I’m trying to get my book Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos published in time for the second Narcos’ season. Any feedback you can provide in the comments would be appreciated on chapter 1 below:
Pablo Escobar was born on a cattle ranch in 1949, the second year of The Violence, a ten-year civil war that saw millions of Colombians flee their homes and left hundreds of thousands dead. Slicing people up with machetes was popular, and led to a new genre of slaughter methods with ornate names. The Flower Vase Cut involved the severing of the head, arms and legs, followed by the liberated appendages getting stuffed down the neck of the deceased, turning the headless torso into a vase of body parts. A victim stabbed in the neck, who had his tongue pulled out through the gap and hung down his chest was wearing a Columbian Necktie.
Pablo’s parents were Abel de Jesús Dari Escobar, a hard-working farmer who traded cows and horses, and Hermilda Gaviria, an elementary school teacher. Pablo was the third of seven children. Hermilda often complained about their lack of money, and Pablo, at five years old, said, “Mom, wait until I grow up. I’ll give you everything.”
As The Violence escalated, the family was warned to leave or else risk having their body parts re-assembled into art. But having no safe place to go, and loving the animals, the beautiful countryside adorned with wildflowers, and air that carried a taste of pine and resin from the forest, they chose to stay. Pablo was seven when the guerrillas started getting blood on their machetes in his tiny town, Titiribu, near the town of Rionegro, the Black River. Trembling, he heard machetes hacking the front door and threats of murder. He clung to his mother, who was crying and praying.
“They’re going to kill us, but we can save the kids,” the father said. They hid the children under mattresses and blankets.
The front door was so strong that the guerrillas eventually gave up trying to break in. Instead, they set fire to it. Wincing and coughing in a house filling with smoke, Pablo’s parents braced to die. But soldiers arrived, and the guerrillas disappeared.
With the sun rising over immense green mountains, the town’s survivors were escorted to a schoolhouse. Pablo would never forget the burning bodies and corpses hanging from lampposts.
A year later, Pablo and his brother were sent from the family’s ranch to live with their grandmother in the safety of Medellín, known as the City of the Eternal Spring due to its steady warm climate. Their grandmother was an astute businesswoman who bottled sauces and spices, and sold them to supermarkets. Under her loving but stern hand, they had to go to church and pray every morning.
Although they loved the weather, the mountainous landscape and the surrounding pine forests, the second largest city in Colombia with all of its fast cars and over one million people frightened the brothers, who were accustomed to the tempo of ranch life. They were delighted when their parents eventually joined them. Their father disliked living in a city, so he returned to the countryside to work on other people’s farms. Eventually, the brothers fell in love with Medellín.
Growing up with little money, the kids built carts from wood, and raced down hills. They made soccer balls from old clothes wrapped inside of plastic bags. They had egg fights. A favourite prank was to stick chewing gum on a doorbell, so that it rang continuously.
On the streets of Medellín, some of Pablo’s leadership and criminal traits started to emerge. Although the youngest in his group, he’d take the lead. When the police confiscated their soccer ball, he encouraged the group to throw rocks at the patrol car. The police rounded up several of the group, and threatened to keep them in jail all day.
Only Pablo spoke up to the commander: “We didn’t do anything bad. We’re tired of these guys taking our ball. Please, we’ll pay you back.”
Some of the kids in the group ended up in business with Pablo later on.
As a teenager, Pablo aspired to be a millionaire. According to his brother, Roberto Escobar, in his book, Escobar, Pablo developed an interest in history, world politics and poetry. At the public library, he read law books. In 1974, he studied political science at the University of Antioquia. He practised public speaking on student audiences at lunchtime or on the soccer field. There is a quote Roberto remembers him speaking passionately: “I want to be president of Columbia, and when I am, I’ll take ten percent of the earnings of the richest people to help the poor. With those funds, we’ll build schools and roads.” His idea to create local jobs was to encourage Asian manufacturers to move their plants to Colombia. But unable to pay the university fees, Pablo was forced to drop out.
