This report provides an overview of Pablo Escobar as an archetype of Robin Hood. Specifically, the paper focuses on (i) Pablo Escobar as a noble bandit who retaliates against the Colombian and American government through his involvement in the trafficking of cocaine and how he uses his wealth to benefit the poor popular population in Colombia, (ii) a focus on Pablo Escobar as a hero of the popular class in Colombia through his civic development projects, and (iii) the pursuit of Pablo Escobar leading to his death.
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The information contained in this report was obtained from sources such as The World Today, Foreign Affairs, Penguin Books, Simon and Schuster, Duke University Press and Journal of Folklore Research.
Pablo Escobar is considered the biggest cocaine trafficker that the world has ever seen. Despite his death in 1993, the impact that he had on Colombia and the world at large is still being felt up to the present day. By the time of his death, it was estimated that Escobar controlled around 80% of the cocaine industry in the world (Abel 123).
To enjoy this success, he had influence over the local police, government officials, and most importantly he enjoyed huge support from the public. As asserted by Abel (1993), “The individuals who supported his activities were considered his allies and greatly benefited from the trade” (124).
However, those who tried to pose any form of resistance were eliminated in one way or the other. Due to this fact, the United States of America and many other developed nations from the West considered Mr. Escobar as a criminal and put a lot of effort to see him behind bars. However, Mr. Escobar was considered as a legend by majority of people in Colombia due to his generosity. This paper will thus critically analyze the two different sides of Pablo Escobar to have a clear understanding of the biggest drug lord of all times.
Pablo Escobar “The Godfather” of the medellin colombian drug cartel
The level of crime in Medellin had always been high all through the 20th century. However, the intensity of crime in this city increased during the 1970s as a result of the growth of organized crime. As Seal (2008) asserted, “Medellin was considered the home of gangs and organized crime in the whole of Columbia as a result of increase in the trade of narcotics and smuggling of drugs and other contraband into and outside Columbia”j (57).
During this era, the most common type of drug in Medellin was marijuana. Its trade within the city is considered as being the main source of gang activity. Cocaine, on the other hand, was not a common drug during this era not only in Medellin but in Columbia as a whole. This is due to the fact that the drug was manufactured in Chile using coca leaves that were smuggled from either Bolivia or Peru (Gugliotta 31).
Another critical factor that made cocaine not to be a popular drug in Columbia was due to the fact that Colombian drug traffickers could not have an easy access to the US market. As asserted by Seal (2008), “While the Chileans profited nicely, the market for cocaine was still not very big, so the industry remained small” (61).
The takeover of Chile by General Augusto Pinochet in 1973 resulted in the crumbling of the cocaine industry in this country. Pinochet vowed to end the vice of drug trafficking in his country, especially with regards to the trade in cocaine. The demise of Chilean cocaine traffickers paved way for the emergence of new drug traffickers from Colombia who would take this trade to a whole new level (c Gugliotta 24). Gugliotta (1989) stated that:
“The Colombians took over the trade at just the right time. They had the same easy access to coca leaves from Peru and Bolivia, a little trouble with law enforcement, and they already had established smuggling routes used to transport marijuana. Cocaine, however, was even easier to move because it was less bulky, less smelly and turned a higher profit” (25).
Towards, the end of the 1970s, cocaine had started to become a popular drug in the USA especially for the young party goers and also for celebrities in the entertainment industry. As such, the demand for this drug kept on increasing with time. The Colombian drug traffickers matched the increase in demand for this drug by increasing their production of the drug. Moreover, the success that drug traffickers enjoyed attracted more players into this industry.
Being a sensitive industry, certain individuals who were involved in the drug trade merged together to form cartels. However, there were usually wrangles within the cartels that resulted in increased violence which to some extent resulted in death of gang members. However, the highest level of violence was between members of different cartels in a bid of protecting their interests.
Furthermore, as the industry grew, its negative effects could be felt within the society. Thus, law enforcement agencies started going after drug cartels. This resulted in a lot of conflict between these two parties and as a result, a lot of lives were lost.
Unlike in developed nations, law enforcement in Colombia during that time was neither effective nor efficient. Therefore, a criminal could easily get away with the acts of deviance and violence that they might have committed within the country. As such, drug dealers and drug cartels had an easy time flourishing in Colombia especially in a city like Medellin. As asserted by Gugliotta (1989), “The Colombian drug traffickers had little to worry about from the authorities who could be easily bribed” (25).
