From the early 70’s right up until his death in 1993, Pablo Escobar was directly responsible for what is thought to have been between 3,000 to 5,000 deaths.
And those 5,000 were not just his sworn enemies. They were anybody – from young children right up to ageing Colombians – who just happened to stand in the way of his infamous Medellin Cartel.
Christ, Escobar killed so many people that hospitals in Colombia actually, at times, ran out of places to store the bodies.
Although right now those gargantuan numbers are merely just sad forgotten statistics it is worth trying to imagine just how many people that is.
Not to disparage the horrific attacks which took place in New York City on September 11, but on that fateful day – 2,996 were killed, far fewer than those executed by the hands of Pablo’s men. Yet mesmerisingly people from the four corners of the Earth continue to love and adore Pablo Escobar.
Even if we forget the amount of death Pablo and his muscle spread across the country of Colombia, his cartel was solely responsible for an incredibly destructive drug trade across the entirety of the America’s – and in some people’s eyes, they were responsible for the downfall of South and Central America.
Here at UNILAD, we see so much love for Pablo Escobar from our readers – most probably because of Narcos.
Every time we write an article about Pablo it is inundated with comments of support and praise for the man himself, so we set out to try and find out just what it is that people love about the notorious and most infamous drug lord of all time, Pablo Escobar.
We decided to ask the question to one of the world’s most renowned experts in criminology and the author of A History of British Serial Killing, Professor David Wilson, and to the former ecstasy kingpin of Arizona and bestselling author of Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos, Shaun Attwood.
First up, we spoke to Professor David Wilson, from the University of Birmingham.
Speaking to UNILAD, David said:
It not unusual for people to be interested by other people who commit crimes, even when their crimes are heinous ones at that. People have always been attracted to the lives of very bad characters.
Back in my day it was the gangsters that people were obsessed with. The gangsters wore the sharper suits, they got the fast cars, they got the girls, they did everything most people never dream of doing.
While people like me and you are working nine-til-five and saving up for mortgages and weddings, people like Escobar lived only for today and they massively challenged conformity – so while most of us never dream of doing the things that they did, we are still massively attracted to that life and everything that comes with it.
When it’s put as simply as that then it’s incredibly easy to see why your average Joe is so fascinated by this arguably evil man.
Professor Wilson added:
When we see the likes of Escobar and, for example, the Krays on television and in films they have it all – but we rarely ever see the consequences of their behaviour. You rarely see the Krays as they’re locked behind bars for over thirty years in a squalid cell. Typically we only see the benefits of their lives of crime, never the long term consequences.
Thirdly, as we watch things such as Narcos it’s possible that we’re experiencing two different feelings at the same time. Similarly to when we’re on a roller-coaster – we can feel both afraid and excited at the same time – when we watch Narcos we can respect Pablo and admire him while also fearing him and being repelled by his actions – weirdly this is one of the reasons people become so interested in criminals and evil people.
Finally – when we watch gangster films or films about relatively horrible people, what we are seeing is an actor portraying these demons and this gives us as the audience a ‘protective frame’ if you will. When we watch Narcos we’re not really viewing Pablo – if we were we’d be much more afraid of him. So this allows us to give ourselves a distance between the real Pablo and the cinematic, attractive Pablo.
After speaking to Professor Wilson I was merely blown away by his claims yet they all made so much sense.
I wanted to learn more about the attraction and the charisma of Pablo Escobar so I interviewed Shaun Attwood, whose recent book, Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos is currently the most popular Pablo Escobar biography in the world.
Interestingly, Shaun’s life was not all that dissimilar to Pablo’s. He was born in Widnes, Cheshire before making the move to America to work as a stockbroker.
Due to high demands and the stress of his job Shaun started taking ecstasy as a way to blow off steam before noticing a massive gap in the American drug market and becoming a large scale ecstasy dealer.
Before long he was making millions but he quickly ended up trapped in a terrifying rivalry with Mafia mass murderer and former under-boss of the Gambino Crime Family, Salvatore ‘The Bull’ Gravano, before eventually being arrested and sentenced to 200 years imprisonment in America’s ‘toughest jail’.
