Lovers and Other Monsters - Pablo Escobar Gaviria
A talk with Colombian journalist Elizabeth Mora-Mass
On the afternoon of Saturday, 25 October, I had the opportunity to talk to Elizabeth Mora-Mass, a Colombian journalist now residing in New York. Having only spoken to her on the phone for a few minutes on two previous occasions, she very graciously invited me to her home, where for approximately three hours she spoke to me about the Medellin Cartel and in particular its leader, Pablo Escobar Gaviria; a man she interviewed six times during the eighties and early nineties, the last time shortly before his death and after she had fled to the United States to escape his wrath.
After our meeting I came away with some information which had not been available to me from the books I had read about him, and with a better understanding of the man and the immense power he possessed.
We began our talk with Ms. Mora giving some background information on how she came to interview the head of the Medellin Cartel for the first time. As a student of journalism at the University of Antioquia, her class was given the assignment of reporting on a specific subject. Unable to attend class on the day the subjects were chosen, she took the only one left by her fellow students, narcotics. She was given the option of making another selection, being that this was such a volatile subject, but she realized that this would be an opportunity to write a truly good article, and having heard of Escobar's involvement and alleged leadership in the trafficking of narcotics, she decided to interview him. She first approached his lawyer, Guido Parra, to make the necessary arrangements for the interview, and though at first Parra was somewhat patronizing to the journalism student, he suggested that she read The Godfather by Mario Puzzo and watch the films based on the book; he then told her that Escobar was not a mere fan, but actually saw the behavior and code of conduct of the characters as a philosophy to live by, which she was later to learn he called "padrinologia" (godfatherology). She was to call the lawyer after having done this, only then would he consider arranging the meeting.
As instructed, Ms. Mora read the books and watched the movies, and then called Parra once more. Impressed with her tenaciousness and perhaps curious about this twenty year old journalism student, Escobar agreed to the interview. On the appointed day, she was picked up and driven in a Mercedes Benz with tinted windows that made it impossible for her to see the route taken. When the car finally reached its destination and the door opened, she found herself at the entrance of Escobar's mansion in the outskirts of Medellin.
What impressed her at first, was that the front door was a replica of the door of the cathedral in Seville, Spain; and as she was guided through the house, she noticed that many of the rooms were decorated to be replicas of other famous rooms found throughout the world. One which seems to have been a favorite of Escobar's, was a replica of one of the White House rooms which he had liked very much when he visited Washington, D.C. with his son during the early eighties. Escobar liked to surround himself with things he loved or caught his fancy.
As the interview progressed, Ms. Mora asked Escobar what he did for a living, to which he replied, "I am a decent man who exports flowers." When she expressed some doubt as to the honesty of his answer, he explained that people were jealous of his success and therefore spread unfavorable rumors about him; to emphasize this, he pointed out that he had a valid visa to the United States, so obviously even the U.S. government saw him as an honest upstanding citizen. Ms. Mora was not going to let his answer stand so she asked him to show her these "very exotic flowers" that could have given him so much money to live so well. At this he laughed and told her she had nerve, something which he seemed to have liked, for his attitude changed and he became very frank. "All empires are created of blood and fire" he finally answered.
Before expanding on his answer however, he went on to tell her that what he wanted most was to help people; his goal was to eradicate all the slums of Medellin within a five year period. Noticing Ms. Mora's skepticism, he provide her with a list of 800 people already waiting for the low income houses that were to be built.
He also told her that his true passion in life was politics, and as a youth he had been actively involved in one of Colombia's political parties. Ms. Mora was later to verify this by going to the headquarters of the Liberal party in Medellin. There she found his name on the list of members, and she was to learn that as a teenager, he had been a volunteer, actively involved and leading the organization of rallies for visiting politicians. "They all spoke only wonderful things about him," she told me. During his time there, he had come across as a hard working, enterprising young man, and had impressed the other members with his dedication.
These were not the only people that were to tell Ms. Mora how wonderful a man Escobar was; his servants not only respected and liked him, "they adored him," she told me; he inspired total dedication from everyone who he employed. He was able to do this because he treated all his servants with respect and paid them extraordinary well; as an example, besides their excellent salaries, his maids were given houses and their children's education was paid for in full. She was to conclude that magnanimity and generosity were not the principal driving forces behind these acts of kindness, but they were an investment to ensure his family's safety and security. He was an extremely intelligent and calculating man, whose family's safety was supreme in his mind; for he went on to explain that the servants, whether maids, butlers or chauffeurs, were in direct contact with his wife and children; if not treated well and paid handsomely, they would be easily bribed by his enemies: "I can replace things, but I could never replace my wife and kids," he told her. Above all, Escobar was well aware that money can be a weapon as well as an instrument for manipulation, "everyone has a price, the important thing is to find out what it is," he said.
