It’s often said that we’re living through a new golden age of TV; The latest series to aim for the zenith occupied by Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Hannibal is the Netflix original series, Narcos. The show charts the staggering rise from a farmer’s son to all-powerful drug lord of Pablo Escobar, the infamous Colombian psychopath who practically ruled the country between the 1970s and ’90s. No matter how brilliant the show is, however, it would be an achievement to cram in all the insane facts and figures about Escobar’s life without leading to an epic run-time.
Pablo Escobar was born in December, 1949, to a poor farmer and an elementary school teacher. His inauspicious beginnings certainly didn’t limit his ambition; he grew up telling friends that he would be a millionaire by 22 and the future President of Columbia. He found novel ways to earn cash during his teens, filing names off headstones to steal and sell to smugglers and selling contraband cigarettes. By the time he moved into the drug trafficking trade in the mid-70’s, his thirst for power and money was unstoppable.
As the head of the Medellin cartel, Escobar was to become the richest criminal in history by the time he met his end in a shoot-out with the Colombian National Police. To explore the dizzying figures behind his empire is to peer into another world entirely, one which is tinged with cocaine madness – and a huge amount of blood.
10. He Imported Tonnes Of Product
The sheer scale of Escobar’s empire becomes apparent when considering the sheer weight of the narcotics he was importing and exporting. The kingpin utilized compliant pilots to smuggle 70 to 80 tonnes of cocaine from Columbia to the US inside the plane’s wheels. At the height of the Medellin operation, an estimated 15 tonnes of product was shifted to the US alone every single day. The cartel also utilized two remote-controlled submarines to export the goods undetected and spread the load.
9. He May Have Killed Himself
Escobar was finally corned by the Colombian National Police in December 1993, after radio triangulation techniques located his hideout in a middle-class area of Medellin. Escobar wasn’t to be taken without a struggle and a fierce firefight between the gangster and his bodyguard, and police ensued. Both criminals were shot as they attempted to flee over rooftops into an adjoining alley, Escobar in the thigh and torso. His body was found with a gunshot wound above his left ear; though this may have been caused by a police bullet or an execution by his bodyguard to avoid extradition, Pablo’s brothers claim that the wound was in the precise location that Pablo had vowed to shoot himself should he ever be captured. He was buried in front of 25,000 mourners.
8. He Lived Extravagantly
As befits a real-life Tony Montana, Pablo Escobar lived a life of ostentatious wealth and extreme luxury. His holiday hideaway, Hacienda Napoles, was a paradise spread over 5,000 acres and contained everything from pools and bullrings, to a private zoo containing hippos, elephants and giraffes. The estate was used both for his family recreation and to host cocaine-fueled parties filled with some of Columbia’s most powerful and influential names. After his death, his family went into hiding and Hacienda Napoles was torn apart by people looking for the rumored buried stashes of drugs; it’s now a ruin inhabited by drifters, hippies and hippos.
7. He Offered To Pay Off Columbia’s National Debt
One of the most insane things about Escobar’s drug empire was the scale it operated on in the USA – it’s estimated that he was supplying 80% of all the coke snorted in the US during the 1980s. The success of his ‘foreign policy’ birthed one of Escobar’s biggest fears – extradition to the States. Escobar had vowed that he would rather die than spend jail time in Northern America. To combat any chance of this, he attempted to strike an unbelievable deal with the Colombian authorities; he would personally pay off the Colombian national debt of $10 billion – in cash – in return for a change to the extradition laws. Needless to say, he received a polite but firm ‘thanks, but no thanks’.
6. Some Colombians View Him As A ‘Robin Hood’
To this day, residents of the poorer regions of Columbia make pilgrimages to Escobar’s grave to give thanks and pray, as the religious would do with a saint. The reason? Escobar pumped millions of his own dollars into local communities to provide affordable housing for the poorest, as well as building hospitals, schools, churches and parks. He also distributed money freely to the most vulnerable members of society within his local area. To many of these residents, Escobar was seen as a Colombian Robin Hood, avoiding giving taxes to the rich government so he could feed the poor.
5. He Murdered Up To 4,000 People
Pablo Escobar may have had a warped generous streak towards his local community, but he remains one of the most ruthless and bloodthirsty gangsters the world has ever seen. Opponents were massacred and assassinations plotted; he blew up the headquarters of the DAS, the Colombian version of the FBI, in order to kill their director. Though exact figures are obviously hard to come by, it’s generally accepted as fact that he murdered up to 4,000 people, including 200 judges and over 1,000 government workers, police officers and journalists.
4. He Built His Own Jail
Escobar may have feared extradition to the USA, but he generally held the Colombian prison system in contempt. After assassinating a presidential candidate in 1991, the authorities convinced him to surrender in return for a reduced sentence and good treatment in prison. He acquiesced on the condition that he could help to design the prison. He was subsequently incarcerated in the luxury La Catedral private prison, where he could receive visitors and play football and cook barbecues. The authorities weren’t allowed within 3 miles of the compound. However, upon discovering that he was continuing to run his empire from behind bars, an attempt was made to switch him to another prison – Escobar promptly escaped.
3. He Burned $2 Million As Fuel
In 1989, Forbes ranked Escobar as the 17th richest person in the world. It’s fair to say that money held no object to the gangster, a fact exemplified by the fact that he allegedly spent 42,500 every month on rubber bands to keep his wads of cash in neat stacks. An anecdote from Escobar’s time in hiding from the authorities speaks volumes of not only his attitude to money, but his love for his family (because murderous gangsters are people too, folks). His daughter became ill from the cold conditions, developing a bad case of pneumonia. Escobar promptly set alight to wads of cash totaling $2 million to ensure that she kept warm enough to get over the illness.
2. Rats Ate Billions Of His Earnings
When most people have pest infestations, the most they will lose is the uncovered leftovers that they were saving for breakfast the following morning. As with most things in his life, Escobar’s rodent problems were on the insane side of excessive. It’s estimated that he had to write off 10% of his profit margin every year due to wastage – e.g. rats gnawing away at his buried stacks of cash or water damage ruining the paper money. While 10% doesn’t sound like any great shakes, for Escobar this accounted for between $1-2 billion annually. Just let that sink in for a while.
1. He Was Making $420 Million Per Week
So, just how much was Pablo Escobar worth in total? Though he once claimed to merely be “a decent man who exports flowers”, he was estimated to be making up to $60 million per day at the height of the Medellin cartel’s powers. When the Forbes list was released in 1989, they estimated his wealth at $25 billion, though this may have increased to around $30 billion by the time of his death. As a man who ran a not-exactly-legitimate business, we can only deal in estimates but the fact that Escobar once bought a Learjet solely to transport his cash around speaks volumes. As you sit down to enjoy the life of Pablo Escobar through Narcos, just remember: crime doesn’t pay, kids.