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The complex legacy of Pablo Escobar: the rise and decline, part 2

The beginnings of Escobar’s drug dealing career

At the end of the 1960s, Pablo Escobar was coming into this world. This man, who later said he was just “a decent man who exports flowers,” was already involved in Medellin’s organised crime scene, though only on a small level, when he was in his late teens. Together with Oscar Benel Aguirre, he was selling illegal cigarettes and committing “grand theft auto.” They and their friends also kidnapped a number of famous people and demanded large amounts of money as ransoms. And Escobar had even bigger plans. He wanted to get rich quickly, and he was ready to do anything to get it. As early as the 1970s, this included sneaking marijuana into the country. Later, the goods they brought in were changed to cocaine. Because of this, a lot of people saw him as a man marked. Around this time, Pablo started dating Maria Victoria Henao, who was a teenager. Her mother is said to have told her to forget about him unless she wanted to spend a lot of time going to see him in prison. Maria didn’t give up, and in the end, they got married in 1976, when he was 26 and she was 15. Juan and Manuela would be their two children. In the middle of the 1970s, not long before he married Maria, Pablo got involved in the growing cocaine trade. Another smuggler named Griselda Blanco brought him into the business. Within the United States in the 1960s, cocaine was more of a niche drug. Other drugs like marijuana, LSD, and heroin were much more common. But in the 1970s, cocaine use exploded all over the country. This was especially true in cities like New York and Miami as the disco scene grew. Because of this, the market for cocaine in Latin America, especially in Colombia, grew very quickly. At that time, this is what made it possible for drug cartels and small operators like Pablo to get into the business in Colombia in the mid-1970s. Pablo’s first job was with some well-known drug smugglers in Medellin. They hired him to bring packages of coca paste to processing plants in and around Medellin so that it could be turned into powdered cocaine. Soon enough, Pablo cut out some of the middlemen and started his own businesses to fly large amounts of fully processed cocaine out of Colombia and into the US via different routes. At the time, they had no idea that Pablo and his friends were setting up the first steps of what would become the Medellin Cartel. It was almost over for the Medellin Cartel before it even began. As Pablo and some others were on their way to Medellin in May 1976 with 18 kilogrammes of coca paste, they were caught. Pablo’s first thought was to try to pay off the people who had arrested him and then the judges in Medellin. This didn’t work, so Pablo tried to kill the police officers who arrested him so they wouldn’t have to testify against him in court. It looks like the risks of continuing to try to catch Escobar were too high for the authorities, and they decided to drop the case. He got away with it, but the way he got the charges dropped was typical of how Pablo behaved for the next fifteen years or so. If it helped him get ahead of his rivals or kept the police from catching him, Escobar was always ready to strike. And it’s important to keep this in mind when you think about Pablo Escobar. In the years that followed, he would constantly try to show himself as a humble drug dealer who thought drugs would be legalised one day. But behind these lies was someone who had ordered thousands of deaths over the years.

The Medellin Cartel

 In the late 1970s, Escobar and the Medellin Cartel’s business took off. This wasn’t just because the market for cocaine in the US grew, but also because the Cartel came up with a number of very good ways to bring the drug into the US. Carlos Lehder, a German-Colombian, and George Jung, an American from Massachusetts, did some drug smuggling after getting out of prison in Connecticut in 1976. Soon after, they started working for Escobar. Lehder was sent to Danbury Prison in Connecticut for smuggling drugs and selling stolen cars. Jung, on the other hand, was running a scheme to bring marijuana from Mexico to California and then ship it across the country to New England, where it sold for a huge amount more than it cost to buy in Mexico. In Danbury, on the other hand, they came up with a way to get into the growing cocaine trade. As a result, when they got out of jail, they started bringing cocaine from Colombia into the United States through the Caribbean and Florida, especially the city of Miami. The first reason Escobar hired them was to help his business grow by bringing bigger and bigger loads of cocaine into the United States.  But this would soon get bigger. In 1978, Carlos Lehder started buying land on Norman’s Cay, a Bahamian island, with the goal of turning it into a hub for cocaine trafficking between Colombia and the United States. Over the next few months, he used violence to scare local landowners into selling their land, even killing some of the residents. Lehder, who was unstable and paranoid, also pushed Jung out of the operation at this point.

