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A capitulation to violence

The cover of the book shows armed policemen with standing and crouching over the body. Most have the widest of grins on them and one gives the thumbs-up. The back cover describes the events leading to the killing as an “exhilarating” true story.

But as Mark Bowden‘s Killing Pablo makes clear, the victim was hardly a sympathetic figure and his death was indeed a cause for relief if not outright celebration. Who would have imagined that a short, fat, double-chinned stoner could hold an entire country hostage?

That’s exactly what Pablo Escobar did to Colombia in the 80s and early 90s. This was a crime boss who became an elected member of the Colombian congress, a ruthless killer who imagined himself a man of the people, a devoted family man who nevertheless had a weakness for underaged teens. At the height of his powers, he was a billionaire (the seventh richest man in the world according to Forbes) who could influence presidential elections and national policy.

He cowed, corrupted and killed everyone who stood in his way and no one was out of his reach. Presidential candidates, ministers, judges, generals … if they crossed him, it would only be a matter of time before they regretted it.

He wielded so much power he could dictate the terms of his arrest and imprisonment even as the Colombian government (aided and pushed by the US) closed in on him. From page 155 of the book:

The surrender agreement was a capitulation to violence, pure and simple, a deal with the devil.

The Colombian goverment and judiciary were so cowed they accepted his surrender on his terms. Here’s how generous they were: he was allowed to build his own prison.

Unsurprisingly, it was the most comfortable of incarcerations. He had phone banks and computers to keep track of his cocaine empire, and was free to leave the prison to watch professional football matches or go shopping. If things got too dull in prison, he would ship in drugs, liquor and hookers by the truckload.

It was not Colombia’s finest moment.

But to be fair, the country did eventually decide Escobar was too big for his britches. Realising his super happy fun time at prison was up, he escaped, somehow eluding an entire brigade of soldiers.

It soon became evident to all that bringing Escobar to justice no longer meant putting him on trial but killing him. This too was a capitulation to violence since it led to the creation of a vigilante group who went around killing Escobar’s associates. To defeat a monster, it would seem you must be monstrous, too.

Escobar was found and killed according to la ley de fuga (the law of escape) but it was an uncomfortable victory. No one involved escaped untainted. As one DEA agent reflected, “… to get Pablo they had sold their souls.”

The book was authored by Mark Bowden, the same guy behind Black Hawk Down, and just like his previous work, it’s the result of a lot of research and interviews framed in a narrative that moves along briskly. It’s a quick read, a weekender.

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Posted in Books, Reviews.


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