FRONTLINE: The Godfather of Cocaine
Air Date: February 14, 1995
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, Pablo Escobar, the richest, most violent criminal in history.
THOMAS CASH, DEA Special Agent in Charge, Miami: Escobar is probably the head of the largest criminal organization the world's ever known. Escobar was to cocaine what Ford was to automobiles.
ANNOUNCER: And more than any other man, he brought cocaine to America. Tonight on FRONTLINE, "The Godfather of Cocaine."
NARRATOR: Thunderstorms roll down from the Andes, but they still come to the cemetery in Medellin. They are retired school teachers, come to honor a man killed by the police in December, 1993. They believe he was the innocent victim of political persecution and police brutality. They come and pray for the man and for his mother.
HERMILDA GAVIRIA DE ESCOBAR, Escobar's Mother: [through interpreter] I think of the ingratitude of people. I think of the brutal persecution that was inflicted on him. He was just a man.
NARRATOR: When the teachers leave, two men with scarred faces appear and knock on the grave for luck. They seek the blessing of El Patron, the boss of the Medellin cocaine cartel, Pablo Escobar.
The story of Pablo Escobar is the story of the modern cocaine industry.
THOMAS CASH, DEA Special Agent in Charge, Miami: Escobar was to cocaine what Ford was to automobiles.
JACK BLUM, Senate Investigator, 1987-89: Compared to Capone and Trafficante and Lansky, this guy was way over them, head and shoulders.
THOMAS CASH: Escobar started the cocaine shipments. He started the international transportation.
RICHARD GREGORIE, Anti-Drug Task Force, 1982-86: He organized the drug industry to--to a point where it was an equal of some of our leading legitimate corporations anywhere in the world.
THOMAS CASH: Escobar is probably the head of the largest criminal organization the world's ever known.
NARRATOR: Few men have ever testified against Escobar and lived. The most important is Max Mermelstein. Today there's a contract on his life and he appears here in disguise.
MAX MERMELSTEIN, Ex-Cocaine Smuggler: I was the only American that ever sat on the council of the Medellin cartel. Living undercover and wearing disguises is necessary. There's still an, in effect, $3 million contract on my head. I'm personally responsible for bringing 56 tons of cocaine into the United States, shipped out $300 million of their profits. I also paid out over $100 million in their expenses here in the United States. And when I decided to cooperate with the government, Escobar wanted me dead.
NARRATOR: In the basement of Colombia's old national police headquarters, a strange museum preserves the memory of Pablo Escobar. Wax dummies illustrate the life of a man once elected to the National Assembly.
But Escobar aimed for the president's palace. For years no government could stop him, no prison could hold him. Before he was killed at age 44, Escobar had amassed a personal fortune of $3 billion. He was perhaps the most successful criminal in history.
But in his home town, the narco-trafficker is still a folk hero. Here Senior Escobar is Robin Hood. Pablo Escobar was born in 1949, the son of a peasant farmer and a local school teacher.
HERMILDA GAVIRIA DE ESCOBAR: [through interpreter] One day, when he was 2 years old, he wandered away from the house. He was very little and I found him next to a tree. He had a little stick and he was playing with a snake and he was saying, "See? I'm not hurting you." I think he was very sweet and he loved animals.
NARRATOR: When Pablo was 2, his mother left her husband on the farm and went to teach in a city school. Escobar grew up in Envigado, a suburb of the city of Medellin. The people of Medellin have a reputation for working hard, making money and getting ahead. Pablo was a happy child who loved soccer. At home the atmosphere was heavily religious.
HERMILDA GAVIRIA DE ESCOBAR: [through interpreter] We have a Christ in the bedroom. It's sad because you can see his blood and it looks real, the bruises and everything the Jews did to him. I taught the children about all that when they were very little. This made him very sad. Once I served lunch and Pablo put a piece of meat in his corn cake. The corn cake is typical of our province. And he went and said, "Poor man. Who made you bleed? Do you want a little meat?" This shows that he was very religious and very kind.
NARRATOR: Escobar was growing up in a violent time in Colombia's violent history. It was a time when 300,000 people were killed.
JACK BLUM: Colombia went through a period called "La Violencia," "the violence," in which two political parties waged war for close to 40 years.
NARRATOR: The legacy of La Violencia is long-simmering guerrilla war. Marxist insurgents control large parts of the country. Almost every day there are clashes with the security forces.
JACK BLUM: I don't think I've ever been in a place where so many people are so heavily armed and so quick to show you that they're heavily armed.
NARRATOR: In Colombia, rich children don't brag about a parent's car, but the number of their bodyguards.
JACK BLUM: The sense of menace and fear one has is being in a country that has one of the world's highest, if not the highest, murder rate. This is a country with a history of violence, where people are armed, where there's an expectation of a short and brutal life.
NARRATOR: In Medellin there's a shrine where paid killers come to light a candle before going to work. In a city of two million people, there are four murders a day. And this is where Escobar grew up.
As a teenager, Escobar was expelled from school and drifted into petty crime. Police have few details about his early career.
Gen. LUIS ERNESTO GILIBERT, Medellin Police Chief: [through interpreter] There are all kinds of stories about Pablo Escobar. The most common is that he started out by stealing tombstones. At that time, it was easy to make money from tombstones.
NARRATOR: It was a simple scam. Escobar stole tombstones from local cemeteries. After shaving off the epitaphs, he sold them as new. His first recorded arrest was in 1974 when he was suspected of stealing a red Renault.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: In a number of the conversations that I've had with Pablo, he'd go back into his early days as to when he was stealing cars for a living and, from stealing cars, how he graduated into taking contracts to killing people. He started killing people in his late teens--18, 19, somewhere in that vicinity. It was on contract. It was for salary. It wasn't because of meanness or anything like that, at the time.
NARRATOR: It was his elder cousin, Gustavo Gaviria, seen here in his trademark flat hat, who introduced Escobar to drug smuggling.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: The people of Medellin grew up in the smuggling business--coffee, electric domestic items, whatever had to be brought in and out of the country. Smuggling was their livelihood, growing up through the years. Cocaine became fashionable and they picked up on it right away.
NARRATOR: In the U.S., law enforcement was still concentrating on marijuana and heroin.
LEWIS TAMBS, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, 1983-85: Nixon had his war on drugs. Ford did. Mr. Carter did. But it tended to focus so much on Mexico.
NARRATOR: By focusing on marijuana and heroin from Mexico, the Drug Enforcement Administration created a gap in the market for cocaine from Colombia.
