Introduction: Roberto Escobar Gaviria, an entrepreneur in Colombia, is the brother of the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, and former chief accountant, "right-hand man and administrative brains" of the Escobar operation (Whitewash: Pablo Escobar and the Cocaine Wars, p 23). Roberto spent more than 11 years in a maximum-security prison in Itagüi, south of Medellin, Colombia. Escobar is author of The Accountant's Story: Inside the Violent World of the Medellin Cartel: The True Story of Pablo Escobar (2009), Escobar: The Inside Story of Pablo Escobar, the World's Most Powerful Criminal (2009) and Mi Hermano Pablo (2008).
While Roberto was becoming a world-class cyclist as a young man, eventually winning numerous national and international medals, coach of the Colombian national cycling team and opening his own bicycle factory, Pablo was embarking on a life of crime. From stealing tombstones in his youth and smuggling contraband, he eventually began smuggling cocaine paste from Peru into Colombia where it was processed. After taking over the existing operations of murdered drug lord Fabio Restrepo, the Medellin cartel's operations eventually expanded into exporting cocaine internationally, including into the US. Roberto reluctantly joined Pablo in the drug smuggling business – out of necessity, says Roberto – when the government began pursuing extended family members who were not involved in Pablo's business, even imprisoning Roberto's wife at one time. Roberto Escobar told the Irish Times in 2009, "I managed the telephones, the books. I never got involved in terrorism, or killings, and I criticised [Pablo] many times for that."
In 1989, Pablo Escobar was listed by Forbes as the 7th richest man in the world, his fortune of an estimated $25 billion amassed through control of as much as 80% of the world's cocaine traffic. Forbes wrote:
[Pablo] Escobar's biography from the 1987 inaugural Forbes Billionaires issue reads like a how-to guide for ambitious, P.R.-savvy entrepreneurs: from a lowly position as smuggler, enforcer and bodyguard, Escobar worked his way to the top, first by saving enough money to invest in his own cocaine business. By 1978, Escobar was moving about 35 kilos of coke a month out of Medellin. He took over a Medellin newspaper, became influential in politics, and successfully ran for public office. He built houses for the poor, soccer fields, and a zoo for the public. Eventually, he was indicted on charges of cocaine marketing, money laundering, and contract killing. In 1987, Escobar controlled an estimated 40% of the Medellin drug cartel's business, and had accumulated at least $3 billion over the years, Forbes reported. Escobar remained on the Forbes Billionaires List for seven years, appearing for the final time in the July 1993 Billionaires issue. Five months later he was killed.
When the Escobars ran out of banks in which to store their fortune they resorted to hiding cash in homes, ranches and warehouses and burying it in the ground. Roberto has written the organization spent as much as $2,500 each month just on rubber bands to hold together the endless stacks of money and that much of the fortune – they wrote off 10% each year to spoilage – was lost to rot and rats. Much of the cash, according to Roberto, has never been retrieved since Pablo's December 2, 1993 death on the roof of his home, either from a hail of law enforcement bullets or at his own hand – the stories differ depending on the source. Roberto says Pablo had long insisted 'a grave in Colombia is better than a prison in the US' and intended to kill himself rather than being extradited to the US on murder and drug trafficking charges.
As chief accountant with intimate knowledge of the cartel's financial details, Roberto described in The Accountant's Story the inner workings of their drug trafficking empire. The costs of maintaining their extensive multinational cocaine smuggling operation – including a fleet of airplanes and helicopters, private airstrips, mini-submarines, a virtual army of henchmen, bribery at every level, rewards given out for killing police officers and the cost of assassins – were enormous. Pablo also indulged in a luxurious lifestyle that included mansions and apartments throughout the country and even a private zoo.
Pablo had held political aspirations since childhood and was elected a junior congressman in 1982, a position he held for a short time. His bid for the presidency, Roberto believes, was his final, fatal mistake. Targeting presidential candidate César Gaviria, Pablo had a bomb placed aboard Avianca Flight 203 that killed 110 people – Gaviria was not on board the plane. Pablo was allegedly responsible for the 1989 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán; two other presidential candidates in the same election were also assassinated.
