When I told our guide we wanted to see Escobar’s house she said the city was trying to move past him. There was so much more to see. Though even she couldn’t help bringing him up regularly. His impact on the city is phenomenal.
Escobar was born into a lower middle class family, the third of nine children. By the time he died at 44 he was the wealthiest criminal ever with a net worth of US$30 BILLION! He spent $1000 a week just to buy the rubber bands he needed to wrap all the money he was making by smuggling 15 tons of cocaine into the US per day. Car bombings and shootouts were so common that regular people stopped going out side because they were afraid of being killed in the crossfire. He revolutionized the drug trade, killed his competition and made a fortune.
Then he went into politics. And pissed off a lot of people. He developed a policy called ‘plato y polo’ (silver or lead). One either took his bribe and did what he wanted or got shot… dead. It worked incredibly well. He controlled judges, politicians, police and countless other officials.
The US, the Government and the wealthy Colombian establishment all hated him and decided he had to go! On December 2 1993 he was shot to death while trying to escape capture.
25000 people attended his funeral. He was beloved by the poor in Medellin who viewed him as a modern Robin Hood. He built sports fields, handed out money and constructed hospitals, schools and churches. He thumbed his nose at the upper classes. When they wouldn’t let him join the most prestigious country club in Medellin he bought the land in front of it, built a personal apartment building, blocked their view… and ruined the neighborhood. We snuck in to have a look around. Not much remains… the elevators don’t work, the bathrooms have been stripped of marble, the gold fixtures are long gone and broken glass covers the floor. The walls and ceilings are filled with holes dug in hopes of finding hidden caches of money. His pet parrots have multiplied since he died and live in the trees surrounding the house. There are still signs of bomb damage from when a rival gang tried to blow him up.
After his death, Medellin went into free fall as differing gangs tried to fill his shoes. It took a good 10 years before the city began to recover, largely due to the efforts of Sergio Fajardo, the Mayor from 2003-7, and his campaign called “From Fear to Hope”.
He started a massive plan of social inclusion. His civic projects included building the Metro… the only one in Colombia. Since then a series of escalators and a Gondola network were built in two of the poorest neighborhood making them better places to live. Gangs are still a big problem; children are forced to join, members kill rivals with seeming impunity.