More than two decades after his death, Pablo Escobar is still the world’s most famous drug kingpin. His former Mexican hideaway has been turned into a luxury resort, the DEA agents who brought him down now are touring the world on a book tour, and Netflix’s popular series about Escobar, Narcos, is getting Emmy-buzz. Escobar began his life of crime as a teenager and his reputation in drug smuggling escalated quickly, turning him into a legend with a controversial legacy. Escobar was the wealthy and brutal ruler of a drug cartel responsible for 80% of the cocaine smuggled around the world. He and his associates murdered thousands of people. Now that Escobar’s fame is on the rise again, let’s examine 15 ridiculous facts about Pablo Escobar.
Luxury Estate and Zoo
Hacienda Nápolés is the luxury estate built by Escobar in Puerto Triunfo, a city about 93 miles from his headquarters at Medellin. The estate had a sculpture park and a full-sized zoo that included giraffes, birds, elephants, ostriches, ponies, antelope and more. Escobar also kept a large collection of cars, bikes and even a go-cart racing track.
Pablo and Popeye the Hitman
Escobar was as murderous as any third-world dictator. He was responsible for killing around 4,000 people, including an estimated 200 judges and 1,000 police, journalists, and government officials. Escobar ordered thousands of hits and he had many henchman, like John Jairo Velasquez Vasquez, who is known as Popeye. Vasquez ordered or carried out more than 3,000 murders for his boss.
Earning $420 Million a Week
After getting his start by stealing tombstones and cars and selling them to smugglers, Pablo Escobar escalated his operation to include cultivation and sales of cocaine. At its high point, Escobar’s operation was smuggling more than 15 tons of cocaine each day, earning an estimated $420 million per week!
At the White House
This photograph of Escobar with his son, Juan Pablo, was taken in 1981 when the drug lord visited the United States. Escobar’s son shared the picture for an HBO documentary called “Sins of My Father,” which related his struggle to atone for the horrible deeds of his father. Juan Pablo changed his name to Sebastian Marroquin in order to distance himself from his family’s reputation.
Pablo Escobar met Maria Victoria Henao Vallejo when he was 24 years old and she was only 13. Despite the age difference, they started dating right away. Although Maria’s family never approved of Escobar, she married him just two years later in 1976, when she was 15. Escobar had many mistresses over the years, but Maria stuck with her husband through thick and thin.
Escobar’s daughter Manuela is shrouded in mystery. As a child, she was the light of her father’s life. When the family went on the run from the authorities, Pablo burned two million dollars in cash in order to keep his little girl warm. However, once Pablo was killed in 1993, Manuela disappeared from public view. Some say she changed her name, others claim she lives in Argentina. Unlike her older brother, Manuela has remained silent and hidden for years.
In 1982, US officials discovered two kilos of cocaine at the Miami International Airport. They were stunned by the scale of drugs being smuggled into America, but they were still not aware of Escobar’s cartel. In response to the drug bust, Escobar quickly formed an alliance with Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, leading to absurd revenues for Escobar, including over $3 billion in 1983 and $2.3 billion in 1984. Escobar was so wealthy he purchased a Learjet to fly his cash out of the US. The Cartel spent $2,500 a month for rubber bands to hold the cash.
Escobar developed many ways to move large amounts of cocaine around the world. During the early days of the Cartel, he smuggled cocaine inside of old plane tires, employing pilots to help the tires slip in without being noticed. Pilots could make up to $500,000 each trip, depending on how much product they were willing to move. Eventually Escobar stepped up his operation by using submarines to smuggle massive amounts of cocaine into America.
Colombian National Debt
Escobar knew he was a wanted man and that America wanted him extradited from Colombia to the US. Eventually the Colombian government began to put pressure on the drug trade, so Escobar made them an offer he thought they couldn’t refuse: paying off Columbia’s $20 billion dollar US debt in exchange for a promise not to extradite. The Colombian government refused the deal.
Of all the drug lords on the planet, experts still believe nobody earned more money than Pablo Escobar. Forbes conservatively estimated his net worth would be valued at $30 billion today. Escobar generated so much money in illegal drug sales that if Forbes included him on its current Billionaire Rankings, he would be the seventh richest man in the world.
In the late 1980s, the Colombian government started gaining ground on its most notorious citizen. In 1989, the government seized 134 aircraft belonging to the Medellin Cartel, and executed a daring raid on Escobar’s Puerto Triunfo home. The police arrested 52 people, seized 6 vehicles, 4 boats, a bulldozer, a satellite dish, 2,000 head of cattle and 100 pigs. Colombia’s government declared war on Escobar after he had ordered assassinations of a presidential candidate, judge and police officers.
Escobar was a pioneer of using submarines to carry cocaine from Colombia to Mexico. He hired an engineer to create two remote-controlled submarines, each able to carry about 1,000 kilos of cocaine. Eventually the submarines became more sophisticated, able to carry a crew of six underwater for more than a week, with anti-sonar and anti-radar capabilities. Once the drugs reached Mexico, the Cartel arranged to move it overland to the US.
Despite Escobar’s murderous criminality, some local people viewed him as a hero. Escobar built a hillside housing project for more than 400 families who lived in the poorest area of Colombia. The families once lived in shacks with no electricity right next to a garbage dump. Escobar built them two-bedroom cement-block homes. This earned him a reputation as a kind of Robin Hood figure to some people in the area.
The Power of Positive Thinking
When law enforcement raided Escobar’s estate, they found a Spanish copy of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Peale’ classic self-help book included such positive affirmations as “believe in yourself and in everything you do,” “break the worry habit and achieve a relaxed life,” and “be kind to yourself.”
In 1991, Escobar was being hunted by assassins, the US government, law enforcement, rival cartels and a vigilante. So, he negotiated a clever surrender with the Colombian government: Escobar agreed to go to jail, but the jail would be built according to his specifications, and he would be permitted to handpick the guards. Escobar’s luxury prison was referred to as “La Catedral” (aka the Cathedral). The prison was often referred to as a resort, since it had a jacuzzi, soccer field, casino, discotheque, doll house for his daughter and a bar.
After Escobar’s death, his estate was turned into an amusement park. The park features dinosaur statues, wild animals and a modern waterpark. A replica of the first plane Escobar used to smuggle drugs into the U.S. hangs over the entrance.
Escobar was gunned down by Colombian drug agents in December of 1993. A circus-like funeral followed a few days later, which was attended by 25,000 people. Many of those who attended had been paid by Escobar or lived in the barrio he created. They stood in the pouring rain and shouted at outsiders for threatening and then killing their Robin Hood. Mourners carrying signs crammed so tightly into the tiny chapel that the windows broke. A mariachi band played for hours, until the early morning, while revelers praised Escobar and denounced the police and military.