In spite of the chaos and destruction left in his wake, Pablo is regarded favorably by many in Colombia and beyond, especially the poor. Like a modern-day Robin Hood, Pablo had often distributed cash in poor neighborhoods, rebuilt homes destroyed by landslides and contributed significantly to the betterment of Medellin's impoverished masses through the building of parks, churches and sporting facilities. Roberto Escobar's books describe at length this kinder, gentler side of a man the Colombian government's "Truth Commission" accused of killing an estimated 20 people a day in addition to 457 police officers, 30 judges, a presidential candidate and the publisher of one of Colombia's main newspapers as well as helping to orchestrate a guerrilla assault on the country's Supreme Court during which half the justices were killed.
Roberto was imprisoned from 1991 to 2003 except for a brief few months on the run after he had escaped with Pablo and nine of their associates from the luxurious El Catedral resort-prison built specifically to hold members of the cartel after they had surrendered. After Roberto surrendered again, in 1992, he was held at the maximum-security prison in Itagüi. Since his release from prison in 2003, Roberto Escobar has invested the majority of his time working to perfect a cure he's developed for HIV, drawn from medical knowledge he gained through years of owning and caring for Paso Fino (or fine step) horses. He told the Irish Times: "We have found a medicine so that people in this world don't have to die from that illness, and in Colombia we have more than 100 patients totally uncontaminated now, who won't contaminate any other human being on this planet."
Roberto Escobar's The Accountant's Story has been described in the LA Times as similar to a "narcocorrido, a ballad sung to danceable Norteno-style music with lyrics that romanticize the drug trade. It's a hugely popular genre, and embattled officials in the violence-ravaged Mexican state of Baja California have gone so far as to keep the songs off the airwaves there. The Accountant's Story: Inside the Violent World of the Medellin Cartel is the literary equivalent of a narcocorrido – without the redeeming virtue of a catchy, polka-inflected beat."
Editor's Note: Roberto Escobar does not speak English. This in-person interview was conducted at his home in Colombia with the assistance of a translator. To aid readers unfamiliar with Colombian culture and history, Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel of the 1980s-90s drug wars, the media information to which Mr. Escobar refers and other topics discussed, more information to supplement that contained in the Introduction has been added throughout the interview (in italics).
Anthony Wile: First of all, I'd like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to sit down with you and discuss Colombia, the history of Colombia, where it is going and where it is today.
Roberto Escobar: Thank you for visiting our country, for believing in Colombia and for coming to my home. I wish you luck in your endeavours.
Roberto Escobar's home, which formerly served as a hideout for himself, Pablo and other members of the cartel, is in the hills above the city of Medellin, in the District of Antioquia, in Colombia. The house is also now open to the public as a museum, where guides bring tourists and Roberto often meets with visitors.
Founded in 1616, Medellin is the second-largest city in Colombia with a population of approximately 2.4 million living in 147 sq miles, part of a larger district of over 3.5 million residents. This beautiful city is in the Aburra Valley, which lies in the northernmost Andes Mountains in the northwest area of Colombia. In 2013 the city won the "City of the Year" award, having been chosen as the most innovative city in the world following stunning advances in all areas of life since the devastating drug wars, by the Urban Land Institute, Citi Financial Group and the Wall Street Journal Magazine.
The Wall Street Journal wrote: "Originally distinguished for its progress and potential, the winning city [Medellin] found new solutions to classic problems of mobility and environmental sustainability. Today, gondolas and a giant escalator shuttle citizens from steep mountainside homes to jobs and schools in the valley below. As a result, travel time for the majority of its citizens has been cut from more than 2 hours to just a few minutes. In this city, a modern underground metro system has eased pollution and crowding in the city's main arteries above, and glistening new museums, cultural centers, libraries and schools enrich the community."
Anthony Wile: Thank you very much. Now, let's start with your younger years. I know you are an engineer by background. Tell us about your engineering background, where you went to school and how you got your initial education.
Roberto Escobar: I went to primary school near Rio Negro, the town where the international airport is currently located, though during my first two years of education I was homeschooled by my mother, a teacher by profession; she taught me how to read and write and the basics of math. We were very poor and I had to go to school with holes in my shoes, walking four hours every morning to get to school, and another four hours to get back home. I used to grow vegetables I then sold on Sundays, and that's how I raised the money to buy my first bicycle. I bought it so I didn't have such long walks on the way to school.