LEWIS TAMBS: Colombia did not solicit the nefarious distinction of being the drug capital of the western hemisphere. It came about by a combination of rather curious circumstances, in the sense that, first of all, there's the Mexicans who were very, very successful in the mid-1970s against both marijuana and Mexican brown heroin. And the drug traffickers, you know, began to look for someplace else and they wanted a nation which, first off, was in relatively close flying distance to the United States. So it all came together in Colombia.
NARRATOR: Escobar got his start driving coca paste from the Andean mountains to the laboratories in Medellin. He used to race his cousin to get there first. The winner pocketed all the proceeds. He was caught once with 39 kilos of cocaine, but the charges were dropped on a technicality, so at the age of 26, Pablo Escobar made the transition from courier to smuggler.
With the street value of cocaine worth $35,000 a kilo, a small plane could make big money. Escobar's flight coordinator was to be Max Mermelstein.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: In '75, '76, '77, it was just in its infancy. Within a matter of a few flights, a man was a multi-millionaire and the moneys were invested. Land was purchased.
NARRATOR: Before he was 30, he bought Hacienda Napoles for a reported $63 million. He owned his own helicopter and a private zoo and thousands of acres.
He hired a professional cameraman to shoot his home movies. He and his men posed in front of his proudest possession, a car that had once belonged to the gangster Al Capone. He saw himself as a future Al Capone. Alcohol was once illegal, just like cocaine today.
In less than five years, he had gone from car thief to multi-millionaire. But as a drug smuggler, Escobar still had a long way to go.
RICHARD GREGORIE: In the late '70s, there was a group of independent cowboys dealing in narcotics. By that, I mean that they were getting their own dope. They were processing it by themselves, transporting it and trying to find buyers here in the U.S.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: After Pablo did his own first flight into the United States, in order to brag about it and show everybody how big a man Pablo was, he actually decommissioned the plane and had it mounted above the entryway to his farm so everybody in the world can see that Pablo Escobar is flying cocaine into the United States.
NARRATOR: American drug pilots who landed at Escobar's hacienda were impressed by the grip he kept on his people and his organization.
FORMER DRUG PILOT: At the time that I met him, he was in total control. You got the impression that he was always thinking about what to do next or what to say next. And the people that were working for him, every move that he made, everyone of them would watch him. We met at a hacienda in Colombia and he rolled out the red carpet. He was very interested in making our stay as comfortable as possible and very intent on assuring us that if we stayed together, not only would our operation improve each time, we could have a long and prosperous association.
NARRATOR: The man at the controls of this plane says he flew 20 trips for Escobar.
FORMER DRUG PILOT: Pablo Escobar's outfit was probably the most efficient of all the groups that we worked for. The merchandise was always on time. We would take off at normally twice the gross weight of the airplane. For the first couple of hours, until you burned some of that fuel out, you were a flying bomb. Any turbulence at all would create an accelerated stall. You had to stay out of thunderstorms, if you were fortunate enough to be able to do that. If you were not, you didn't make it. There were a lot of people that didn't make it.
NARRATOR: Pilots who did make it could earn a million dollars a flight.
THOMAS CASH: You have to look at the pilots that were arrested in Florida. Most of them were arrested on their 28th or their 32nd trip.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: One crew that did 38 flights over a six-month period of time, every one of them came through.
NARRATOR: When, in 1979, Pablo Escobar struck up a partnership with Carlos Leder, it was a significant milestone in the history of the cocaine industry. It was Leder who persuaded Escobar to begin using bigger planes to ship bigger cargoes of drugs. To avoid American air space, they flew to the Bahamas where the cocaine cargo could be broken up into smaller parcels and smuggled into the U.S.
It was in the Bahamas that they encountered Robert Vesco.
JACK BLUM: Robert Vesco was one of the first world-class criminals who understood moving money and understood the industrialization of crime. Vesco is the person who taught Leder that doing cocaine smuggling on a flight at a time was not a good idea.
NARRATOR: So Escobar and Leder purchased an island off the Bahamas called Norman's Cay.
JACK BLUM: They would fly large planeloads of cocaine to Norman's Cay, store it in a refrigerated warehouse and then use small planes to transship it all over the United States. It was a kind of Federal Express operation for the delivery of cocaine.
NARRATOR: They were making so much money that they could afford to lose planes. The drug planes had to run the gauntlet of U.S. Customs, who had planes of their own. These came equipped with FLIR, Forward-Looking Infrared Radar. FLIR gave its operators a technical edge, but only 1 in 100 was even detected.
Escobar's planes were smuggling about 400 kilos of cocaine a trip. One flight could net $10 million. The bales of cocaine were off-loaded at remote airstrips or dropped into the water. High-speed motor boats made the final run.
JACK BLUM: Miami was kind of Wild West because it was the point of entry for so much of the cocaine, so you'd have great chases across Biscayne Bay in cigarette boats with Customs right behind them.
NARRATOR: As in the days of Prohibition, fashionable opinion was on the side of the smugglers. Cocaine was widely believed to be non-addictive.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: It was a harmless vice, as far as we were concerned. And the demand in the United States was so great that we just couldn't get it up fast enough. It wound up being the fashionable drug in the early '80s. Lawyers' offices, judges' chambers, movie stars--you name it. In the upper echelon, cocaine was the way to go.
NARRATOR: At the age of 32, Escobar was earning half a million dollars a day. But he had serious competition in Medellin.
The biggest smugglers were the three Ochoa brothers. This restaurant is owned by their father. His 4-year-old daughter is its star attraction. Outside the head of the family, Don Fabio Ochoa, sits beneath a sign that says, "Please don't shake my hand. Thank you."
There was also Jose Rodriguez Gatcha, alias El Mexicano, a gangster with an appetite for extreme violence. And though Carlos Leder was now addicted to his own product, he was still bringing plenty of merchandise to market. In 1981, the question for Pablo Escobar and his rivals was whether to compete or cooperate.
JACK BLUM: What these people were were a kind of loose grouping of business organizations--the Ochoa organization, the Escobar organization. And these different organizations began to work together cooperatively.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: We would bring in 400, 450, sometimes 500 kilos on a shipment and if it all belonged to one person and we did take a loss, it would be a bad hit. It would hurt.
JACK BLUM: They then began to mix shipments so if there were three groups in one shipment, each group would lose a third of the shipment. And it spread the risk. It diversified things.
