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Escobar's end

By V. Venkatesan

RETRIBUTION, when it did come, was bloody. Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, the Colombian cocaine king who had ruthlessly lorded over a global narco-terrorist empire, was gunned down in a rooftop shootout in Medellin on December 2, a day after he turned 44. Elite troops and government agents, some disguised as candy vendors, had closed in after tracking-devices pinpointed the safe house from where the billionaire boss of the Medellin cartel had made a series of phone calls to his family. Caught off-guard, Escobar attempted to flee, but fell, guns blazing.

The killing marked the Government's biggest blow against the drug trade since traffickers began waging a war against the South American state in 1984. In a decade-long wave of terror, Escobar's hit-men murdered three Presidential candidates and hundreds of judges, journalists and government officials and organised countless car bombings that killed or maimed thousands. His network and the rival Cali cartel, which together accounted for about 80 per cent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States and Europe, virtually ran a parallel state--with bribes and bullets.

The Medellin mafia invested millions of narco-dollars in factories, newspapers, shopping centres and discotheques--where swingers could send for psychotropic substances. And in the slums of his hometown, from where Escobar recruited teenagers as hired killers, the soft- spoken "vice-president" was admired for his Robin Hood-style handouts.

In 1991, under pressure following a U.S.-backed crackdown on traffickers, Escobar surrendered--on his terms. In Envigado prison, built just for him, he lived in luxury--wild parties, big-screen televisions, fax machines and all--but escaped in July 1992 fearing a transfer to a regular jail and had since been on the run, till the bloody end. n

(Published in Frontline, December 31, 1993)

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