My grandmother had a chemical factory that produced textile dyes and food condiments, among other products, and I used to help in the chemistry lab and in Medellin I began to study engineering. During my first year in the Academy of Sciences of Antioquia I built the first radio we had at our house, as we had no money to buy one, and during my second year, I built the first stereo we had. In 1957 television arrived in Colombia, and ten years after that (three years after I had begun my studies) I spent six months building our first TV set, which all the neighbours would come to watch. I received the highest honours at school for building those devices. During that same time I started cycling.
Anthony Wile: Ah, that was a question I wanted to ask. You were quite a cycling champion when you were younger, maybe better known as "El Osito" (The Little Bear). Tell us how you got your nickname.
Roberto Escobar: When I was finishing my studies, I received a teaching position and at the same time, a minister (who was an investor in a pharmaceutical company called Drogerias Aliadas [Allied Drugstores]) offered me a job. The company used to produce most of the medicines used in the country, and there I learned a great deal about medicine. Then I went to work for a company called Mora Hermanos, who sponsored my first cycling competition in Colombia. I competed in two Tours of Colombia, and I was the youngest cyclist to ever compete. That was in 1965 [Roberto won the Colombian national championship that year, the national championship of Bolivia in 1966, and achieved 37 victories in one year], and I was 17, almost 18. I later competed in international competitions and received a gold medal in the Pan-American Games.
Because I wanted to continue my studies and because my sponsor (Jesús Mora de la Hoz) had died, I retired from cycling and started looking for other offers. I became the cycling coach for the Department of Antioquia, working with Coldeportes and the cycling league of Antioquia. General Marcos Arámbula Durán in Bogotá offered me the position of coach of the national team so I went to Manizales, where I made twice as much as I was making in Medellin. There, with the help of some friends and engineers, we built a velodrome. I learned a great deal about engineering back then. I was sent with a group of cyclists to compete in Costa Rica where our team won all the first positions.
Back in Bogota, I was sent to Panama and other international competitions, all of which I won. I went to Germany to represent the Pan-American Confederation of Cycling, and there we started the International Cycling Union (ICU). When I came back to Colombia I started a company that made bicycles, in Manizales, and it was very successful. I took some courses on sports medicine, nursing and first aid and spent my time in the breeding of horses of Paso Fino ("Fine Step" horses known for their naturally light gait). I built the best horse-breeding facilities in the history of the country and had the best horse in the world, named "The Earthquake of Manizales." Among the horses I owned, there was a sick mare who suffered from equine anemia. I worked with a vet to find the cure for that disease in horses. That is what led to my study of how to cure HIV.
Oh, about my nickname. Once, in a competition from Medellin to Yarumal, the road was unpaved and it had rained all day. I won the competition that day. During the competition a car passed me by and splashed all the mud of the road in my face and clothes. The commentator of the race, who didn't know who I was at the time, said the winner of the competition looked like a little bear, because I looked like a little bear. Hence the nickname "El Osito."
An interesting article about Colombian cycling, including information about Roberto Escobar's cycling history and his Ositto bicycle company, "Pablo Escobar, Guerrillas, and My Dream Bike," Cycling Inquisition (Ciclismo y cultura de Colombia), is available here. Another extensive source of information regarding Colombia's era of cycling supremacy is the book, Kings of the Mountains, by Matt Rendell.
Anthony Wile: Moving on, let's talk about Colombia. How did the coca business get started in Colombia?
Roberto Escobar: At the beginning of 1913 (I think that was the year – I have the official document, a letter to the Bolivian government signed by the Minister of Health, saved somewhere in my house), a Colombian minister had the coca seed imported for the first time, two bags, from Bolivia. So the Colombian government was the first importer of the seed and we previously had no coca in Colombia.
Anthony Wile: Interesting. That's the same year the Federal Reserve was founded in the United States. I wonder if they were somehow involved in funding the purchase of the seeds!
Roberto Escobar: I don't know. Those first seeds went bad and some more seeds had to be imported and this time a Bolivian technician was sent to oversee the growing of the seeds.
Anthony Wile: Was it used more for medicinal purposes at the time?
Roberto Escobar: I imagine it had many uses, seeing as they even used it for carbonated beverages. Many people saw different opportunities for the coca leaf.