RICHARD GREGORIE: And put altogether, they made this a major industry, as opposed to individual cowboys who were trying to do the business by themselves.
NARRATOR: Escobar and his new partners came to be known as the Medellin cartel. The cartel divided up the U.S. market with its competitors from the Colombian city of Cali.
RICHARD GREGORIE: The Cali folks operated primarily out of New York, whereas the Medellin people operated in Miami and they made a division out in Los Angeles between the two.
NARRATOR: Soon the Medellin cartel was running five flights a week into the U.S. and Escobar would be making a million dollars a day.
THOMAS CASH: The average person can appreciate how rapidly the money was made, but it was not unusual for $12 million and $13 million to be transported back and forth in private jet planes.
DEA PILOT: They're smiling at us.
DEA CO-PILOT: If you had a quarter million bucks in your plane, wouldn't you be smiling, too?
MAX MERMELSTEIN: The money was rolling in so fast and became such a problem because of its volume and bulk that just to make things go faster, we used to weigh it--you know, quick estimate. We'd separate everything in its own denominations. And one bill, U.S. currency, is approximately a gram. So we'd just package it up, weigh it, get a quick estimate of what we had and when we had time later we'd count it.
THOMAS CASH: They saw themselves as involved in nothing illegal. They were involved in a business and they compared themselves to the Kennedys, like in the Scotch business during the time of Prohibition. "One day it'll be legal. Then we'll have money. We'll be legitimatized and we'll be famous, like they are."
NARRATOR: Escobar and his partners were getting noticed. In Colombia, the rich are always at risk from kidnappers. In 1981, one of Don Fabio Ochoa's older daughters was kidnapped by urban guerrillas.
RICHARD GREGORIE: The cartel members all got together to get her released from the leftist guerrillas in Colombia.
NARRATOR: The terrorists were terrorized. The kidnappers found themselves being hunted down by a death squad called MAS.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: The initials "MAS" stand for muerte a los sequestadores. In English, would be "death to kidnappers." It was established late 1981, December of '81, after one of the Ochoa sisters was kidnapped.
JOHNNY PHELPS, DEA Special Agent in Charge, Colombia, 1981-84: The kidnappers were assassinated by the traffickers. In some instances, they were turned over to authorities. And it was effective.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: Pablo basically took control of MAS and MAS was in excess of 2,000 men, all of them ready to kill somebody on his orders. And with MAS, he now had more control than any of the other cartel members.
NARRATOR: There was no shortage of killers in a city like Medellin. The trademark of Escobar's hit men was a snub-nosed machine gun fired from the back of a motorbike. Young thugs with street names like Rene, Mugre, La Quica, and Zarco became valued employees in Escobar's multi-million-dollar business.
RICHARD GREGORIE: He reached the top of his business by making it clear to everyone that if he was crossed, they were going to suffer a violent penalty for having crossed him.
JACK BLUM: Violence was a trademark of the Medellin cartel and extraordinary violence was their special trademark.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: To Escobar, it didn't matter whether you were a man, woman or a child. If you were going to die, you were going to die. If he had to kill the father, he'd kill the whole family.
JACK BLUM: Mother, father, cousin, nephew, niece, children, grandchildren--you name it--all dead.
NARRATOR: What set Escobar apart from other cocaine smugglers was not just ruthlessness, but an ability to think strategically.
GUSTAVO SALAZAR PINEDA, Medellin Cartel Lawyer: [through interpreter] Whenever Pablo Escobar was thinking of something big, he would put little bits of paper in his mouth. It showed he was up to something--a murder, a kidnapping or a business deal. When something was cooking, he would go--[spits] That's what he did when he had to make a big decision.
NARRATOR: At the same time, he was a devoted husband and father who would interrupt any business meeting if his small son or daughter demanded his attention.
STEPHEN MURPHY, DEA Special Agent, Medellin, 1991-94: An intercepted conversation was obtained by the Colombian national police between Pablo Escobar, and I believe it was his wife. And in the background, while he was talking to his wife about family matters and things like that, everyday living-type matters, screaming could be heard in the background. And during--during this conversation, Pablo put his hand over the receiver and turned around and asked whoever was committing this torture to please keep the guy quiet, that he was trying to talk to his family on the phone.
GUSTAVO SALAZAR PINEDA: [through interpreter] Don Fabio Ochoa once said he was a man who would be a terrible enemy and a wonderful friend. He was a man of extremes and prone to violence.
GUSTAVO DE GRIEFF, Colombian Prosecutor General: We know that he order, for example, the eyes of some people to be taken with what they called "the hot spoon," which consisted with a spoon to take out the eyes of a living person.
STEPHEN MURPHY: Popeye, who was one of Pablo's most trusted sicarios, one of his assassins, one of Popeye's favorite forms of torture was to heat a spike or a large nail and then drive it into the victim's head until it reached their brain and killed them.
JACK BLUM: A man is tied to a tree with barbed wire and the Colombian people got his family on a cellular telephone and got him to say hello and explain what his situation was and then, as they listened, utterly horrified, tortured him to death.
NARRATOR: Now in prison and blinded by a letter bomb, Escobar's brother managed the finances. Roberto won't hear a bad word about Pablo.
ROBERTO ESCOBAR, Escobar's Brother: [through interpreter] They call him El Patron, "the boss," because in Colombia, people who own a company are called Patrones. And the poor people began to call him El Patron because he would bring two or three trucks to the poor barrios and he'd distribute food to people who didn't have any.
NARRATOR: Escobar's image as a modern Robin Hood was born in the slums that surround Medellin. There is a place here known as Barrio Pablo Escobar. They still say masses for Escobar's soul in the church which he built here. Music from the steeple drifts over 200 homes which Escobar built for the poor. People here prefer to forget Escobar's violent reputation.
Two of the first people to be rehoused by Escobar were Mr. and Mrs. Flores. Before then, they were so-called "throwaway people" who lived in a city garbage dump. Next to a burning candle and crucifix, they keep a picture of Pablo Escobar. Mrs. Flores says he is going to be the next saint.
Mr. FLORES: [through interpreter] He was a good man, an intelligent man, very kind to the poor.
RACHEL EHRENFELD, Author, "Evil Money": He built a soccer field and he sponsored a soccer team. He did a lot in order to help the poor. And he hired the local people in order to do construction, to run businesses for him, to teach in the local schools, which he built. He did a lot of good--much, much more than the local government--than the Colombian government did.
