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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 9, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

    From the archives: an interview with Roberto Escobar

    Laurence Mackin

    Roberto Escobar, the brother of Pablo Escobar – the world’s most famous and perhaps most successful drug smuggler – has found a new niche job for himself. Following a career as chief accountant of the Medellín cartel and a lengthy spell in prison, he is now in the tourism business, welcoming people to his home to reminisce about the good old times . A few years ago, with the help of Fiona McCann, I interviewed him after the publication of his biography, and here is the piece from March 2009. There is no word yet on the effectiveness of his “cure” for Aids.

    ROBERTO ESCOBAR HAS THE voice of a man at peace. He answers questions in languid Spanish, down a crackly phone line, with a practised measure. “Nobody told me you were calling, but there’s no problem. It’s my pleasure to be at your service.” Escobar has all the time in the world to discuss his current work – curing Aids. Indeed, he claims to have found a cure, but cannot reveal the details because it is in the process of being patented. “We have found a medicine so that people in this world don’t have to die from that illness,” he says, “and in Colombia we have more than 100 patients totally uncontaminated now, who won’t contaminate any other human being on this planet.”

    It is a disarming claim from a man who was once the main accountant for one of the world’s most violent criminal organisations – the drug-smuggling operation controlled by Roberto’s brother, Pablo Escobar. Pablo began his career smuggling contraband. “Maybe it’s something we inherited through the bloodline,” admits Roberto. “My grandfather used to put whiskey in coffins and bring along black-clad women with them, crying, following the coffins up to the mountains, where he’d sell his whiskey.”

    At first, the drug-smuggling business was relatively straightforward. Cocaine paste was collected in Peru and driven to Colombia to be processed. Soon, he looked to the lucrative markets in the US and before long, Pablo and the Medellín cartel he controlled had its own fleet of aircraft.

    At every level, money lubricated the machine – pilots, air-traffic controllers, police, army generals, senior politicians – and there was no shortage of it. In 1989, Escobar was listed by Forbes as the seventh-richest man in the world with an estimated fortune of $20 billion.

    The biggest problem, says Roberto, was not smuggling the product, but storing the cash. “We would spend as much as $2,500 monthly on rubber bands to hold the money together,” he writes. He estimates that they lost 10 per cent a year because the cash would rot in its hiding places.

    IN THE EARLY years, Roberto was not involved with the business. He was a national champion and the coach of Colombia’s cycling team, before retiring to set up a bicycle factory. “By the time I had the factory, Pablo had gotten very involved in drug trafficking, and they started to come after our family. The first person they came after was me, even though I had nothing to do with drug trafficking. They took my wife and put her in prison.” This, Roberto insists, is what led to his involvement with drug trafficking.

    Pablo Escobar built his empire through ambition, ingenuity and utter ruthlessness, but it was his ambition to be president of Colombia that eventually led to his downfall. “The first mistake my brother made was to get involved in drug trafficking. The second was to get involved in politics,” affirms Roberto. Pablo easily won a seat in the Colombian congress in 1982, handing out suitcases of money at rallies and dropping flyers stapled with cash from aircraft. Roberto is adamant that most politicians were buying votes at this time – Pablo was simply less subtle about it. Publicly, Pablo railed at the corruption and poverty of Colombia, but in private, extradition to the US was his main worry. He once told a meeting of drug traffickers: “I would rather have a grave in Colombia than a jail cell in the US.”

    His political career was doomed from the outset. In 1983, justice minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla pressed to have Escobar’s parliamentary immunity from extradition removed. Lara was shot, and as a tribute, the president signed a treaty allowing for the extradition of Colombians.

    Escobar declared open war on the government and Medellín’s long-term rival, the Cali cartel, while Pablo, Roberto and their associates took refuge in Panama, Nicaragua, Brazil and Spain. The violence included a siege of the Palace of Justice in 1985 in which a group of Escobar-financed guerillas killed more than 100 people, the assassination of presidential candidates critical of Escobar, and the bombing of a passenger jet.

    Pablo Escobar addresses a crowd during a political rally

    ROBERTO SAYS THAT he was always at a remove from the violence. “I managed the telephones, the books. I never got involved in terrorism, or killings, and I criticised [PABLO]many times for that.”

    There is an odd precision in much of the book’s details: the makes of specific smuggling vehicles, how various characters got their nicknames. But when it comes to attributing responsibility for crimes, Roberto prefers grand generalisations.

    Despite the battle ripping the country apart, the drug-smuggling operation was barely affected, and Pablo had opened covert negotiations with the government. In return for an amnesty, he offered to stop smuggling, invest in the country’s infrastructure, and pay off Colombia’s national debt, then in the region of $9 billion.

    In the end, Pablo gave himself up, but not before the introduction of a new constitution that banned the extradition of Colombian citizens. The judiciary realised that there was no prison that could realistically hope to hold Escobar, so he built his own, a lavish villa known as La Catedral. Embarrassing rumours of the parties that took place within its walls began to circulate, so the government decided to move Pablo and, convinced that the army would kill him, he fled into the jungle in July 1992. He was pursued by a US-trained task force assembled by the Colombian government.