Anthony Wile: Which was normal back then. It's all very interesting, because when you mention the word "cocaine" in the world, Bolivia is not the name that comes to the top. It's Colombia. Why do you think Colombia became the most prominent producer of cocaine, even more so than Bolivia or Peru or Ecuador? Why Colombia?
Roberto Escobar: Because Colombians created cocaine and more importantly, the cocaine business.
Anthony Wile: When did it really start becoming an international business?
Roberto Escobar: I think it was in the early '70s.
Anthony Wile: And that was just in the early stages?
Roberto Escobar: I think so.
Anthony Wile: Were you involved at the very beginning, at the time? When did you become involved in that industry?
Roberto Escobar: I can't answer that question. I paid all my dues. Whatever I say could be taken as an apology of criminal acts, and it could lead to trouble.
Roberto has been jailed twice. The first time, from 1991-92, he and his brother Pablo turned themselves in to the government just after the country banned extraditions, in exchange for reduced jail time. The US was heavily pressuring Colombia to extradite Pablo Escobar to the US to face murder and drug trafficking charges. LatinAmericanHistory.about.com describes the situation and conditions under which both Pablo and Roberto first were incarcerated:
In 1991, due to increasing pressure to extradite Escobar, the Colombian government and Escobar's lawyers came up with an interesting arrangement: Escobar would turn himself in and serve a five-year jail term. In return, he would build his own prison and would not be extradited to the United States or anywhere else. The prison, La Catedral, was an elegant fortress which featured a Jacuzzi, a waterfall, a full bar and a soccer field. In addition, Escobar had negotiated the right to select his own "guards." He ran his empire from inside La Catedral, giving orders by telephone. There were no other prisoners in La Catedral. Today, La Catedral is in ruins, hacked to pieces by treasure hunters looking for hidden Escobar loot.
Everyone knew that Escobar was still running his operation from La Catedral, but in July of 1992, it came out that Escobar had ordered some disloyal underlings brought to his 'prison,' where they were tortured and killed. This was too much for even the Colombian government, and plans were made to transfer Escobar to a normal prison. Fearing he could be extradited, Escobar escaped and went into hiding. A massive manhunt was organized, with help from the United States Government. By late 1992, there were two organizations searching for him: the Search Bloc, a special, US-trained Colombian task force, and "Los Pepes," a shadowy organization of Escobar's enemies, made up of family members of his victims and financed by Escobar's main business rival, the Cali Cartel.
Shortly before Pablo's death, Roberto was imprisoned again after turning himself in, this time in the maximum-security prison in Itagüi, from 1992 until 2003.
According to Harvey F. Kline in his book, Historical Dictionary of Colombia (2012), "Many criminals from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN), the Medellin cartel, and the Cali cartel have been imprisoned [at Itigui prison]." In the years since Escobar's imprisonment the prison has been utilized to hold numerous drug lords and paramilitary forces members.
Anthony Wile: When did the United States become more concerned about cocaine production in Colombia? When did they start to put pressure on the country?
Roberto Escobar: I think it all began around 1985, more or less, 15 years after the business started.
Anthony Wile: And at that time, were they focused on the entire industry or were they focused just on certain people in the industry?
Roberto Escobar: I imagine they were concerned about many things. In the first place, because of the drug use within the U.S.; secondly, because of the money that was being brought into the country; and thirdly, because the business started involving politics, and that created problems for the U.S, Colombia and all the world – basically corruption, among other problems.
Anthony Wile: Correct. The war on drugs is now considered by many to be a total failure. Would you agree with that?
Roberto Escobar: No, I wouldn't say it's a complete failure. The Colombian government has fiercely attacked the drug dealing business, which is impossible to eradicate since there are always users of the product. An effort should be made to stop the use of drugs and to stop the production of drugs in the world. If the use and the production stop, the business will end.
Anthony Wile: But prohibition has never worked. All it does is make a black market blacker, whether it's marijuana or cocaine or alcohol. If the demand is there, people will supply it, and they're making unfathomable sums of money primarily because it is made illegal by the government, which drives up prices and leads to rampant corruption and underworld violence. When I say the war on drugs is a failure I mean it hasn't stopped the appetite for drugs in the United States or around the world and the violence and corruptions still exists.