NARRATOR: Proud of his good works, Escobar commissioned a painting to celebrate his gifts to the people and city of Medellin.
JUAN LOZANO, Political Campaign Strategist: [through interpreter] Pablo Escobar was a great megalomaniac. He liked to make his power felt. He enjoyed it. His whole life was a display of power.
THOMAS CASH: When you have your own fleet of airplanes and when you have your own zoo and when you have your own stash of gold bullion, the next logical step is political power. It's true in this country, it's true in Colombia and it was certainly true in the case of Pablo Escobar.
NARRATOR: Escobar had created a power base for himself in the barrios of Medellin. He decided to run for office and entered himself as a candidate in the Congressional elections. In 1982, Escobar was elected as a member of Congress.
In one sense, he was no stranger to politics or politicians.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: There was a basic competitive nature amongst all of the heads of the cartel, not only in how much coke they could ship, but it was a game between them as to who could buy the most and the heaviest-duty politicians.
NARRATOR: For the next 10 years, Escobar could afford to buy almost anyone he wanted. Here a hidden camera shows a Medellin cartel lawyer delivering a payoff to a politician.
ALBERTO VILLAMIZAR, Politician and Diplomat: He offered a lot of money. If politicians didn't accept the money, they say, "I'm going to kill you, so what do you prefer? You prefer money or you prefer to be killed?"
NARRATOR: Alberto Villamizar was one who was threatened.
ALBERTO VILLAMIZAR: "Alberto, you are my friend. Don't fight again. It's impossible. They are very powerful. You have wife. You have a child."
INTERVIEWER: And these colleagues were Congressmen?
ALBERTO VILLAMIZAR: Yes, of course.
ALBERTO VILLAMIZAR: Well, politicians who used to work with the Medellin cartel.
NARRATOR: The new ambassador at the American embassy found it difficult to get the government of Colombia to care about a trade that was doing so much for the country's balance of payments.
LEWIS TAMBS: When I was ambassador down there, basically, the Colombians felt that it was not a Colombian problem. First of all, is that they didn't use it and, basically, it was going to the consumers in the United States. They were making money. And it was a U.S. problem, not a Colombian problem.
NARRATOR: One of the few Colombian politicians to take a hard line against drugs was the minister of justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla. But he was attacked as a puppet of the gringos by Escobar and his political allies.
LEWIS TAMBS: But there was a political dimension, which can be described, I think, as Hispanidad, which means "Spanishness" against the Anglo-Saxons or anybody else. One of the main pitches to gain popularity with the Colombian people was to say that cocaine is a third world atomic bomb against the imperialists, right? And basically, the idea is to destroy, as they would put it, imperialism from within, by its own excess, because the fact is, if our people did not consume this, they would not produce it. That's just the reality of the equations of the free market, right?
NARRATOR: Escobar was still not even a target of American law enforcement when he posed for this picture. But in 1982 there was a significant shift of policy inside the White House.
Pres. RONALD REAGAN: My very reason for being here this afternoon is not to announce another short-term government offensive, but to call instead for a national crusade against drugs, a sustained, relentless effort to rid America of this scourge by mobilizing every segment of our society against drug abuse.
NARRATOR: The DEA made cocaine a higher priority and began monitoring ether factories. And that's how it learned that a Colombian working for Escobar and the cartel wanted to buy a huge amount of ether and was willing to pay cash.
JOHNNY PHELPS: Ether, at the time, was extremely important to the manufacturing of cocaine simply because it's one of the basic ingredients for the traditional method and formula for processing coca paste to coca-hydrochloride.
NARRATOR: The Colombian buyer was in the market for 1,300 barrels of ether. He was told to try Elk Grove Industrial Park near Chicago's O'Hare Airport. From a nondescript building here, Mel Schabilion and his partner, Harry Fullett, were in the business of selling ether.
But Harry and Mel were not all they seemed. They were, in fact, DEA agents running a sophisticated sting operation.
MEL SCHABILION, DEA Special Agent: We purported ourselves to be brokers for ether and I told him that we would be willing to assist him in spending his $400,000 cash that he had with him.
HARRY FULLETT, DEA Special Agent: He came to our store and paid us $15,000 as a down payment to begin the 1,300 55-gallon drum order.
NARRATOR: Before the first 76 barrels of ether left for Colombia, DEA technicians cut two open and concealed battery-powered transponders inside. Escobar had no idea that when the ether left the plant it could be traced all the way to Colombia. Signals from the transponders were being picked up by a spy satellite and relayed down to a monitoring station in El Paso.
HARRY FULLETT: Well, initially, they left Tuscola and went down through Louisiana, through the port of New Orleans. It went on a barge through the free zone in Panama. From Panama, went to Barrantilla and then from Barrantilla, it actually ended up on a ranch of one of the cartel members in Colombia.
NARRATOR: The ether drums didn't stay there, but moved again to one of the most remote parts of Colombia. The signal from the transponder indicated a spot near the Yari River, deep in the densest part of the jungle, for it was here that Pablo Escobar and his partners had built a huge laboratory to process cocaine.
Tipped off by the DEA, the anti-narcotics unit of the Colombian national police set off to raid the location. The men were not allowed to know the nature of the operation until after they were airborne. The only American on the raid was DEA agent Rollin Pettingill.
ROLLIN PETTINGILL, DEA Special Agent, 1970-90: We took off at dawn on March the 10th, 1984. We flew approximately two hours due south. There are no roads that get into this area within 100, maybe 200 miles. It's an extremely remote, dense jungle. Approximately an hour into the flight, we started monitoring the transceiver, listening for bumper-beeper tones to appear. And they did.
Gen. LUIS ERNESTO GILIBERT: [through interpreter] We saw planes on an airstrip. I knew something big was going on because it was miles away from civilization. According to our plan, the first helicopter was to land at the head of the airstrip and drop off some troopers. A second helicopter flying overhead would give it cover.
NARRATOR: As the troopers landed, they found themselves coming under sporadic sniper fire. Apparently, the site was guarded by Marxist guerrillas who were being paid by the drug cartel to provide security.
Gen. LUIS ERNESTO GILIBERT: [through interpreter] There was intense gunfire in order to protect our lives and capture the place.
