Spanish colonial villa and a full-sized zoo with illegally imported animals such as giraffes, ostriches, elephants, hippos, antelopes and exotic birds. Escobar had an impressive collection of historic, luxury and sports cars, motorcycles, boats and a private runway for aircraft, race track and bull ring, not much smaller than the Plaza de Toros in Bogota.

Escobar bribed government officials, judges and politicians at a large scale. He filed a death sentence on anyone he considered a potential threat. His tactic was either to bribe or to kill (“plato o plomo", meaning “money or lead"). Escobar even wanted to go for an agreement with the government and repay Colombia’s public debt amounting to several billion dollars, but an agreement never took place. As a result of the drug war in the early 90’s there were killed tens of thousands of people, including more than 600 police officers, for the death of whom Escobar paid in cash.

At the top of his criminal career, according to Forbes magazine, Escobar was seventh on list of the richest people in the world with his personal wealth valued at 25 billion U.S. dollars. It is also estimated that the cartel controlled 80% of the global cocaine market. Smuggling into the U.S. amounted to 80 tons per month and a single contraband contained up to 11 tons by air and 20 tons by sea. Cartel had a whole fleet of its own aircraft, boats, remote controlled boats, submarines and other vehicles. In the best years the cocaine business controlled by Escobar earned around $30 billion a year.

The hunt for Escobar ended on 2 December 1993, when the combined forces of American special units, DEA and Colombian police managed to shoot him in his hideout in Medellin. Escobar’s death undoubtedly saved thousands innocent lives.

Colombia today

Anti-FARC demonstration

Following the Escobar’s death, the cartel broke up into smaller organizations and has been soon dominated by the competitive Cali cartel. Though, this group has also been tamed several years later.

Plantations of cocaine controlled by FARC guerrillas, as well as the whole cocaine-related activity are each year being pushed away into an increasingly deeper jungle. Currently, the problem of cocaine barely affects the average citizen, however, the criminal groups still control nearly 1/3 of the country’s area. Having virtually unlimited financial resources, an excellent organization and knowledge of the terrain, combined with individuals infiltrating many state institutions, it unfortunately implies the problem will last for many more years.

Occasional violence is also present. There are kidnappings and among other forms of terrorism, also unlawful executions. Just a few days ago, when after a dozen years of slavery one of the hostages managed to successfully escape, a FARC’s response was to brutally kill three other hostages.

Throughout Colombia there have been organized demonstrations against the FARC. While visiting Bogota I join the peace march. In the end everyone has the right to live in safe and stable country. In fact, Colombia is a wonderful part of the world.

December 2011