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Most urban cities like Medellin comprised of reckless and unemployed youths who were easily sucked into the cocaine industry. However, unlike in cities such as Bogota and Cali, Medellin had a high level of unemployment, especially among the youth. Based on this fact and the fact that the drug trade was lucrative, these individuals were easily attracted to the trade. It is through this very same way that Pablo Escobar joined the drug industry and ended up being a legend within this industry.
Growing up during the period of la Violencia and being brought up in Medellin, Pablo Escobar faced a number of challenges that influenced his involvement in crime and drug trafficking. As a youth, Escobar was a chronic smoker of marijuana (Seal 60). The drug was readily available in Medellin and most of his peers were using it. As asserted by Gugliotta (1989), “Pablo Escobar looked out at the world through big, heavy-lidded hazel eyes and cultivated the bemused boredom of the chronic doper” (31).
It was his habit to sleep until left afternoon after which he spent the rest of the day and most of the night smoking marijuana and engaging in petty crime with his cousin Gustavo Gaviria. Their main motivation behind their involvement in petty crime was to make quick money, most of which they would use to sustain their drug habit. As stated by Seal (2008):
“His turn to crime appears to have been motivated as much by ennui as ambition. Escobar was just another hoodlum chasing the ‘paisa dream’ of wealth and social position, but preferring illegal methods over hard work. What set him apart was his ambition and ruthlessness” (61).
The early success that Pablo enjoyed from his petty crimes made him to become popular amongst his peer. Moreover, this success also enhanced his self-confidence and gave him the urge to participate even in bigger crimes.
In his early 20s, Pablo commenced stealing cars. The courage and experience that he had made him to be involved in carjacking activities even in broad daylight. After stealing cars, Pablo and his team would dismantle them and sell them as parts within Medellin (Seal 64).
However, this venture seemed not to be lucrative enough and Pablo started to find ways in which he could resell these cars back to the market after making a few modifications that included changing their colors. As such, he liaised with authorities from local government officials who gave him fake registration papers that made it possible for Pablo to sell these cars as genuine vehicles back to the market.
Pablo Escobar further engaged himself in other forms of vicious crimes such as kidnappings, murder, and drug trafficking. With the experience he had, his engagement in these activities was also successful. This greatly enhanced his income from gang activities, making him to become one of the wealthiest people in Medellin.
At his point in his life, Pablo could afford anything that money could buy including loyalty (Seal 66). With his enormous wealth, Pablo started living an extravagant lifestyle. For instance, he build his own private ranch that was 7400 acres big called Hacienda Los Nápoles (Seal 59). This ranch had a lot of entertainment facilities for himself, his families, as well as his friends. This ranch also had his own private airport that he used for various purposes, including his drug trafficking activities.
It is very difficult to have a clear understanding of the character or Pablo Escobar as well as his motivation (Seal 62). However, by critically analyzing the support and criticisms that he enjoyed, one can develop an idea as to the factors that motivated him to lead his life in the manner that he did. From a law enforcement perspective, Pablo Escobar was a wanted criminal both in Colombia and in the United States.
He was not only wanted for the drug trafficking allegations, but also for murder (Bowden 24). For instance, while he was under house arrest in Colombia, it is alleged that Escobar killed one of his associates after discovering that he was stealing from him.
In another instance, it is alleged that Pablo Escobar bombed down a Colombian domestic plane, killing all 117 passengers on board in the hopes of murdering the 1990 Colombian presidential candidate César Gaviria Trujillo, who swore to bring down the drug cartels of Colombia once elected into power (Bowden 31).
Among the dead were two American citizens, an incident that made the US government to commence an intelligence support activity in conjunction with the Colombian government to bring down Pablo Escobar. These acts show the extent to which Pablo Escobar was willing to go to protect his interests. (See Appendix I to view the graph showing the number of homicides alongside the trafficking of cocaine in Colombia from 1964 to 1997).
By looking at the graph, it is evident that the number of homicides increased sharply from 1983 to 1993, a period which Pablo Escobar was actively involved in the trafficking of the drug. The success that he gained from drug trafficking made him to become a very wealthy individual. Escobar was featured in the billionaires’ list of Forbes magazine from 1987 until his death in 1993 (Seal 69).