NARRATOR: The evidence videotaped by Agent Pettingill was astonishing. What they found was an entire complex of airstrips and laboratories capable of refining and shipping cocaine on an industrial scale. All this was in a place so remote that the drug lords had invented a name for it: Tranquilandia, "land of tranquility." There were almost 14 metric tons of cocaine, worth more than a billion dollars. There were also weighbills, receipts and accounts. It was not until Tranquilandia that the DEA even knew that the Medellin cartel existed.
MEL SCHABILION: It was the first time that the actual cartel was identified, that showed that all the various families, the Ochoas and Pablo Escobar and Carlos Leder and Gatcha and a number of the other major players of the world, would bring their raw materials, their raw cocaine, cocaine base and paste to a specific spot, Tranquilandia.
NARRATOR: The next day they found a second airstrip and another laboratory, then another and another. It was the greatest drug bust in the history of the world. Colombia's head of anti-narcotics, Colonel Jaime Ramirez, came to see for himself.
JOHNNY PHELPS: While the forces were still on the ground at Tranquilandia, Jaime Ramirez contacted me and told me that he had been contacted by his brother and told that people from Medellin had come to his home, his residence, with a message for Colonel Ramirez that if he would cease all operations in the Tranquilandia area and withdraw his forces, that there would be a multi-million-dollar payment made to him.
THOMAS CASH: He was Colombian to the bottom of his feet, a sort of a feisty, kickass type of guy. He was very proud of his country and he wasn't going to let drug traffickers run him or anybody else off the reservation.
NARRATOR: Ramirez's response to the bribe spoke for itself.
ROLLIN PETTINGILL: They threw five or ten gallons of ether into each room and lit each building with a torch. It was quite explosive, as we found out.
NARRATOR: As Tranquilandia went up in smoke, police recovered a death list. Colonel Jaime Ramirez's name was on it and so was that of his boss, the minister of justice.
Ramirez's personal integrity put the lives of his own family at risk.
JIMMY RAMIREZ, Colonel's Son: [through interpreter] The people that were hurt by the raid were not going to forgive and forget, so we had to be very careful when we went out or else not go out at all. My father used to say we were his best protection, so we went out onto the street with submachine guns, on the lookout for a car or a motorbike or somebody following us.
NARRATOR: In public, Escobar, the politician, denounced the minister of justice as an American puppet. In private, he put out a contract on his life. The government of Colombia was unable to protect its own minister. Death threats pursued Lara Bonilla in Congress, in the ministry and in his home.
LEWIS TAMBS: He was devastated because he had a wife and three little children. And what happened was, is that he called me up one morning and he said, "Lew," he said, "they're going to get me out of here." He said, "They can't protect me anymore and I need some place to hole up."
NARRATOR: The ambassador called America, where a rich businessman offered protection.
LEWIS TAMBS: And he said, "We will give him a safe house with bodyguards for 30 days or more, as long as he needs it. And so he's safe. You can tell Roderigo that it's okay." The next thing we knew, that evening, you know, he'd been assassinated.
NARRATOR: The assassins were little more than children. Escobar was later indicted for the minister's murder, but he never stood trial.
The assassination showed Colombia that cocaine was not just an American problem. The government raided Escobar's hacienda and for a while it cracked down on the cartel. But the real godfathers of cocaine were not to be found. They were all in Central America, where they were safe from arrest.
Pablo Escobar found a special welcome in revolutionary Nicaragua. Castro's Cuba was doing business with the cartel and so were the Sandinistas.
ERNST "JAKE" JACOBSEN, DEA Special Agent, 1973-86: Escobar was in his heyday in Managua, Nicaragua. He had everything going for him. He had the Sandinista government completely behind him because he was paying them such large sums of money and he had it made there.
NARRATOR: Escobar continued coordinating new drug routes with the governments of Panama, Cuba and Nicaragua. In all these plans, an American drug pilot called Barry Seal was to play a leading role.
ERNST "JAKE" JACOBSEN: Barry Seal, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was probably the most successful smuggler in his time. He had smuggled approximately 50 loads of cocaine into the United States. He made $1 million per trip, which was paid by Escobar and the Ochoas.
NARRATOR: Seal was such a flamboyant character, he even appeared in a T.V. documentary. But the cartel knew surprisingly little about their star pilot. Seal always used pay phones and beepers and never gave them his real name. Escobar and his associates simply knew him as El Gordo, "the fat man," and this is why the cartel did not know that Seal had finally been arrested and, rather than serve a long prison sentence, he had agreed to become an informant for the U.S. government.
ERNST "JAKE" JACOBSEN: Barry Seal loved living on the edge. He loved excitement. So when he began working for us, the government and DEA, he enjoyed it.
NARRATOR: Jake Jacobsen was Seal's DEA handler. Jacobsen still has the high-tech message encrypter which Seal gave him.
ERNST "JAKE" JACOBSEN: Well, after Barry started working for us, he made numerous trips to meet with Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel. During these meetings, Pablo essentially started telling Barry that he had met with the Sandinista, the Nicaraguan government, and that they were in the preparations to give the Medellin cartel and Pablo Escobar a 6,000-foot strip on a Sandinista military base. Pablo said that he had approximately 18,000 pounds of cocaine paste that he would like Barry to fly from Bolivia and Peru into Nicaragua weekly.
NARRATOR: Seal bought this old military transport plane to carry Escobar's cocaine paste. He nicknamed it "the Fat Lady" and flew her down to Nicaragua. He landed at the military airfield, where Nicaraguan soldiers were waiting to load the drugs and refuel the plane, but the whole operation took a dangerous turn when Seal tried to use one of the cameras the CIA had hidden on board his plane.
ERNST "JAKE" JACOBSEN: This camera was supposed to be in a soundproof box, but as soon as they took the first picture, everybody could hear it. So Barry being as intelligent as he was, he started all the generators inside of the aircraft so that--you know, to cover up the sound of the camera going.
RICHARD GREGORIE: And we have a photograph with Pablo Escobar helping Nicaraguan soldiers load cocaine onto an airplane to come back to the U.S. You can't get much better evidence than that.
ERNST "JAKE" JACOBSEN: The White House was extremely interested to show that, hey, the Nicaraguan government, the Sandinistas, were financing their--their economy through the drug trade and we had definite proof that they were doing it.
NARRATOR: In Washington, a DEA official was asked to go to the Old Executive Office Building and brief a White House official, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North.
FRANK MONASTERO, DEA Chief of Operations, 1982-85: Oliver North asked about the fact, could the investigation be disclosed to the public. And I think that related to the fact that there was a vote in Congress that was imminent whether the Congress was going to support the contras against the Sandinista or not.