    Throughout this time, Roberto was almost constantly at Pablo’s side. “I compare this life to a football game that is played at 100km per hour,” says Roberto. “When you’re running, it’s a different way of living . . . you don’t see your family, you can’t go to church, the police are behind you, you have to be careful not to open a letter, you have to be careful on the telephone, you can’t visit your mother.”

    Pablo was eventually tracked to Medellín and killed on December 2nd, 1993, though Roberto insists that he shot himself – they had a suicide pact should they ever be cornered. On its front page, the New York Times wrote: “Pablo Escobar, who rose from the slums of Colombia to become one of the world’s most murderous and successful cocaine traffickers, was killed in a hail of gunfire . . . The death is not expected to seriously affect cocaine traffic.”

    Roberto considers himself protected by divine intervention; he frequently mentions a small priest who warns him in his dreams of danger. Before Pablo’s death, Roberto surrendered in an effort to again open negotiations with the government and on December 18th, 1993 he opened a package that contained a letter bomb, which left his vision critically impaired. “In that moment, I saw our Lord, I saw the angels, and I saw that little priest who goes everywhere with me. I thought I was dead . . . I started to believe more in God, and that yes, there is a second life.”

    So if there is a second life, where is Pablo? Did he build enough homes, schools and churches to atone for a life of ruthless violence? “That is something I don’t know,” says Roberto. “If God, our Lord, gives a second life to the people who suffered much in life, to the people who were bad, to the people who were good, I don’t know that part. I can only answer what I have seen, which is that I know there is a second life, because I saw our Lord.” Roberto is again dancing around the issue, or perhaps even he has difficulty separating his brother the legend from his brother the man.

    Interview translated by Fiona McCann. Escobar: The Inside Story of Pablo Escobar , The World’s Most Powerful Criminal by Roberto Escobar is published by Hodder Stoughton, £11.99

    • Interesting article. The city of Medellin has seen tourism grow with each year of Pablo Escobar’s passing, but no one in Colombia expected that the number one reason tourists from around the world were traveling to Medellin was to learn more about Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel. It’s really a very beautiful city and the locals, known as Paisas, are very warm and hospitable when it comes to meeting tourists from around the world.

    • This article on the Colombian Cartel is very interesting. In 1992, when I was 17 years old, I was a foreign exchange student to Caracas, Venezuela (Venezuela before the election of Chavez). I remember the Venezuelans being down on Colombians because they were afraid of guilt by association. My host father was a political figure and had an armed body guard with him at all times as the country was unstable at that time (3 coup de tat attempts that year). In the 1980′s all you heard about here in the States was about the drug war (that, and the Aids epidemic) and about the pursuit of Pablo Escobar. I remember his death, and thinking about the mess he made. The drug wars left death, destruction, and corruption (rampant, virulent , and institutional) in their wake. The thing I find interesting, is the casualness in which Roberto Escobar talks about Pablo and his own role in the operation. He was co-conspirator in caos and should spend the rest of his life in a deep dark hole for all the depravity he and his caused. His hand may not have held the gun and pulled the trigger but this man’s soul is dripping in the blood of every by-stander who was ever caught in the crossfire of every drug related killing in Colombia and everywhere drugs are sold. He and his brother profited from murder, and peddled a product that poisoned everything it touched, his hands will never be cleaned.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      “So if there is a second life, where is Pablo? Did he build enough homes, schools and churches to atone for a life of ruthless violence?” – I’d venture Pablo Escobar would be no more a ‘bad boy’ in God’s Book than the likes of George Bush nor Tony Blair (and Mr Escobar would be responsible for a lot less human misery than either of those two beauties). On the basis that he acted according to his nature. The fact he acted against the Establishment won’t particularly bother God, so long as he wasn’t acting against his conscience. An unconditioned reality such as we believe God to be cannot be possessed only of a conditional mercy, or a conditional justice. Ergo, God forgives all sins provided the sinner is genuinely sorry. There’s only one deadly sin and that’s the sin against the Holy Ghost and that, imo, is false repentance. Of course, God has karma to do the unconditioned justice thing. Just as one billard ball cannoning off another sets the direction and velocity and all other factors of the latter’s course, our past lives leave us with a basic psycho-spiritual imprint that determines our karmic fate in our next life. Anyway. All a bit academic really isn’t it? Even the just man falls seven times a day. And if there’s hope for him sure there must be hope for the rest of us too. That was a very interesting article Laurence. Thanks for giving us a read of it.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      I take it Ms Ohashi you’d feel the exact same sentiments about George Bush and Tony Blair whose depraved souls are likewise dripping in the blood of every bystander caught in the crossfire of every oil-theft related killing in Iraq and every rare-earth related killing in Afghanistan?

