Pablo Escobar was grew up on a humble farm in rural Colombia, and through violence and cunning he rose to be the most powerful kingpin in the country — and, indeed, the world.
In the process, Escobar brought many Colombian officials and security forces onto his payroll in order to protect himself and his business from both rivals and government intervention.
His control over the security apparatus in his home base of Medellín, in Antioquia state, was so extensive that, as Mark Bowden detailed in his book “Killing Pablo,” the drug lord was able to deliver a swift, bloody, and nearly debilitating blow to the government’s Search Bloc — the first force that set out to bring him down.
According to Bowden:
Pablo practically owned Medellín, his home city, including enough of its police force that one of the rules for the newly constructed Search Bloc was that it could not contain even one native Antioquian, or paisa, for fear he would secretly be on Pablo’s payroll.
They didn’t dare ask the Medellín police force for help, because it was known to be largely on the cartel’s payroll. The whole Search Bloc, even its plainclothesmen, stood out sharply because none spoke with the think paisa accent. On their first foray out into the city … they got lost.
Antioquia, in northwest Colombia, has been a hub for drug trafficking because its heavy jungle and rugged landscape help obscure operations, and because its proximity to the Caribbean and Central America make it a prime departure point for drug shipments heading north.
It has long been a locus for violent criminal groups involved in illicit operations like drug trafficking and illegal mining. The left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are present there, and Los Urabeños — Colombia’s most power criminal organisation — have based their operations there.
In the first days of the Search Bloc, the group was in over its head. Escobar and his sicarios, or assassins, had a marked advantage.
And Escobar — who didn’t become the most feared drug lord in history because he shied away from bloodshed — pursued his new enemies.
Within the first fifteen days, thirty of the [Search Bloc’s] two hundred men were killed. Despite elaborate precautions to protect the men and hide their identities, Pablo’s army of sicarios picked them off one by one, often with the help of the Medellín police.
They shot them down in the street, on their way home from work, even at home with their families when they were off duty.
The Search Bloc’s violent introduction to Escobar came in early 1990, as Colombia’s efforts to combat the Medellín cartel and other traffickers began to intensify with heavy US assistance.
While, as Bowden notes, the heavy losses frightened the Search Bloc, they were not cowed. With 200 additional men supplied by the Colombian government, they continued their pursuit, which would last another three violent years, until December 1993.
Most accounts put the Search Bloc at the center of Escobar’s last stand — a shootout that left the world’s most powerful drug dealer sprawled across a dingy Medellín rooftop in a bloody heap.
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