Roberto Escobar: The war on drugs doesn't stop the demand, but it can stop the corruption and the casualties of the drug dealing business. But there is something to pay attention to: When something is prohibited, people want it even more. And if you're addicted to cigarettes, alcohol or drugs, you'll look for your fix. For example, I don't use tobacco or alcohol or drugs, just the medicines prescribed by my doctor. But I don't like any of those things.
Anthony Wile: Civil libertarians believe that personal responsibility is most important, and that everyone is responsible for what they do with their lives – what they do, what they eat, what they ingest, where they work, why they do what they do – and education, starting with children, is the only way to stop the use of substances that are harmful, alcohol included. Would you agree that education is the way to enhance personal responsibility when it comes to drugs?
Roberto Escobar: I was going to answer your question even before you'd asked it.
Anthony Wile: Perfect.
Roberto Escobar: The first thing the world needs to do is teach the youth. Prepare them to say no to drugs, or alcohol or tobacco or things that are harmful. But there is something worse: chemicals used to grow food, used in the raising of chickens, all those things that are harmful and that we consume everyday. If we keep going this way, cancer will never be stopped, because we are all being infected everyday. That's even more dangerous than drugs.
Anthony Wile: So you would agree that it is somewhat hypocritical that we have governments involved in prohibiting the ingestion of certain drugs, and at the same time we have large conglomerates like Monsanto engineering genetically modified foods that have all kinds of purported side effects and problems for human beings? Is it hypocritical?
Roberto Escobar: No. Perhaps governments haven't realised we have that problem. And perhaps people around the world haven't realised, either. There are two things we need to do: improve the quality of the environment and get rid of harmful chemicals. Our lives depend on it.
Anthony Wile: Similar to what happens with the cocaine trade and the corruption of law enforcement officers and politicians, isn't it possible that organizations like the FDA and politicians involved with these conglomerates like Monsanto have the same kind of corruption, only more well hidden?
Roberto Escobar: Well, corruption exists all over the world. But the truth is I have no knowledge of the topic, so I can't discuss it. The only thing I know is that we are all suffering the consequences of harmful chemicals and that we must find a healthier lifestyle. I think the most important problems are those: the quality of our environment, the use of harmful chemicals and the abuse of harmful drugs.
Anthony Wile: And once again, that's achieved through education and the adoption of personal responsibility, which is the cornerstone of liberty. Now, how did you go from engineering and cycling to the cocaine business? Was it the lure of the money? Was it the opportunity? Was it because of your brother?
Roberto Escobar: None of the above. When my brother became involved in politics, our family started being persecuted. One day I was warned by a politician from Manizales that the police were looking for me, that they were going to kill me, and told me to leave the city. Four days later, a group of policemen came to my house allegedly to kill me. I had to flee. I came to Medellin and left everything behind. One of my sons was hit by a cop and lost a couple of teeth when he fell, and my wife was put in prison.
Anthony Wile: When was this?
Roberto Escobar: In the '80s. At the same time, the wife of a cousin of mine was put in prison. And she had nothing to do with the business. I had nothing to do with the business back then. I was a known person, a known cyclist. People knew me in Manizales as a sportsman, as a worker, as the owner of a company that made bicycles. The father of the Ochoa brothers was also put in prison for no reason and the same happened with all of our families. They were all persecuted.
Anthony Wile: What were the names of these families?
Roberto Escobar: All the people involved with politics – leave it at that.
Anthony Wile: Was it known by the police that many prominent politicians and judges were involved in assisting families in the cocaine business?
Roberto Escobar: I shouldn't talk about those things.
Anthony Wile: There are some misconceptions about Pablo. When I was visiting with you a couple of years ago you told me the way he died was misreported. It was surprising. Could you talk about what really happened in the end?
Roberto Escobar: He went up to the roof, and when he saw himself surrounded he decided to take his own life. He shot himself in the ear because he knew he had no way out. Besides, he had already said many times he would do that, that the day he found himself surrounded he would take his own life, that it was a better way to go than being killed by someone else.
Anthony Wile: And his bodyguard went with him to the roof. He was a loyal bodyguard and a long-time friend. He insisted in going with Pablo. Is that correct?
Roberto Escobar: Yes. He was killed by the police. Not Pablo.