His wealth was estimated to be around $3 billion. (See Appendix II to view the graph showing the increase of cocaine use in America during the Era of Pablo Escobar). With such a strong financial base, Escobar could easily finance a number of activities to ensure that his business operated in accordance with his plans. This included bribing officials at various levels of administration and law enforcement. As asserted by Seal (2008), ‘It was easier for these officials to take the bribe or else they would be killed” (66).
Escobar and the Robin Hood principle
Robin Hood, is considered as a noble bandit due to his activities after he was declared an outlaw for killing the King’s deer. While evading capture from the Sheriff, Robin Hood survived by stealing from rich travelers who passed through the forest. Unlike most bandits, Robin Hood shared whatever he stole with his followers as well as other poor people who lived in the forest.
This act made him to be considered as a noble individual despite the fact that he was an outlaw. Similarly, Pablo Escobar was declared as an outlaw by the Colombian government due to his active involvement in the trafficking of cocaine (Bagley 81). Despite these claims, however, he enjoyed a lot of support from the commoners in Colombia due to his benevolence and generosity. The popular class appreciated his efforts, especially given the fact that they felt neglected by the state and were exploited by the elite class within the Colombian society.
The archetype of Robin Hood figure in modern societies is usually social constructions. In almost every society in the world, there have been social constructions of Robin Hood figures. Such archetypes are considered as social bandits in the sense that they engage in outlaw activities as a means of retaliating against the law and in the process, they get glorified by the individuals who are exploited by such laws (Gugliotta 18). Traditional bandits on the other hand, are only involved in outlaw behavior to serve their personal interest. As asserted by Seal (2008), “… social bandit is a reality that motivates certain forms of political resistance to oppressive regimes within peasant societies.” (59).
From a different perspective, Escobar was considered as a legend, especially by the members of the popular class in Colombia. First, people viewed him as a responsible family man. Escobar married his wife in 1976. Up to his death in 1993, he was a loving husband to his wife and a caring father to his children. During an interview, his son Juan Escobar stated that Pablo Escobar viewed his family as the most important asset in his life.
As Juan recounts, there was an incident where Escobar burned $2 million in cash just to keep his daughter warm through the night during the time he was on the run (Palacios 118). However, the civic development programs that Escobar was involved in played a critical role in developing his persona as a hero of the popular class in Colombia. For instance, Escobar spearheaded the Civismo en Marcha project, a radio show that aimed at educating the members of the public about civic development (Palacios 96).
Through this program, Escobar sensitized the members of the public to be actively involved in planting of trees along the streets and public places such as schools and churches. This project was also actively involved in the development and rehabilitation of sports facilities all across the nation. Escobar encouraged sports as an effective recreational activity.
His love of soccer saw him support a number of teams to participate in the national league and other tournaments. Escobar also conducted several projects in conjunction with the Catholic Church. These programs aimed at providing effective medical care and education to the underprivileged individuals within the society. Other programs aimed at enhancing sanitation and power distribution in slums.
However, the Medellin sin Tungurios (Medellin without Slums) is considered one of the biggest civic projects that Pablo Escobar was involved in (Palacios 104). Through this project, Escobar built housing projects called Barrio Pablo Escobar in Moravia, a slum neighborhood that was characterized by poor sanitation and insecurity.
This housing project is present today with approximately 2800 households that provide shelter to around 12,700 individuals (Palacios 105). It is the people who live in this housing project that view Escobar as their personal hero. On many streets, walls have been painted San Pablo (Saint Pablo) a message to show their appreciation for their fallen hero.
Persecuting “The Godfather”
Since the mid-1980s, Pablo Escobar went to all lengths while fighting for amnesty against his drug trafficking charges. Pablo also set up an anti-extradition campaign since he knew he could not have the power and influence over law enforcement agencies in the USA as he did back in Colombia. At one point, Escobar admitted to the President Alfonso Lopez that he controlled about 80% of the cocaine trade in the world.
He agreed to transfer his money from his Swiss accounts to Bogota and to bring an end to the cocaine trade in Colombia as long as his freedom would be guaranteed and he would have full control of his money. Despite the fact that the president was willing to accept this bargain, the US embassy and a number of high ranking Colombian politicians were against this. Desperate to get his way, Escobar organized a number of attacks against government officials and the agents who vowed to bring him down.
