How bad was Escobar?

Mugshot of Pablo Escobar | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was one of the most notorious villains of all time and is known as “The world’s greatest outlaw.” Escobar was born on December 1, 1949 in Rionegro, a small village close to Medellín, Columbia. He came from an extremely poor family; he and his brother Roberto were once sent home from school as they could not afford to buy any shoes. He briefly studied at Universidad Autónoma Latinoamericana but was forced to leave as he was unable to pay the fees required. This was the point when his criminal career began. He and his brother allegedly stole gravestones and sanded them down to be resold. He then moved into other crimes, such as street scams and stealing cars.

In the 1970s, Escobar was introduced to smuggling by Alvaro Prieto, who was a local smuggler with many connections. Escobar then began to distribute powder cocaine himself, meaning he would make more money for himself. Escobar also established the first smuggling routes into the United States in 1975. His infiltration into the drug market of the U.S. expanded exponentially due to the rising demand for cocaine in the U.S. By the 1980s, it was estimated that 70 to 80 tons of cocaine were being shipped from Colombia to the U.S. monthly. His rise continued when infamous Medellín drug dealer Fabio Restrepo was murdered and all his workers were told that they now worked for Escobar, making him the head of the Medellín Cartel, one of the largest drug cartels in history. As the demand for cocaine in the US grew, so did Escobar’s empire. Escobar and his brother were soon organizing distribution networks through Panama, Bahama, and South Florida, among other areas in the U.S.1

View of Medellín | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At the height of his criminal career, Escobar and his cartel controlled over 80 percent of the global cocaine market. Escobar was the wealthiest criminal in history, with an estimated known net worth of US $30 billion by the early 1990s (equivalent to about $55 billion as of 2016). During the height of its operations, the Medellín Cartel made more than 70 million U.S. dollars per day (roughly $26 billion in a year), smuggling 15 tons of cocaine per day, with a street value of over half a billion dollars, into the United States. The cartel spent over $1000 per week purchasing rubber bands just to hold stacks of cash together to store in their warehouses. Ten percent of this cash had to be written off each year because it would be eaten by rats.1

During his early life, Escobar learnt that police were open to bribes, but as he became more powerful, he developed his own policy: ‘plata o ploma,’ simply meaning ‘silver or lead.’ This policy led to the death of hundreds of policemen and state officials, which solidified Escobar’s reputation as a cold ruthless killer as well as a drug lord. Escobar apparently said, “better a grave in Columbia than a gringo jail.” Being extradited to the U.S. was his biggest fear. After multiple failed attempts to capture Escobar, the government offered a $400,000 reward for whoever killed him. This resulted in Escobar declaring war on the Columbian government. His wealth was enough to start this war, as he offered a reward to anyone who murdered a police officer. Over 600 officers were killed, making Columbia the murder capital of the world in 1991 and 1992.1

However, there is another side of Pablo Escobar that we often fail to hear about, as it is clouded by all the bad things he did. He was always willing to give back to the people of Columbia. Many people in Columbia still believe that Escobar did a lot more to better the lives of the poor and less privileged than the Colombian government ever did. Many poor people in Columbia felt neglected by the government, whereas when Escobar was alive they had someone to help them. Coming from a background of poverty himself, he knew how tough life was for the poor, and always shared his money and wealth with the community. Escobar made sure everyone in his community was taken care of. He provided work and shelter for those who needed jobs or residences. Even to this day, Escobar is referred to as “The Godfather” or “Robin Hood” by his people because of the invaluable contributions he made for the society. For example, he constructed numerous housing projects so that everyone at least had a place to live. He is also responsible for establishing and funding soccer teams and leagues in Colombia as well as building countless numbers of churches, hospitals, and schools across the country. He advocated education for the children.4

There are two completely different sides to the story of Pablo Escobar. Most people know the story of a ruthless, atrocious criminal that ruined and took the lives of countless numbers of innocent victims. On the other hand, by some, especially the working class in Columbia, he is thought of as a very respectable human being who made irreplaceable contributions and gave back freely to the community genuinely out of his good will to better the lives of the poor and less fortunate. A large amount of the working and lower class of Columbia are grateful to Escobar because of all the things he did for them. Escobar came from nothing and made something out of his life, and although what he did was illegal, he used a large portion of his proceeds towards good causes. Escobar wanted to make Columbia better and improve the quality of life for the people. Although he achieved this through criminal activity, he did achieve his goals. During the era of Escobar, Columbia’s quality of life was on the rise.5

However, the good things Escobar did do not make up for all the innocent lives that he ended. Some people think that the Columbian government is partially to blame for the deaths of the officers by putting so many on the front line to try to capture him. Escobar was so powerful that he had so many people willing to fight against the officers for him that many of the officers had no chance in a firefight against the cartel. It is a matter of opinion as to how people see Pablo Escobar. Most people see him as a major criminal; however, many people in Columbia still believe that Escobar used his wealth for good intentions.