Talking about his business, it became very apparent that he conducted it by the strict rules of his "godfatherology". He believed that for a business to thrive it had to be a monopoly, and this end was to be achieved by whatever means available. He was also a great believer in making deals only on one's "word of honor"; and following this strict code of behavior, he was merciless with business associates or employees who broke their word; as he put it "there are mistakes that cannot be forgiven", and the transgressors always paid for their infraction with their lives. Some mistakes he forgave and would "try to reason" with the transgressor, but he would never forgive two mistakes or any hints of "disrespect." As his power increased he became totally intolerant of any hint of dissension; those who agreed with him were allies and therefore friends, those who didn't were by default his enemies and died.
He saw his conduct as the only way to maintain his kingdom and his absolute power, for as he would later tell Ms. Mora, "There can only be one King," and in her presence he was to refer to himself as the "King" a number of times. His omnipotence was apparent in the fact that he totally controlled two of Medellin's suburbs, "nothing came in or left without his approval," Ms. Mora said. His power was to encompass almost all of Colombia, for he was well aware that if a person's loyalty could not be bought, it could be subjugated through violence. When Ms. Mora pointed out that only God could decide whether someone lives or dies, Escobar turn to her and simply said, "sometimes I am God, if I say a man dies, he dies that same day."
To ensure his "business" objectives and its security, he did two things. First he paid a Jewish merchant in Medellin, by the name of Israel, to arrange for Israeli commandos to train his bodyguards and most elite enforcers. Second and most tragic for Colombia, he recruited youths from the slums of Medellin, that for very generous compensation would carry out assassinations. These latter groups were to become known as the "Sicarios de la Moto," (Motorcycle Assassins), for as one of the youths drove a motorcycle- the vehicle of choice for its obvious maneuverability- the second one would literally ride shotgun, because he would carry an automatic weapon, usually a machine gun, in plain sight. Once the target was at close range, the gunman would open fire; it was not unusual for bystanders to also be killed. This practice was initiated by Escobar and a tragic consequence is that four years after his death, this type of assassination is even more common throughout Colombia.
When asked by Ms. Mora if he wasn't worried by the fact that she was going to print his statements, Escobar said he wasn't. The only thing that could worry him was that his family would be placed in danger, but he felt secure enough that this wasn't going to happen; as for the reaction of the people of Medellin, he simply laughed and told her that he knew people well enough. He predicted that after reading or hearing about the article, there would be more people trying to work for him, and that many poor youths would think that what he did was "cool!", and would ask to join his army of assassins. And as far as the gringos were concerned, "they are two hundred million idiots, manipulated by a million intelligent men," he said, and asked her not to forget that he would not be in business if not for the United States.
In 1986, Ms. Mora interviewed Escobar for the fifth time and subsequently wrote a rather critical article entitled "de Medallo a 'metrallo'" ("From Medellin to 'machine gun city'"). The morning the article appeared she received a phone call from an enraged Escobar. This she knew was her one and only warning, so she fled to the United States; she knew that if she had attempted to stay, he would have had her killed.
Shortly before his death in 1993, Ms. Mora returned to Medellin to visit her mother. Juan Gomez Martinez, her boss, friend, and then governor of Antioquia, could not guarantee her safety but Escobar did, and granted her the sixth and final interview. By that time he had become the most sought fugitive in the history of Colombia and for a while he had been driving a taxi as part of his disguise. As she got into the cab, she realized how frightened she really was, for not only could Escobar still have her killed, but if the police were to recognize him they would shoot indiscriminately and she would die along with him. He looked worn, "I'm tired of fleeing and of struggling," he told her. He knew that he was going to die soon and he had accepted it. As he explained, it was the only way for his family to be left alone and minimize their danger. The "King" had lost his kingdom and his "godfatherology" had made him into a fugitive and led him to his inevitable violent death.
A letter to Carlos Ledher
On the day after his forty-fourth birthday and what was to also be the final day of his life, Escobar finds himself tired, despondent and restless; and in an uncharacteristic impulse, decides to write to Carlos Ledher, his fellow narcotics kingpin, incarcerated in Florida.
A few hours before the fateful conversation with his son Juan Pablo,
which was traced to his hideout and brought the special police unit that
finally gunned him down, he sits down at old typewriter. Slowly and hesitantly
at first, he begins...
I hope that you are doing
as well as can be expected and that this letter finds you in good health.
