Today there is another Fact of the Day Installment from Power of Change guest author Tim Dees:
Quick, who was the 7th richest person in the world in 1989? According to Forbes magazine, it was Pablo Escobar, the Columbian drug dealer. In 1989, Escobar's Medellín cartel had reached the peak of its profitability, bringing in $30 billion a year and cornering 80% of the cocaine market. But who was this man, and how did he become so successful?
Pablo Escobar began work as a small-time hood in Medellín, the town of his birth. He began to amass an enormous cocaine empire. His reputation became international when he killed Fabio Restrepo, a well-known drug kingpin. Restrepo's men were then informed that they were now working for Escobar.
Escobar couldn't have made it as long as he did, however, without significant support from government leaders. To do this, he used a two-fold policy of bribing or killing everyone who stood in his way. He once killed three presidential candidates in the course of one election, and his influence in Columbian society was wide and deep. Even now, Escobar's cousin is the top advisor to Columbia's president, Álvaro Uribe.
There seemed to be no limit to the amount of carnage Escobar could get away with. He bombed a plane, raided the Columbian Supreme Court, and was involved in a bloody zero-sum war with his chief rival, the Cartel de Cali. But all this killing didn't hurt Escobar's public image, especially in Medellín. Like many Columbian drug lords, he enjoyed enormous popular support, and he redirected much of the cartel's revenue into public works projects.
Things changed for Escobar in 1990, when Columbia began extraditing drug offenders to the United States. In the US, drug lords wouldn't be able to wield the same influence as they did in Columbia, and sentences would be much harsher, often including life imprisonment. As leverage against extradition, Escobar began kidnapping prominent Columbians and killing those who supported extradition. One of his hired assassins chased one man all the way to Budapest, and his kidnappers would often pull people out of cars in rush hour traffic and hold them for months or even years.
With the threat of extradition looming, Escobar eventually turned himself into the authorities in exchange for not being extradited. He was put into a prison that was more like a private resort, and from that prison he continued to conduct business and was even spotted outside the prison's walls on a number of occasions. Some reports suggest that he even murdered two rivals while they were on a business visit. When the Columbian government decided to move him to a higher security facility, he escaped.
His escape launched a massive manhunt, that included everyone imaginable: United States Delta Force agents, right-wing militias, vigilante squads financed by the Cali cartel, and the Columbian military. With this unprecedented use of manpower, Escobar's time was short. In 1993, he was cornered in Medellín and killed in a shootout with the Columbian authorities.