  1. Global Events: Milestone Events Throughout History, 2014, s.v. “Pablo Escobar Dominates the International Cocaine Trade,” by Jennifer Stock.
  2. Global Events: Milestone Events Throughout History, 2014, s.v. “Pablo Escobar Dominates the International Cocaine Trade,” by Jennifer Stock.
  3. Global Events: Milestone Events Throughout History, 2014, s.v. “Pablo Escobar Dominates the International Cocaine Trade,” by Jennifer Stock.
  4. Ron Chepesiuk, Escobar Versus Cali: The War of the Cartels (South Carolina: Rock Hill, 2013), 48-50.
  5. Aldona Bialowas Pobutsky, “Peddling Pablo: Escobar’s Cultural Renaissance,” Hispania Vol. 96, No. 4 (December 2013): 684-699.
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More from Ryan Dixon


  • Pablo was a ruthless man with a mission. He did come from nothing to riches. Although, he did murder many people, he did help with the building of churches, hospitals, schools and injected money into the Colombian economy. He had a great love for his country and wanted to see his country prosper. One thing I am certain of is that even though what he did was illegal, if there wouldn’t have been a consumer he wouldn’t have been as successful. If you want to get rid of drugs, you have to get rid of the consumer first. I think many people believe that if you get rid of the drugs, everything else will go away but it is the complete opposite. I enjoyed reading this article and I liked how the authors input of Pablo.

  • My answer to the question “How bad was Escobar?” Is the same as it was before reading the article. Pablo Escobar was a bad, evil and ruthless criminal. While I had not known that he built schools, churches, and soccer teams in Columbia, I am not surprised by this, considering he was the wealthiest criminal in history. I do not believe that the way he used some of his wealth makes up for the lives of innocent people he had taken away, and the number of drugs his cartel exported.

  • Pablo Escobar will and always be remembered as the first major drug trafficker, he had many people paid off so that they make it easier to smuggle the drugs around. Reading this article added more of an insight on how big he really was. I always knew he was a big trafficker just not that big. He really did earn a lot of dirty money and get away with a lot of things for a while.

  • It was really interesting to read about a different part of Pablo Escobar. I was not aware of his contributions to Columbian society, I was only familiar with his darker side. I was also not aware of how much money he was able to make because of his drug trade. While he may have helped out the people of his country, I do not believe that it makes up for all of the actions that he had committed.

  • Escobar really innovated the drug industry. He himself was an awful and dangerous man but what he managed to accomplish was insane. I had never heard that they had to spend 1000 dollars a week just on rubber bands to hold the money. I am conflicted on how I feel about Escobar because of the different opinions people had. Was he a generous man who gave back to the Columbia people, or was he the ruthless drug dealer that killed so many people?

  • I enjoyed reading the article because it gave me more insight into the life of Pablo Escobar. I have been familiar with his notorious work in drug cartel, but after reading this article I was able to gain more knowledge as to how his operation was spread out world wide, and how he accumulated such wealth. It is a bit misleading how he was the most heartless human being yet one of the most caring individuals towards his people in Columbia. However, his legacy still reins today as current drug cartels are becoming more eminent causing more of a problem for our country handle.

  • There was a lot of information about the ruling of Escobar, I knew he was one of the biggest drug dealers to ever exist but I never knew the amount of drugs that he’d distribute. Its crazy to thing of that much drugs going into the communities and ruining lives. Escobar was a powerful man but its nice to know that he was not a greedy one and gave back to his community, although his goods do not out weigh his bad’s. Amazing article on this man!

  • This article was very entertaining and Pablo Escobar is still brought up into today’s current events. The fact that he went from not being able to afford shoes to grave robbing headstones, to being the leader of one of the biggest cartels in history is astounding. “Narcos” the Netflix series on his life really captures in detail just how everything played out, but reading this article just put into perspective how far he got in the drug world.

  • Pablo Escobar, a name I know very well. Many people know who Escobar is because of the Netflix original series Narcos. I know that Pablo Escobar committed an extreme amount of crimes in his cartel reign, but he also knew how to give back to his beloved country of Columbia. Pablo Escobar was the drug lord of his time; no movement could be made without his say so and although he was widely feared, he was also greatly appreciated because he gave back to his community in extraordinary was. Great piece!

  • Coming from Mexico, you still hear a lot about the cartels and the most recent of course is El Chapo. Escobar, however, is different. Both, of course, are in the drug business and are pretty ruthless. Both managed to strike fear in every person they’ve come across. I have heard, however, that Escobar adored his family, especially his kids. He was very loving towards the people who worked for him and people who were close to him. Granted, he did kill a lot of people…

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