    • John O’Driscoll@3 and 4- To answer your question, Yes I do believe that George W Bush, Dick Chaney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condaleeza Rice are as depraved of souls as Pablo Escobar. Any time you are a Merchant of Death, Despair, and outright Depravity , your soul is depraved. When you profit from the demise of a society (oil theft), you are no longer a human being; your a monster. The Bush Administration led several countries into a war based on a lie. That lie, that Iraq was linked to Al -Quida led to the destruction of two countries, the deaths of countless civilians and military personnel. Look, I will say that an intelligence driven war directed against Al-Quida and the Taliban was warranted, the looting of Bagdad not so much. 9/11 warranted retaliation and justice (the death of Bin Laden, who financed terror directed at the west all over the world), not turning the Middle East into a graveyard. As for Blair, he was a weak minded politician. What do weak minded politicians do? They follow what ever way the wind blows. In this case, Blair followed George W into an ill advised, poorly planned war that caused 10′s of thousands their lives.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Alan Greenspan has admitted the Attack on Iraq was all about oil, Ms Ohashi. I think we can safely say that Saddam Hussein – who hated Osama bin Laden it must be said – had nothing to do with 9/11.
      The lies (mushroom clouds as smoking guns; 45 minutes readiness of WMD), forged evidence (yellowcake); elimination of those whom knew there were no WMD (David Kelly); the scaremongering (Turr Lurts sorry Terror Alerts); information extracted under torture ( from the likes of the First Earth Battalion inspired 24/7 playing of Barney songs to agonised men held in baking shipping containers while strobe lights were flashed in their eyes and the humiliation of Muslims piled naked on top of each other and forced to masturbate each other and be pawed by Western prostitutes and waterboarding, all the way to the more tradtional electroshock and tearing out of fingernails or backs being broken in Syrian prisons using specially designed ”German chairs”); was all done with the intention of stealing the Iraqi People’s oil.

      The Kuwaitis were doing it back in the nineties, drilling sideways and for miles underneath Iraq’s borders which was why Saddam invaded them and that Texan oilman Bush Sr sprang with alacrity to the defence of the thieves.
      Bush Jr simply picked up Daddy’s baton and went for the main prize, total control of Iraq’s oil-fields and – at the behest of America’s Zionist controllers – a new yomping off point for the next stage in the Israeli-American Rough Beast’s plans for full-spectrum global domination. The result in terms of innocent lives lost ranges from 114,000 to 1.4 million depending on whose numbers you care to accept.

      Let’s not forget that in Iraq – prior to as well as after the invasion – a death certificate required/s two things: 1) a complete, identifiable corpse, and 2) a fee the equivalent of one month’s wages for the average Iraqi. Not too many death certificates then, for the likes of the more conservative estimators who insist on them as evidence.

      To consider a parallel example, for years after WW2, the numbers of Jewish people killed by the Nazis was estimated to be in the region of 1.5 million. It is only 7 decades later – thanks to the excellent work of the likes of Yad Vashem – that we believe the true number to have been over 6 million. Doubtless there are hundreds of thousands more whose entire bloodline was expunged from the earth whose names have been cut off forever and will never be remembered or known.

      I have little doubt the numbers of innocent Dead in Iraq is closer to the million mark and probably twice that. We won’t ever know until sufficient decades have passed for the toxin of politicians and their lies to have leached away, if ever.

      As for Afghanistan, I don’t think that the destruction of a country and its society in order to hunt down one man (who moreover was allowed by US forces to escape to Pakistan) is ever justified either. Again, I believe that war is a) resource driven, specifically in relation to rare earths, a vital component in the electronics industry the global supply of which, absent a conquered Afghanistan, will be largely under China’s control, and b) strategic, in that again a yomping off point for a coming war with China (and perhaps Russia also) as envisaged by the sort of insane ”Christian” Zionist who believes literally in the Book of Revelations, as well as by more sane heads who quite simply see that one of these fine days China’s going to come looking for all the money She lent the West to finance the last decade of insane greed and when She does the reply will come via the North Pole.
      Truly indeed depraved. The only real good news is that Blair and Bush and all of their cohorts will one day get the fruits of their karma, and given the above I’m sure it will be far more condign than even Mr Escobar’s.
      I do hope I have the singular pleasure of squishing them under my bootheels or spraying them with Vapona many times as they reincarnate in the forms they truly deserve over and over and over again. At least, that’s what I’ll tell myself each time I step on one of them as they scuttle across the floor of my garden shed. Bye bye Georgie, Tony, Condi, Donald, Paul and all the rest of you cockroaches, periplaneta Americana. Come back soon y’all heah?

    • Mr. O’Driscoll, I absolutely believe in karma and if is exists, Blair, Bush, Chaney, Wolfowitz, Condi, Donald, et all will be reincarnated into the true form of the Bush Administration: A giant, steaming pile of Elephant Shit as it is the only thing they contributed to the earth. However, the cockroach would be a more satisfactory form because you could have the fun of squishing it again and again.

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