NARRATOR: Oliver North was running the covert operation to supply the Nicaraguan contras, who were backing the White House in their efforts to topple the Sandinistas.
FRANK MONASTERO: Later, I had two telephone conversations with Colonel North. He called me to more or less go over the agent's head and ask that we do consider disclosing the investigation. At the time, I explained to him virtually the same thing the agent had told him, that public disclosure at this time would not be beneficial, that it would stop our investigation.
NARRATOR: But two weeks later, the story did appear in the press. It is not clear who ordered the leak and Oliver North has denied to FRONTLINE any direct or indirect involvement.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: But it led to Ronald Reagan holding that photograph up in front of T.V. cameras.
Pres. RONALD REAGAN: [March 16, 1986] I know every American parent concerned about the drug problem will be outraged to learn that top Nicaraguan government officials are deeply involved in drug trafficking. This picture, secretly taken at a military airfield outside Managua, shows Federico Vaughan, a top aide to one of the nine commandantes who rule Nicaragua, loading an aircraft with illegal narcotics bound for the United States.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: Seal just flipped and Escobar and some other people are starting to go out of their minds. They're starting to get very, very worried. This is something that they've never experienced before, the fact that they might have to face justice in the United States. Ochoa wanted him kidnapped. Escobar wanted him dead. I get a--get on the telephone. I speak to Escobar on the phone. Escobar liked to eliminate problems totally. And the orders were to kill him.
NARRATOR: Thanks to Seal, Escobar was now an internationally wanted criminal. At a Salvation Army halfway house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a four-man Colombian hit team finally caught up with Barry Seal. Seal's death brought the DEA's most important investigation of the cartel to an abrupt and bloody end.
ERNST "JAKE" JACOBSEN: Ending the case prematurely--we were so well-entrenched at that point that, in essence, we could have probably arrested 90 percent of the Medellin cartel.
NARRATOR: There was nothing Escobar feared more than the American justice system, where prison guards cannot be routinely bribed or judges easily intimidated. He used to say, "Better a grave in Colombia than a cell in the USA."
THOMAS CASH: Well, they had a lifelong fear against extradition and the ability of the United States to extradite drug traffickers from Colombia to our shores and before our courts became something of a Holy Grail that they simply had to change at all costs.
NARRATOR: To change it, the cartel brought Colombia to a state of virtual civil war. When terrorists acting in league with the cartel kidnapped the justices of the supreme court, government troops were forced to lay siege to the Palace of Justice.
LEWIS TAMBS: It was Pablo Escobar and the Ochoas who understood that the destruction or intimidation of the judiciary system in Colombia was the first step to taking over the entire country.
NARRATOR: The attack on the Palace of Justice came on the very day the supreme court was to have ruled on the law of extradition. In the fighting that followed, nearly 100 people were killed and all the files on extradition cases were destroyed. The slaughter of half the members of the supreme court was part of a relentless campaign of murder and intimidation.
LEWIS TAMBS: When I was ambassador down there, a judge would be assigned a narcotics case. Within a very, very short time, a bright, young, well-dressed lawyer would show up with, first of all, a briefcase in which he would lay a plain brown envelope on the judge's desk, right?
JACK BLUM: They'd tell a man, "You have a choice. You can have lead, bullet in your head, or silver, some money as a payoff. And it's your call."
LEWIS TAMBS: Then the bright young lawyer would reach in his briefcase and take out a photograph album.
JACK BLUM: There'd be a photo album of everybody in their lives they considered to be near and dear.
LEWIS TAMBS: There'd be a photograph of the judge's home and a photograph of the judge's family, of his parents.
JACK BLUM: Shots of their children, children coming out of their home in the morning, going to school, playing in the playground, talking to their friends.
LEWIS TAMBS: So the implication was very clear.
JACK BLUM: "Cooperate with us or you and your family will be dead."
NARRATOR: No honest policeman was safe anymore. Escobar tried to kill this man eight times. He is General Maza, then head of DAS, Colombia's equivalent of the FBI. Maza can still go nowhere without two carloads of armed bodyguards.
His friend and colleague, Colonel Jaime Ramirez, needed the same kind of protection because Escobar had never forgiven him for the raid on Tranquilandia.
MIGUEL MAZA, Chief of DAS, 1984-91: [through interpreter] Pablo Escobar was a paranoid with delusions of grandeur. He was a man without scruples. He fought just as hard against friends and enemies.
Pablo Escobar sent a message to Jaime Ramirez that he'd canceled the contract on his life because he said Jaime was no longer in anti-narcotics and he knew he was only doing his job. Jaime thought he'd keep his word.
NARRATOR: For the first time in months, Ramirez felt it was safe to take his family away for the weekend.
HELENA DE RAMIREZ, Colonel's Widow: [through interpreter] The 17th of November, 1986, was the first weekend the four of us had gone out as a family. At 4:00 in the afternoon, we left for Bogota. Jaime and I were talking about how we were getting on in years and how we'd like to spend the rest of our lives together. And at that very moment it happened.
JIMMY RAMIREZ: [through interpreter] I opened my eyes. There was gunfire. It was horrible, an absolute hell. There was blood. And I screamed, "Get down!"
HELENA DE RAMIREZ: [through interpreter] The car stopped. I got out and went around the car to help Jaime. I bump into one of the killers, who had a machine gun and I said, "Please don't kill me." All he did was to go over to Jaime and finish him off.
NARRATOR: Incredibly, there were still brave Colombians who dared to take a stand against Escobar and the cartel. The press found itself in the firing line. The newspaper El Espectador was car-bombed twice. Ten of its staff were killed. Investigative reporters, political columnists, editors who opposed Pablo Escobar paid with their lives.
The entire democratic process was under attack, but Escobar's death threats failed to silence the presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, an outspoken opponent of the cartel. Even so, Galan was frightened when he came to address a political rally on the outskirts of Bogota.
JUAN LOZANO: [through interpreter] We had a bad feeling. Here was the most threatened man in Colombia at night in the middle of a drunken crowd with no protection. When he got to the plaza, he got down from the truck and he walked to the platform, which had been put up in the middle of the square for him to give his speech. We were a few meters behind him. He got on the platform and when he stepped forward to wave to the crowd, they shot him.
There was gunfire and complete confusion. People were shooting from every corner of the plaza. Guns were going off everywhere.