The history of Norman’s Cay airports and how they came to be associated with cocaine

In just a few months, he turned the island into his own personal fiefdom. He then spent millions of dollars building a runway and warehouses. Norman’s Cay was the Medellin Cartel’s private airport in the Caribbean for a few years. It was located off the coast of the United States, close to the biggest cocaine market in the world. Large planes would bring huge amounts of Escobar’s cocaine to the island, where it would be unloaded and reloaded onto smaller planes that could fly into the US without being caught. Over 300 kilogrammes of cocaine were coming to Norman’s Cay every day at its busiest. This made Escobar, Lehder, and their friends billionaires. Lehder got so rich that he twice offered to pay off the Colombian government’s debt to avoid being charged with crimes.

Barry Seal’s Curious Partnership with the Medellin Narcotics Group

Barry Seal was another well-known associate at this time. Seal was a plane pilot from Baton Rouge, which is in the southern U.S. state of Louisiana. Like Jung, he started out in drug trafficking in the mid-1970s by bringing in marijuana from Mexico. But like Jung and Lehder, he quickly realised that bringing in cocaine, which was more valuable and easier to transport, would make him much more money. By 1981, he had set up a system for running his business and had made connections with Escobar and the Medellin Cartel. Seal used more than a dozen small planes that could fly low and stay out of American airspace without being picked up by radar. These planes would fly over the Gulf of Mexico and into Louisiana airspace. They would then drop the packages off at agreed upon locations in the country. The packages were then picked up by a team on the ground by Seal. They were then sent to Florida and delivered to the Medellin Cartel’s East Coast distribution network. Seal did work for Escobar, but it had two sides. In 1983, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) charged him with a crime. By early 1984, he was working as a US government informant and giving them a lot of information about Escobar and his business. Escobar finally found out about this and had Seal killed in February 1986. As a branch of the Medellin Cartel, Norman’s Cay was becoming Lehder’s private fiefdom, and Seal was dropping packages over Louisiana.

Escobar’s Hidden Empire

 At the same time, Escobar was setting up his own private kingdom in Colombia. Pablo bought 20 square kilometres of land around Puerto Triunfo, which is about 150 kilometres east of Medellin, with some of the money he made from his business. He built the huge Hacienda Napoles, or Naples Estate, here for himself and his family. The property had a Spanish colonial house, a sculpture park, and even a zoo with zebras, hippos, antelopes, elephants, giraffes, ostriches, and ponies that Escobar had brought into Colombia. Hippos were very important to Escobar, so many of them were brought into the Hacienda. Because of this decision, there are now wild hippos living in this part of Colombia. Pablo Escobar also gathered a large collection of old and expensive cars, motorcycles, and even built a kart track and a bullring. There was also an airport at the Hacienda, but it was only for visitors and wasn’t used by the Medellin Cartel for business. Escobar even planned to build an acropolis or citadel in the style of ancient Greece here, but this plan never came to fruition. This wasn’t the only big property Pablo bought either. Incredibly, even though Escobar was one of the biggest drug dealers in the US, he was able to buy a huge pink mansion on Miami Beach in Florida in the late 1970s. The house was registered in his own name because Escobar wasn’t yet a well-known drug lord, but the US government would seize the property in later years. Escobar also bought a huge estate on the island of Isla Grande, also known as the “Great Island,” in the Caribbean. The Islas del Rosario is a large group of islands located just over twenty miles off the north coast of Colombia. This is the largest island in the group. Like with the Hacienda Napoles, Escobar built a large estate here, complete with a mansion, extra apartments, animals that he brought in from other countries, swimming pools, and a landing pad for helicopters to make getting in and out easy. Additionally, these were only the fanciest homes that Escobar bought with money he got from the illegal drug trade in Colombia. The Medellin Cartel also owned hundreds of homes across the country, and they often only used them to hide their money in very fancy ways.

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