by Alan PrinceJune, 2001
Pablo Escobar became the godfather of international cocaine trafficking by offering a choice to anybody standing in his way: plata o plomo (silver or lead). Eventually, Escobar himself got both.
In 1989, Forbes magazine listed him as the seventh richest man in the world. Four years later the end came for Escobar when a bullet entered his brain. Of the 15-month manhunt that led to Escobar's death, Morris D. Busby, then U.S. ambassador to Colombia, said, "Lots of things happened that no one is ever going to talk about." In Killing Pablo, a fascinating new piece of investigative reporting, Mark Bowden tracks down and discloses many of those "things." In chronicling the reign and ruin of Escobar and his empire, Bowden adds new content and context to the story of the man he calls "the world's greatest outlaw."Escobar terrorized and corrupted Colombia to its core through years of bombings, kidnappings and murders of police, politicians, judges, prosecutors and journalists and their relatives. Despite being tracked by modern surveillance equipment, Escobar slipped from hideout to hideout, frustrating a force said to number 3,000 Colombian policemen augmented by elite U.S. units.
Escobar's demise was hastened by vigilantes whose families he had victimized. Adopting his style as their own, they torched Escobar's lavish homes and killed, by their estimate, some 300 people who aided him. Bowden, a long-time Philadelphia Inquirer staffer, explores the vital contribution the United States made to the manhunt, as well as the reluctance of some Pentagon officers to become involved in lethal acts that they feared would incriminate them back home. News junkies might think they already know enough about the life and death of Pablo Escobar, but even they will be awed by the magnitude of the carnage, the intricacy of the manhunt and the legal and political complications that arose when two sovereign nations mixed law enforcement and military missions. With the same careful research and clarity that marked his Black Hawk Down, a 1999 National Book Award finalist, Bowden has neatly put it all together.
Alan Prince is the former editor of the Miami Herald's Latin America edition.