Shaun was released from jail early and deported back to the UK despite being banned from the U.S. for life. He now spends his days travelling the country giving speeches about his experiences in jail and writing books on a whole host of issues.
Shaun told us:
Pablo Escobar was responsible for approximately 4,000 deaths, yet many people love him to this day. Despite authorising the bombing of buildings, the downing of Avianca Airlines Flight 203, which killed everybody on board, and the assassinations of politicians, the police, and journalists, Pablo continues to be worshipped as a hero, especially in the city of Medellín where he gave millions to the poor, who view him as a Robin Hood figure.
By the time he was making millions from cocaine, Pablo despised the Colombian elites who scorned the masses, and politicians who promised to help the poor but didn’t follow through. He now had the means to realise his childhood dream of ameliorating the lives of the impoverished – something he knew would create powerful enemies for him.
In 1979, he started the social program Civics on the March. Poor neighbors adopted trees in response to the United Nations having warned that industry was causing irreversible damage.
Giving speeches, he encouraged people to join the efforts to preserve the environment. He extolled the value of planting trees and preserving green areas to improve the health of the community.
Pablo offered young people an alternative to crime by way of sports. He built public areas with volleyball and basketball courts and soccer fields. He installed electric lights in forty pitches in the poorest neighbourhoods, so that kids could keep playing at night. His investment in the professional soccer team, Atlético Nacional, raised their status internationally, which drew many young people into the game.
Pablo met people who lived in shacks at the garbage dumps. They attempted to make a living by sifting through the trash and finding items that could be recycled. A few weeks after his visit, one of the neighbourhoods caught fire. The shacks were destroyed. No one seemed to care except for Pablo, who commissioned the building of houses for the homeless.
He invested millions in churches, streetlights, road improvements and recreation centres. He sent doctors into neighbourhoods to heal the sick. Street kids received 5,000 toys every Christmas.
By 1982, Pablo was making $500,000 a day, rising to $1 million a day by the mid-80s. Never forgetting the poor, he continued to build houses, schools, hospitals and to give away truckloads of food. He even paid for college tuition.
Giving speeches as a politician, Pablo spoke politely and softly at the openings of soccer pitches, roller-skating rinks, hospitals and schools he had invested in. He started a radio show, Civics on the March, and a program called Medellín Without Slums.
One project, Barrio Pablo Escobar, consisted of five hundred two-bedroomed houses built over a garbage dump, complete with truckloads of free food. It was in north Medellín, a tough area where Pablo was extremely popular – a recruiting ground for young hit men and enforcers.
Now to me, this poses one of the biggest questions.
All of the above. The previous 500 words you have just read are undeniably brilliant things. After reading the past 500 words Pablo seems almost Christ-like in his actions. He did what no man dared do before. He invested in the poor and undoubtedly brought the mass number of impoverished Colombians a lot of comfort and enjoyment that they had never, ever dreamed of before Pablo.
But were his kind actions genuine, or where they merely a ploy to recruit young people into his cartel?
Shaun concluded our interview by saying:
Even though they knew that Pablo was a murderous criminal, the poor preferred him to a government they viewed as tyrannical for protecting the interests of the wealthy while allowing people to die of starvation and children to live at garbage dumps.
Until Pablo, no one had dared to stand up to the people in power and attempt to give dignity back to the poor.
Being good or evil in Colombia depends upon the perspective of who is viewing it.
Was Pablo a hero or a villain? Was he the drug dealing mass murderer or the Medellin Robin Hood? The saviour of the poor or a Machiavellian prince with an undying hunger for money and power?
I guess that’s entirely down to the individual. However one thing that will forever be true is that Pablo Escobar is a truly captivating character.
Joseph Loftus is a Gold Standard NCTJ journalist with four years experience working for international and regional press.
As well as working for UNILAD and LADbible, Joseph has worked as Liverpool Correspondent for Unsigned & Independent Magazine, as well as stints with the Liverpool Echo and Warrington Guardian.