In his fight against extradition, Escobar always wanted his will to prevail. He was therefore ready to do anything within his will to ensure that his is not extradited to the USA for the crimes that he had committed in Colombia and in the USA. As such, Pablo’s principle was simple; if it was impossible for him to protect himself from extradition, he was ready to go to any extent to eliminate any individual or authority that would threaten him with extradition (Abel 124).
For instance, the American ambassador to Colombia, Lewis Tambs fled Colombia in 1985 after a car bomb exploded outside his residence in Bogota and one of the judges who was listening to a murder case that Pablo was involved in was killed (Abel 125). However, Pablo was always willing to turn himself to the government authorities only if he was not extradited to the USA and he would determine his terms for imprisonment (Abel 126).
Pablo went a step further and funded a public campaign against extradition. The main aim of this campaign was to argue that extradition was against the laws set by the Colombian constitution and that this act violated the sovereignty of Colombia as an independent state. In addition to this campaign, unknown people hired by Pablo wrote to politicians and judges in Colombia urging them to vote against the extradition campaign failure to which they and their family members stand the risk of being killed. Palacios (2006) asserted that:
“The communiqués denounced extradition as a violation of Colombia’s sovereignty, ‘the vilest of outrages,’ and threatened ‘absolute and total war’ against the political leaders.”125 Judges received letters promising the death of their families if they did not rule extradition unconstitutional” (54).
In November 1985, a siege took place where the M-19 took the Supreme Court hostage while demanding for the extradition treaty to be repudiated. In the process, a number of criminal files were destroyed including that of Pablo Escobar. It is due to this fact that people believe Pablo was actively involved in the planning and funding of this siege.
During this time, Pablo developed a negative publicity in the USA. The media, for instance, played a critical role in making him infamous by developing an image of a ruthless drug dealer who terrorized the whole of Colombia in a bid to safeguard his interest. As asserted by Palacios (2006), there was no shortage of materials by the media to generate stories that aimed at destroying the image of Pablo Escobar among Americans.
From this negative publicity, it was clear to determine the position that the American media had towards Pablo Escobar especially with regards to his involvement in drug trafficking and violence. It is as a result of this fact that the American government joined forces with the Colombian security forces to track down Pablo Escobar. This resulted in a long manhunt that ended on the 2nd of December 1993 when Pablo was shot dead by Colombian police in his hometown of Medellin.
Based on these perspectives, it is evident that Pablo Escobar had perfected the art of manipulating and marketing the social image that he had developed within the society. In this respect, he took advantage of his perceived social identity to realize his personal goals and objectives. On one end, he encouraged his image as a ruthless outlaw as a means of gaining power and control over his rivals, law enforcement agents, and the government.
The influence and power that he gained as a result enabled him to control high ranking politicians and judges who highly cooperated with him. On the other hand, his perceived identity towards the public as a gentle and humble individual who fought for the rights and interests of the poor played a significant role in enhancing his public support.
Twenty one years after his death, quite a good number of people in Colombia view him as a hero as a result of his generosity. It is as a result of this disparity that Pablo Escobar will be considered as the Robin Hood of the Colombian society.
Known as an infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar has been regarded as a criminal by some people and as a hero by others. His active involvement in drug trafficking and violent crimes has made the Colombian and the American governments to depict him as a criminal since his actions went against the law and human nature.
On the other hand, however, Pablo is considered as a hero mainly by the members of the popular society whom he actively helped to meet their basic needs of life. Considered as Robin Hood, it is evident that Pablo Escobar used these two different projections of his social construction to realize his personal goals and objectives, thus enabling him to maintain the power and support he needed to be successful in life.
Abel, Chistopher. “Colombia and the Drug Barons: Conflict and Containment.” The World Today 49.5 (1993): 122-141. Print.
Bagley, Bruce. “Colombia and the War on Drugs.” Foreign Affairs 67.1 (1988): 70-92. Print.
Bowden, Mark. Killing Pablo, New York: Penguin Books, 2002. Print.
Gugliotta, Guy. Kings of Cocaine, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989. Print.
Palacios, Marcos. Between Legitimacy and Violence: A History of Colombia, 1875-2002. Translated by Richard Stoller. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. Print.
Seal, Graham. “The Robin Hood Principle: Folklore, History, and the Social Bandit.” Journal of Folklore Research 46.1 (2008): pp. 56-72. Print.