Anthony Wile: Who was there in the final moments before Pablo's death?
Roberto Escobar: At the last dinner there was Limon (Pablo's bodyguard, Alvaro de Jesús Agudelo), my cousin and Pablo.
Anthony Wile: What was the mindset of Pablo and the family at the time, knowing that they were being basically hunted? How were the last three or four hours of this?
Roberto Escobar: I don't want to talk about this right now. I'm using that as a scene for an upcoming documentary.
Anthony Wile: Tell us about what affected your eyesight.
Roberto Escobar: I was warned by a politician from Manizales that people were trying to harm me even before I got involved with the business, only because I was my brother's brother. After that I turned myself in twice.
Again from the New York Times, regarding the second surrender: "BOGOTA, Colombia, Oct. 8— Three leaders of the Medellin cocaine trafficking ring, including the brother of its fugitive leader, surrendered to the authorities today, stirring expectations that the ringleader, Pablo Escobar, would also give himself up.
Roberto Escobar and two other lieutenants in the Medellin organization, Juan Jairo Velasquez and Otoniel Gonzalez, said they were surrendering to avoid police persecution."
While I was doing my time in the maximum-security prison in Itagüi someone sent me a letter bomb.
The New York Times reported on December 19, 1993, "Escobar's Brother Injured by Letter Bomb in Prison":
The elder brother of Pablo Escobar was injured today by a letter bomb in his prison cell.
"Roberto Escobar is in a state of consciousness with multiple injuries from an explosion," a hospital spokeswoman told local radio. She added that he would undergo surgery on his eye and that his injuries had "put his life in danger." She said the prognosis was not satisfactory.
Mr. Escobar was rushed to the Las Vegas medical clinic in the south of Medellin after a letter bomb exploded in his cell at the Itagüi maximum security prison during visiting hours this afternoon, the Caracol radio network reported.
The network said that the letter bomb, which had arrived by mail addressed to Roberto Escobar, also injured two prison guards. It said that Mr. Escobar also suffered injuries to his face, abdomen and hands. …
Roberto Escobar had asked prison authorities for protection against possible attacks.
A paramilitary group called People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar had declared war against Pablo Escobar and his cartel last February to avenge car bombings attributed to the Medellin drug cartel.
The group later threatened and was believed to have killed many suspected Escobar associates. It also was considered responsible for destroying some of the drug cartel owner's properties.
Pablo Escobar had often accused the rival Cali cartel of supporting the paramilitary group. The leaders of the rival cartel took advantage of Pablo Escobar's weakness in recent years to win control of more than 70 percent of the cocaine smuggled to the United States.
Pablo Escobar had been on the run since July 1992, when he escaped with nine of his men, including his brother, from La Catedral prison.
Roberto Escobar had later surrendered and had been returned to prison.
Anthony Wile: How did the bomb get into the prison?
Roberto Escobar: There were four checkpoints in the prison. One belonged to DAS [Administrative Department of Security, the Colombian state intelligence and security service], another to the army, another to the police and another from the prison itself. There was an X-ray machine, all our correspondence was ripped open before it ever reached us, our food was inspected and all visitors were frisked before entering so I imagine there was an inside job in the government to have that letter sent to me, as that day I received a package from the District Attorney's office which contained the bomb. The worst thing is that after the explosion they left me there bleeding to death through my nose, my mouth, my eyes.
Anthony Wile: Why do you think they did that?
Roberto Escobar: Our families were being persecuted by the government. The worst thing is that there was not even an investigation and no one was sentenced for the crime.
Anthony Wile: Regarding your eyesight and your hearing, what was the damage?
Roberto Escobar: I lost my right eye and can only see a bit through the left one. I lost hearing completely on my right side, and can hear partially on my left side.
Anthony Wile: Was Pablo in the same prison at the same time?
Roberto Escobar: No. My incident happened 16 days after Pablo's death.
Anthony Wile: So you were actually in prison when Pablo died?
Roberto Escobar: Yes.
Anthony Wile: Tell us about the other side of this, in terms of Pablo and yourself. Today in Envigado and other parts of Colombia there are still quite a few people who have very fond memories of Pablo. Tell us why.
