Thoughts on Pablo Escobar: My Father
*note I finished this book a few months back and getting caught up on book reviews so my thoughts are likely missing components if I were to have just finished it
I was inspired to read this book after my time in Medellin, Colombia where I got a brief peak into some of the countless ways that Pablo Escobar touched the city. It was written by his son, Juan Pablo, as a pretty personal account of Pablo Escobar’s life and decisions, all the way to the end.
Pablo Escobar was an incredibly influential person in both Colombia and the world
Before visiting Medellin, I had heard of Pablo Escobar, but knew very little about him other than his involvement with cocaine and his residency in Colombia.
He was one of (if not the) wealthiest criminals in history, amassing a net worth of $30B (in late 1900s $) at one point. He started and ran a huge cartel in Colombia that shipped enormous amounts of cocaine up to the US and globally.
On top of the drugs themselves, Escobar was very involved in the community in Medellin + all over Colombia in both good and bad ways.
He was brutal to the people that did him and his cartel wrong, taking steps like kidnapping and killing family members, and setting off car bombs that killed government officials and often innocent bystanders.
During Escobar’s reign, the entire city of Medellin was in a very dark place. It was unsafe to be out past a certain time at night, and people all over the city were getting pulled into the drug wars between Escobar’s cartel and others.
On the other side of the spectrum, he did a lot for the poor. He tried to paint himself as a Robinhood of sorts. He built soccer fields, found ways to distribute $ to lower income people and even created an entire affordable housing neighborhood.
It was in the mid 80s basically up until only a bit before his death in 1993 that he had such power in the country. He had even infiltrated law enforcement, and there were anecdotes of him basically telling the government what to do.
One of the best was when he was being pressured from many different sides to go to prison in 1991. He ended up conceding, but he basically told the government that he would only do so on his conditions. So, he was in ‘prison’ up on top of a mountain about an hour out of the city of Medellin with his own men as the ‘guards’.
It was found out later that it was hardly a prison. There were great amenities, they were constantly partying and he would even have guests come join him.
The number of ways that Escobar had his hands over the entire city of Medellin and the control he exercised over the government in various situations was astounding to me.
He was an eccentric and family-centered person
I always find it fascinating to learn about the way that highly influential people (and especially criminals) tick. Escobar was responsible for all of these people, all this money, countless lives, and did a lot of really terrible things. How was he as a person?
The book gave a pretty detailed account of his personality, and my biggest takeaway was how relatively normal he was in his personal life. He tremendously valued family and would go to great lengths to keep his family safe, including sending them halfway across the world at times.
He also had some weird, funny personality traits and interests. He loved soccer (would host exhibitions and games constantly), cars (he was a racer at one point), and birds, among other animals.
He built an entire animal park in Colombia where he brought, and in some cases smuggled, animals from all over the world. There was a time he spent $400,000 to smuggle a rare bird up from Brazil, even. This video about the hippos and Escobar is pretty absurd and would recommend watching as well.
The country is still split and his entire being has deeply impacted Colombia
People in Colombia have such varying opinions on Escobar. There are those who knew people who had been killed on behalf of the wars that Escobar caused, and others who were only touched by his generosity.
Even his death was clouded with such uncertainty. It surprised me to find that his funeral had taken place in a public cemetery where others could visit. Someone that was so wanted by the government and who had caused so much pain was still granted that right.
In 1993, Escobar was finally caught. He escaped from ‘prison’ because other cartels were trying to kill him (basically), and he was on the run for quite some time. Eventually, he was found and killed.
After his death, the government came out saying they had been the ones to get him. In fact, though, Escobar killed himself. It wasn’t until much later that that evidence was found and revealed. Even now, at the end of Narcos (sorry for the spoiler), it’s an agent that kills Escobar, which is just not what actually happened.
Given the complexity of his life and time in power, there is still uncertainty over various facts in the Escobar story.
Furthermore, there are so many people who were touched in one way or another by his actions.
His son and onwards
After Escobar’s death, his son, daughter, and wife had to deal with the huge consequences that he had left them. They had to sell off basically all assets to pay off other cartels, and they were lucky to have made it through the mess alive.
Could you imagine carrying the burden of being Pablo Escobar’s son? Reading this book gave me an enormous amount of respect for Juan Pablo. He could have stepped into his father’s shoes and continued the violence for who knows how long. Instead, he chose peace and to deal with his father’s mistakes, which have haunted him and his family for basically their entire lives.
Overall, it was a fascinating read. There are countless stories and crazy events that happened throughout Escobar’s life. His childhood, his rise to power, the drug wars, his time on the run, and the lives of his family after his death are full of high-stakes situations and complicated happenings.
If you’re looking for an interesting biography, this one starts out a little slow, but picks up and makes for a great read that also paints a picture of the happenings in Medellin and Colombia in general around the time.
Thoughts on this review/the book in general? Comment or send me a note :)
Full reading list here