NARRATOR: Democratic governments everywhere were shocked by Galan's death. The Americans urged the Colombians to adopt their own kingpin strategy aimed at targeting and hunting down the lords of cocaine. Colombia formed an elite force to hunt down Pablo Escobar and the leaders of the cartel.
THOMAS CASH: You find that people in organizations are what drives drug trafficking. If you can take those people out of the loop, you're successful.
NARRATOR: For five years, government forces kept hitting Escobar's 40 ranches and residences. But time and again, Escobar was warned in advance. Once they came so close that his bed was still warm.
ROBERTO ESCOBAR: [through interpreter] No, my brother wasn't the nervous kind. He didn't know the meaning of the word. He was funny that way. My brother was a cool customer, almost too cool.
NARRATOR: Escobar maintained a number of safe houses around Medellin. He always chose places on hills so that he could see if anyone was approaching. Emergency food, disguises and getaway kits were hidden around the house. If any passersby seemed too curious, they were killed.
Inside were caletas, secret compartments where he is known to have hidden as much as a million dollars in cash. Some caletas were big enough to hide a man for two or three days. In case the men who built these betrayed him, he had them killed. Police say that, for a while, three workmen a day were being murdered in Medellin.
ROBERTO ESCOBAR: [through interpreter] I went to see him once and spend the night with him at the farm. The next morning, we told him that the police were coming. He went into the bathroom, had a shave, then sat down and had breakfast. And everyone was desperate. "Let's go! Let's go! Let's go! They are coming! They are just over there!" He said, "Don't panic." He put on his sneakers and tied his shoelaces. Everyone was running. He just walk away real slow.
NARRATOR: Even on the run, Escobar kept a grip on his drug empire. As the crack epidemic swept through the cities of America, his fortune grew to $3 billion.
RICHARD GREGORIE: In 1982, the price of a kilo of cocaine on the streets of Miami, coming in from Colombia, probably was somewhere in the range of $40,000 to $50,000 a key. By 1988, the price was down to about $14,000 a key, meaning that they had brought in so much cocaine, they had driven the price down in the market.
NARRATOR: The money from drugs financed the car bomb attacks that ripped through Colombian cities. A new word was added to the vocabulary: narco-terrorism.
The bomb that exploded outside DAS, the police headquarters, killed 63 and wounded 600. Then, on November 27th, 1989, an Avianca jet blew up in mid-air, killing 107 passengers and crew.
MAX MERMELSTEIN: There were a couple of people that Escobar didn't want to reach their destination. I just testified at the trial of the individual that did place the bomb on the plane. Escobar is the one that this individual reported back to and he ordered the bomb placed on the plane.
NARRATOR: The state of Colombia had been battered and bribed into submission by the men from Medellin.
RICHARD GREGORIE: You have so much money and so much power in the drug dealers that it is now almost impossible for the leadership of the Colombian government to successfully deal with governmental problems without dealing with the narcotics dealers.
RACHEL EHRENFELD: "Narcocracy" is a term that I used in my book, Evil Money, to explain the change in the political system in Colombia.
NARRATOR: A new president decided to appease the cartel.
RACHEL EHRENFELD: President Gaviria, when he came to power in 1990 changed the Constitution the way the drug traffickers wanted him to. He changed the Constitution so to eliminate extradition to the United States. From then on, nobody was extradited to the United States.
NARRATOR: The cartel had come a long way in 10 years, but its leaders had paid a price. Escobar had seen Carlos Leder arrested and deported to America. He had seen Gatcha and his son die in a hail of police bullets. He had seen Fabio Ochoa's three sons surrender to the government and go to prison. Escobar's own family was in danger. Rivals had bombed his home and injured his small daughter.
Tired of life on the run, Escobar wanted to come in from the cold. Secret negotiations had gone on for six months when a government helicopter came to arrest him. They found him waiting for them on the edge of a soccer field at a house which overlooks Medellin. Then the helicopter took off and, for a few tense minutes, flew across the town.
The prison to which Escobar was flying was like no other. It was built on land that he owned and built to his own designs. Escobar's overriding concern was his own physical safety. Going to jail would save his life and force the government to be his protector.
The prison was called La Catedral, "the cathedral." Some called it "Club Medellin." The guards joked that it was not maximum security, but maximum comfort.
STEPHEN MURPHY: Regarding the guards at the prison, I would tend to say Pablo hand-picked those guards. We know for a fact that he paid them a monthly stipend just to keep everybody on his side. He surrendered with a select group of people and they were the only ones allowed to occupy that prison with him as inmates--quote--"inmates."
Pablo Escobar had a suite. He had a living room, a kitchen in one room, and the other consisted of a master bedroom and an office combination. The bathroom had its own jacuzzi. The prison itself contained its own discotheque, its own bar. The parties were known to be a weekly occurrence at the prison.
NARRATOR: A photograph in the bar showed Popeye, Escobar's favorite assassin, entertaining a local prostitute while a prison guard served them drinks from behind the bar.
STEPHEN MURPHY: He was known to have visits from family. He had a very strong devotion to his family, his immediate family. Outside of his personal room at the prison, he had a very powerful telescope set up which was directed to the building where his wife and daughter lived, and son. And he would stand there and talk on his cell phone to his daughter so he could look at her through the telescope.
NARRATOR: The prison authorities had turned a blind eye when Escobar installed phones, faxes and computers to continue his narco-trafficking from jail. But when he brought four of his lieutenants to the prison to torture and murder them because of a dispute over money, the government decided Escobar had finally gone too far.
STEPHEN MURPHY: It was decided that Pablo would be taken out of his custom-built prison and put into a normal prison in the Colombian prison system. And Pablo just flatly refused to have any part of that.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: [through interpreter] Attention. Urgent. Pablo Escobar Gaviria says that he will face death, but he will not allow himself or any of his men to be transferred to another prison.
NARRATOR: Soldiers surrounded the prison, but Escobar had bribed so many army officers that he simply walked out the back gate. Once again, Escobar and his gang were on the run.
Thousands of soldiers and police combed the streets of Medellin. Over the next 17 months, they carried out 11,000 search warrants and mounted 4,000 roadblocks.
Gen. LUIS ERNESTO GILIBERT: [through interpreter] No society lost as many policemen as ours did. Pablo Escobar put a price on every policeman's head. Officers were being gunned down on the street corners simply for wearing the uniform.
NARRATOR: The security forces were not the only ones hunting for Pablo Escobar. There was also a death squad funded by the Cali cartel.