I am not much of a letter writer nor were we ever close
friends, so you msut must be as surprised as I am that
I am writng writing this letter, but today for some reason
I found myself wanting to do this, for you better than anyone can understand
the difficulty of my circumstances and the wretchedness I feel now that
the futoure futore future seems more and more difficult
As you may have heard,
things have become rather
unpleant unpleasant for me these
past few months and I find myself a fugitive from hypocritical government,
I thank God for my people, for they have given sanctuary during these long
months. I don't know what the outcome of my escape will be, but I can assure
you that I will not be joining you in a Florida jail, for if you had known
what the results of your extradition would be, you too would have done
everything in your power to stop it. But I'm getting so tiers
tired; I miss my family so much, especially my kids, and though my people
have been quite generous, a man of my position should not be forced to
live this way. I did not make my wealth or acquire my power to be living
like a fuckin' rat.
Sometimes I do feel that
I did go too far with the kidnappings and the bombings, especially because
as a consequence my little girl has had to grow up under constant persecution;
and though I can understand that the deaths of all those people antagonized
the country against me, you understand why it had to be done. The stupid
and corrupt government, had to be made to understand that I was serious
about not allowing myself be handed over the gringos. To be sentenced to
130 years in jail with no possibility of ever again being in the bosom
of my family or to
seet set eyes on my beautiful country
was unacceptable. I don't know if you are able to understand this, since
you are part gringo anyway, because you can't tell me that living among
them for fifteen years did not change you. But you are also Colombian and
some part of you must understand why I will never be forced to leave my
country while I'm alive, as I have said, I prefer to be in a grave in Colombia
than in a jail cell in the United States.
I still find it difficult
to understand how I came to be in these circumstances. I must admit that
I was not surprised when you were captured, you know I always felt you
are too much of a big mouth and a bragger, but I must also admit that never
in my wildest dreams did I or any of our associates ever expect the harsh
sentence you got. Unlike you, I have always preferred my anonymity and
a more subdued type of life style, all right, I know some people feel that
my style of living was somewhat ostentatious, but what else was I supposed
to do with my money? Other
busiesmen businessmen such
as ourselves have had the opportunity to display their wealth without having
to be persecuted. And how can they forget all I have done for the poor.
Remember that I am known as the Paisa Robin Hood, and I am very proud of
that. Even the government officials can not deny that I have done things
for the poor that they in their miserable lives have never come close to
And besides I have behaved
as a man
msut must. They say I am a terrorist, I say that
a man is supposed to fight for his family nad and his
possessions, and if he has to use a gun to defended them, so be it. Was
I suppose to behave like a miserable maricón, and let them take
my dignity and my honor from me? Never!
But now I find myself in this miserable situation, how did it ever get so crazy? I really thought that after giving myself up the first time, everything was going to be all right, every aspect of my surrender was done according to my terms and La Catedral was not too difficult to endure. It was the kind of jail a man of my position and wealth should be in. It was comfortable, I was surrounded by my boys, had regular visits by my family and friends, I even had my garden in the back and the guards were good boys and easy to bribe. But then they had to decide to move me without warning me first! What was I suppose to think, but that they had sold me out to the damn gringos? I've been told that I was wrong, that if I had stayed I would have just been taken to another jail, and even if that were true, though I doubt it, there is nothing I can do about that now.
I am so tired Carlitos and writing on this damn typewriter is driving me crazy. I think I am going to call my family now, they have just returned from Germany and I need to talk to them. So I will say good bye. Take care of yourself.
After Escobar faced the police and was fatally shot, one of the policemen approached his body and withdrew two blood soaked sheets of paper out of the dead man's shirt pocket. As he gingerly unfolded the sheets of paper, he noticed that a bullet had also pierced them and that it was impossible to read the contents; so with a grimace of disgust he discarded them, letting them fall beside the bullet riddled body, where they trampled to shreds, never to be thought of again.
At first cocaine is like a lover, embracing, enticing and giving the
illusion of freedom, but quickly and brutally it turns into a monster that
leaves one dependent, empty and alone.
You gave me wings
to touch the sun, the stars, the sky;
you let me go,
I fell, such pain;
I was left blind
and held you tight;
you stole the light,
I didn't care
I was your slave.
Colombia's legacy to its people is a life full of sweet moments, interrupted by devastating violence, with a promise for a better tomorrow.
Violence is a prison, whether for one individual or an entire country.
The chains that bind me to you
are made of dreams and caresses;
I warp myself in your warmth,
I find comfort in your touch.
A willing prisoner of your beauty,
I try to forget the sadness;
Yours is a crushing embrace;
Your scorching breath steals the air.
Your sudden storms ravage my soul,
I feel the sting of your wrath;
I turn from you in despair;
I want to run, but to where?
I'm beckoned back to your arms,
I stagger bewildered and breathless
Bewitched by you I return;
You are my promise, my home.