Roberto Escobar: Pablo built an entire neighbourhood for the poorest people in the city and 12,000 people live there right now. He took these people from the misery they were living in and put them under a roof. They used to eat garbage, they lived in slums, they lived with vultures and rats, they had no water or bathrooms, no medicines. Then Pablo built the neighbourhood and provided decent houses and gave them beds, refrigerators, everything they needed to have a decent start in life.
Anthony Wile: How is your life today? Your family life? Are you married? Do you have children? Do people leave you alone? Do you enjoy your life and do as you please?
Roberto Escobar: I live in peace and work for people living with HIV. I feel very satisfied for being able to help humanity. I was married twice and have five children, two from the first marriage and three from the second.
Roberto's life has not been entirely peaceful since his release from prison. On October 1, 2010, Fox News reported an attempted kidnap of Roberto.
"Colombian police foiled an attempt to abduct the brother of slain narco kingpin Pablo Escobar, authorities said Friday.
Roberto Escobar was traveling with family and bodyguards near his home in Medellin Thursday night when they were intercepted by would-be kidnappers, Police Gen. Jesus Guatibonza said.
Around the same time, police received anonymous phone tips about a possible kidnapping attempt, according to Guatibonza. Officers were dispatched to the route Escobar habitually uses to get home and arrived while the kidnapping attempt was in progress.
Police killed one suspect and wounded another, who was taken into custody. Two officers were also wounded.
Guatibonza said the kidnappers were believed to be from a band of common criminals.
Escobar's comment, "I … work for people living with HIV. I feel very satisfied for being able to help humanity," is further explained in a 2009 Metro UK Interview when he explained why he had written Escobar, published that year: "I am dedicated to finding a cure for people with HIV and Aids so this book is to raise funds to patent the product we've been working on. I've been involved in this investigation since 1987, ever since one of my horses developed a disease very similar to the Aids virus. So far we have more than 100 patients who now won't contaminate anyone else."
Anthony Wile: Now that you're seeing what's happening in the U.S. and Canada regarding the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, sometimes recreational purposes, how do you feel about this? What do you think about the medicinal benefits of marijuana?
Roberto Escobar: There is scientific proof of that. Marijuana has its medicinal benefits. I think that is the basis of its legalization. I agree with it. The damage is done not only by the drug, but the profits of the business that corrupt the different branches of power: police, politics, banks, etc., all the people linked to the product.
Anthony Wile: Yes. And by legalizing it for medical purposes many people have access to medicines that are not being produced by the big pharmaceutical companies and that are naturally growing and that provide benefits. Would you agree that's a good thing?
Roberto Escobar: I understand some doctors are prescribing marijuana to people in pain. I think marijuana has medicinal benefits. I've talked to a woman who suffers from pain in her spine and has found marijuana to be helpful.
On a related note, I produce a treatment for patients that are HIV positive. I'm working on the patent.
Escobar filed a worldwide PCT patent application on June 27, 2012, as noted at WIPO:
RONILU DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Miami, FL; PREVENTION AND TREATMENT OF HIV INFECTION
ABSTRACT: A pharmaceutical composition for preventing and treating HIV infection includes an active ingredient made by a process involving a series of intra- and inter-species blood transfers made among male and female animals. The process modifies the components of blood in the animals such that the blood from the last animal in the series of transfers can be used as the active ingredient in a pharmaceutical composition which, when administered to an HIV-infected human subject, can eliminate any detectable HIV in the subject.
SUMMARY: The invention relates to the development of an entirely new therapy for preventing and treating HIV infection. The therapy is based on the surprising discovery that a series of intra- and inter-species blood transfers made among male and female animals modifies the components of blood in the animals such that the blood from the last animal in the series of transfers can be used as the active ingredient in a pharmaceutical composition which, when administered to an HIV-infected human subject, can eliminate any detectable HIV in the subject. Within 40-70 days after a single administration of this therapy to several different HIV+ subjects, the virus was not detectable by ELISA or Western blot in any of the subjects.
Anthony Wile: Moving on. Do you think marijuana is more or less harmful than alcohol?
Roberto Escobar: Far less. Alcohol is bad for the brain, liver, kidneys, etc.. It's also bad for the homes of people who use it, and it's bad for their finances.
Anthony Wile: And it's very addictive.
Roberto Escobar: Yes, it's very addictive.