STEPHEN MURPHY: There was an organization that formed during the manhunt for Pablo Escobar that was known locally as "Los Pepes" and that stands for "people persecuted by Pablo Escobar." This group, basically, turned the table on Pablo Escobar. They used his tactics to combat him and those tactics included them targeting his properties--anything that they could find. Fincas, ranches, whatever--they would target those and blow them up or burn them down. They targeted his attorneys, at one point, and I think they killed three attorneys. Unfortunately, they killed an attorney's innocent son.
NARRATOR: Escobar had shown no mercy in carrying out threats against the families of his enemies. Now it was his turn to fear that his son, his daughter, his wife might become victims of Los Pepes. Inexorably, the search was closing in on him, constantly forcing him to change his appearance, to sleep in a different safe house every night.
Colonel Hugo Martinez commanded the special 600-man unit which had been formed to find Pablo Escobar dead or alive.
Col. HUGO MARTINEZ, Colombian National Police: [through interpreter] Pablo Escobar handled intelligence very well. He managed to infiltrate everyone he could, especially those who were searching for him. We would often hear phone calls warning him about one of our operations up to two hours ahead of time.
NARRATOR: Foreign governments donated equipment. This van came from France and was packed with high-tech directional finders and state-of-the-art bugging equipment from all over the world.
STEPHEN MURPHY: Pablo knew that he couldn't talk for more than three minutes without them pinpointing his location. To combat this, on numerous occasions he would ride around in a taxi with his radio telephone. And obviously, by the time the Colombian national police had pinpointed that location and responded troops, he may be five, ten miles down the road, but still talking on the telephone. On several occasions, they came very close to capturing Pablo Escobar. It was very, very close that they came.
On December 2nd of 1993, Pablo Escobar was intercepted by the Colombian national police using their radio directional-finding equipment, talking to his son, Juan Pablo, who was in Bogota.
NARRATOR: Escobar had moved his family to Bogota for safety, but he worried about them all the time. His own family was his Achilles heel and, in the end, his downfall.
Col. HUGO MARTINEZ: [through interpreter]] That call was traced and it told us which part of Medellin the call came from, so we knew where to focus our efforts. We sent the directional finder to this area in order to listen for other calls and narrow the margin of error.
STEPHEN MURPHY: For some reason, on December 2nd, Pablo was not in his taxi. He made the telephone call from a fixed location. He called Juan Pablo again and spoke for several minutes, much more in excess than three minutes. Nobody knows why because he knew--we had heard him say that he knew he couldn't talk on the phone for longer than three minutes. However, on this occasion, he did, which allowed the police to exactly pinpoint a location, which was a row house. The lieutenant that pinpointed the location had the antenna in his hand, the mobile unit, and looked at the window where his indicator pointed to and saw Pablo with phone in hand, peeking out the window.
Col. HUGO MARTINEZ: [through interpreter] He had the telephone in his hand and when he hung it up, the lieutenant could hear the click in his earpiece and then we knew it was Pablo Escobar.
STEPHEN MURPHY: So they sent two of their officers around to the back side of the house. Colonel Martinez is instructing them, "Hit the location. Let's find out if it's Pablo. Let's don't take a chance on losing him," and five officers kick in the front door. And there in the garage is a taxi, a yellow taxi.
So the officers, they know that Pablo is on the second floor. They make their way up the steps. And he has one bodyguard with him. Shots are exchanged. One officer, as he was running up the steps, tripped and fell, which probably saved his life because Pablo shot at him at that exact moment.
When Pablo gets to the third level, he jumps out the window. He and the bodyguard are running across the roof of the adjacent row house. The bodyguard jumps off the roof and two police officers engage him in a gun battle and shoot him dead. Pablo heard the gunshots and realized that he was in the crossfire, so he's trying to return fire to the apartment he just escaped out of, in the row house, and he's also trying to return fire to the police officers on the ground. And they basically have him in a crossfire and Pablo Escobar is killed on that rooftop.
Col. HUGO MARTINEZ: [through interpreter] During our first operations, he was surrounded by 60 bodyguards armed with rifles. But in the final operation, we found him with only one man armed with one pistol and one shotgun.
STEPHEN MURPHY: It was such an exciting moment, at that time, that after years and years of problems, of drug trafficking and murder and extortion and kidnapping and so forth in Colombia and the world over, that it had finally come to an end with Pablo Escobar's death. The excitement of--it's hard to explain. There was a lot of hugging and back-slapping and high fives between myself and the police officers. It was just--it's like a burden had been lifted. It's the greatest moment there ever was in Colombian law enforcement history.
NARRATOR: Minutes after Escobar had been killed, his mother and two sisters arrived.
STEPHEN MURPHY: They elbowed their way through and one sister went up and looked at the bodyguard, who had died on the ground. And Pablo's body was on the roof. And she began laughing and looking at the police officers and saying, you know, "You have messed up again. This is not Pablo Escobar. Once again, you have killed the wrong person. You've done the wrong thing," and she was very abusive towards them and laughing at the police. The police allowed her to go on through her tirade. And after a few moments, when she started to walk away, they basically told her, "Look on the roof at the other body." And she climbed the ladder and then she realized her brother was dead.
HERMILDA GAVIRIA DE ESCOBAR: [through interpreter] I felt something I have never felt in my life. It was terrible. Since then, my soul has been destroyed because there will never be anyone like Pablo again.
JACK BLUM: In the end, what brought Pablo Escobar down was a combination of forces arrayed against him. He had his own men, his own lieutenants who he had turned on while he was in jail, so they got together to get him. Then you have the government, which had faced a reign of terror and violence. And finally, you had the Cali cartel, which was the competition, saying, "This is our great chance to be rid of a formidable force which is competing with us and, in the end, reducing prices and complicating our lives."
NARRATOR: Today the cocaine trade is dominated by the Cali cartel, by men unlike Escobar, men who have learned to stay in the shadows and stay rich. For Colombia, stopping Escobar's violent assault on the people and its institutions was a matter of national survival. But for America, killing Pablo Escobar was a deceptive victory in the war on drugs.
JACK BLUM: The death of Escobar was a landmark in the history of an industry, but it wasn't a victory, in the sense that it didn't put anything out of business. It didn't change the pace of trafficking. It didn't raise or lower the price of cocaine.
RACHEL EHRENFELD: The business is so much better that today the Colombians are trafficking drugs not only in airplanes, but now they have whole container ships and even unmanned submarines that can carry three tons. So business is better than ever.
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