Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pablo Escobar Tour and the Continuing Adventures in Medellin

Here you see rewards for Pablo and Roberto. Pablo is dead, but on Friday we met Roberto. We did the Pablo Escobar tour here in Medellin. Normally this tour has anywhere from 10-40 people on it, but for some reason it wasn't very popular on Friday so we had the tour all to ourselves, a private tour for the Shapiroadventurers. They picked us up and took us to a few places of interest, an old safehouse, the Escobar home, and Pablo's grave; all the while teaching us about the life of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel. It's fascinating how different perceptions and reality can be. For years the cartel was basically exporting cocaine and importing dollars, very little violence, and plenty of money floating around. Pablo had an amazing reputation for giving back to the poor. There are numerous stories about him building homes for the homeless, setting up soccer fields for poor kids, and even a free public zoo. Supposedly when Pablo died and the government took over the zoo all the animals except for the hippos died because the government couldn't afford to feed them. Apparently he owned two soccer teams as a means to launder all the drug money coming in. He was also friendly rivals with the jefes of other cartels and they would have friendly soccer matches with bets going into the millions. There are literally neighborhoods named after him because he bought all the homes for the poor. There are many who would say that he did a lot of good in that respect, as well as basically requiring all illegal activity to go through him. Supposedly kidnappings weren't allowed, and it wasn't until the late 80's that things started to get bad.

Here you see Sarah through the bulletproof window of a chevy truck. This truck was a gift to Pablo from the Cali cartel before they became enemies. At some point the Colombian government, as well as various American agencies started to go after Pablo, but many locals think it was competing cartels who wanted more business that took advantage of the situation and started to attack Pablo and the Medellin cartel. They formed a group and basically started recruiting people from Pablo's organization under threat of death. Meanwhile, assasination attempts were going wild. Pablo started fighting back, and the war in the streets began. This is when the Medellin everybody has heard about really earned its reputation, 800 police officers killed in one year, bombings, assasins, etc. This was not a safe city at this time.

Here we are with Pablo's brother Roberto. Roberto was supposedly responsible for the financial aspects of the cartel. For that he served 11 years in prison. We asked him how he remembers his brother and how he thinks others should remember him. He did point out some interesting items. Pablo was essentially a businessman who gave back a lot of his wealth to the local urban poor. He was #7 on Forbes list of richest people. He built thousands of homes, numerous soccer fields, had a free zoo for kids, and even at one point offered to pay off all foreign Colombian debts. That said, Roberto saw much of Pablo's actions as justifiable, their mother was killed by a bomb. Roberto is mostly blind and partially deaf, also the cause of a letter bomb. Earlier this year his house was broken into and a robbery was attempted, we saw the bulletholes. What choice did Pablo have but to fight back? Many people think that it got worse after Pablo died because there was nobody to enforce any rules over the smaller criminals who couldn't get away with anything while Pablo was around. Apparently this is somewhat true based on the statistics of the time. Regardless, it was a very interesting look into the life of one of the most loved and most hated Colombians of all time. His is an era in the history of Medellin that few will forget but has served to make the city stronger.

Anyways, tomorrow we leave Medellin and head to a small town in the Zona Cafetera, Salento. We will let you know how it compares to Boquete coffee-wise!

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