In Killing Pablo, author Mark Bowden described Pablo as an accomplished car thief by age twenty. Drivers were forced out of their cars by his gang, and the cars dismantled at chop shops. When Pablo had enough money from selling car parts, he used it to bribe officials to issue car certificates, so that stolen cars could be resold without having to be chopped. He started a protection racket whereby people paid him to prevent their cars from being stolen. Always generous with his friends, he gave them stolen cars with clean papers. Pablo and his cousin, Gustavo, built race cars from stolen parts, and entered rallies.
In his late teens, Pablo was incarcerated for several months in Medellín, where he made business connections. Records of his early arrests were destroyed.
Some of the people who owed Pablo money were kidnapped. If the debt wasn’t paid by family members or friends, the victim was killed. Through this means, he gained a reputation as a person not to be trifled with, which helped his business interests grow in a world of opportunists and cutthroats.
He also kidnapped people and held them for ransom. Diego Echavarría Misas was a prominent factory owner and philanthropist who lived in a remake of a mediaeval castle. He became increasingly disliked by the poor, many of whom had lost their jobs at textile mills. Pablo had Echavarría kidnapped and demanded a ransom of $50,000. After the family paid, Echavarría was beaten and strangled to death. With no chain of evidence linking Pablo to the crime, he wasn’t charged. In the eyes of the poor, he’d done them a favour. After that, they gave Pablo the names Dr Echavarría and El Doctor.
Moving on from stealing cars, he started to apply his organisational skills to contraband, a thriving business in Colombia, a country steeped in corruption. Medellin was known as a hub for smugglers. Those who got caught typically bribed their way free. If they were unable to pay a bribe, the police would usually confiscate their contraband, rather than jail them. It was the cost of doing business.
Early on, Narcos presented Pablo as a boss in the contraband smuggling business, but that wasn’t the case. He was an underling of the powerful mob boss, Rafael Puente, a contraband kingpin who specialised in transporting cigarettes, electronics, jewellery and clothing in shipping containers from America, England and Japan. The goods were shipped to Colombia via Panama.
Having met Pablo at a soccer match, Rafael asked him to be a bodyguard, in the hope of reducing worker theft. “The way to make money,” Rafael told Pablo, “is to protect the merchandise for the guy who has the money, and that’s who I am.”
Pablo brought the poorly-paid workers seafood and wine. “I’m going to give you half of my salary forever if you work with me. But this time if we show the boss that you don’t take anything, I promise when I come back in two weeks to take care of you guys.” The workers agreed, and returned the stolen goods they still had.
Specialising in cigarettes, Pablo drove across Colombia in a jeep ahead of half a dozen trucks, transporting contraband. Along the way, he paid the necessary bribes to the police. Delighted with Pablo’s performance, Rafael offered him ten percent of the business, but Pablo demanded fifty.
“Are you crazy?” Rafael said.
“I think it’s fair. Sometimes you’ve been losing more than half the products. This way you’ll be getting it all, and even by giving me fifty percent, you’ll be making more money because nobody will be stealing anything.” Rafael agreed to forty percent.
Through the contraband business, Pablo became adept at smuggling goods across the country, without paying government taxes and fees. Supervising two convoys a month earned him up to $200,000. He stashed his profits in hiding places he’d built in the walls of his home. He installed special electronic doors that only he could open. He recruited his brother, Roberto, as an accountant, in charge of handling the payroll, making investments and depositing money into bank accounts with fake names. Over the years, money was invested in real estate, construction businesses and farms. As Roberto was handling so much money, Pablo gave him a gun.
Giving half of his salary to the workers earned their respect, and the name El Patrón or the Boss. He bought his mother a house, a taxicab for his cousin, Gustavo, and an Italian bicycle for his brother. He donated truckloads of food to the poor who scavenged at a garbage dump. He took about twenty members of his family to Disney World in Florida, where he went on all of the rides with his son.
When a policeman on Pablo’s payroll was moved to another district, he snitched out the operation. The police waited to ambush a convoy of trucks. They would all get rich confiscating so many goods. Pablo had stopped for lunch, and told the convoy to continue without him. Thirty-seven trucks were seized. A driver called Pablo, who said to tell the other drivers not to speak to the police. With police after him, he took a bus back to Medellín. Lawyers got the drivers released, but were unable to retrieve the merchandise. Pablo’s contraband partnership with Rafael was over.