Anthony Wile: Marijuana is not?
Roberto Escobar: People can get off marijuana easily. Many celebrities have smoked marijuana, and they are not addicted.
Anthony Wile: Barack Obama has reportedly smoked it. Bill Clinton, too, but claims he didn't inhale …
Roberto Escobar: And in Colombia, [former President Ernesto] Samper and [Medellin Mayor Anibal] Gaviria. Well, they've said that. I'm not saying they did. That's what I've heard.
Anthony Wile: Would you agree that marijuana is less addictive than, for example, cocaine and heroin? Do you think it will be legal in the future?
Roberto Escobar: It's less addictive than any other drugs. Legalization is the future. There are states in the U.S. where it's already legalized – Colorado and Washington. It's legal in Uruguay, too. I do think marijuana used for medicinal purposes should not be grown using harmful chemicals.
Anthony Wile: I agree. What kind of chemicals?
Roberto Escobar: All of them. Organic is better. There are organic fertilizers that don't use chemicals.
Anthony Wile: Do you think policies will change in Colombia when they are changed in the U.S.? Do you think that when marijuana is no longer classified as a Schedule I substance in the U.S., it will be legalized in Colombia, as has been done in Uruguay?
The Controlled Substances Act, passed by the US Congress in 1970 as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 and signed into law by President Richard Nixon, is the United States federal drug policy which guides the possession, use, distribution, manufacture and importation of specific substances. It created five classifications of substances, referred to as Schedules. Determination of which substances are placed on or removed from the schedules is accomplished by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration, and Congress has the ability to schedule or deschedule substances. The definition of a Schedule I drug is found at 21 U.S. Code § 812:
(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
(B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
(C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Roberto Escobar: It's going to happen all over the world.
Anthony Wile: Given Colombia's history with marijuana, do you think there's a possibility that in the future Colombia could be a significant export market for medicinal marijuana?
Roberto Escobar: Of course. The weather in Colombia, its topography and the fact that we are in the tropics give marijuana the same outstanding quality as our coffee. To use for medicinal purposes, of course.
Anthony Wile: Can you share a little humorous laugh with the irony of the situation, with all the pressure that was put on this country for all these years, that Colombia could actually in the future be a leading exporter of marijuana to the very country that was funding the war on drugs?
Roberto Escobar: Yes. That's life. It's like a raffle. Today we lose, tomorrow we may win.
Anthony Wile: Back in the early 1900s you could actually buy cocaine. And, of course, it also became persecuted during the war on drugs. Do you see a time when prohibition will end, and the policies on cocaine will be relaxed? Do you think it will help reduce the crime? I know some politicians like Alvaro Uribe and others have been outspoken about the fact that prisons are filled with people that have done nothing except harm themselves and it's not doing any good to them to be in prison. Do you think that, in time, personal use and consumption of cocaine, like marijuana, like alcohol, will end up being deregulated, as is the case of marijuana today?
Roberto Escobar: I think the world will change its policies, first with marijuana and then with cocaine. The important thing then will be to invest in education for the children so they know that it's harmful, same as alcohol. The problem is that right now there is very little education on the subject. Schools don't mention it, but the topic should be taught to every child over ten years old.
Anthony Wile: Correct. Do you think people should be incarcerated for the personal use of drugs? Do you think it's a crime in itself?
Roberto Escobar: Not necessarily, not for just the act of taking drugs. Some people use drugs and don't become violent; some others use drugs and are violent. It's like anything else. People should be accountable for the crimes they commit whether on drugs or not.
Anthony Wile: Pharmaceutical companies produce products that also alter people's minds and have actually been used as a means of getting people out of crimes that they've committed. But that's another story. I'd like to talk now about FARC. How do you feel about the Santos-initiated peace process? Do you think it's a good idea?
The BBC explains, in an article June 13, 2014: "The formal talks between the Colombian government and left-wing rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) aim to end to the country's civil conflict. It is the first attempt to strike a deal in a decade, and – despite several agreements already reached on a six-point peace agenda – huge obstacles remain. Still, for some it is the best chance for a negotiated settlement since the Farc launched its armed struggle in 1964."
The talks, being held in Cuba, with Norway and Cuba as guarantors, with support from the governments of Venezuela and Chile, include six items on the agenda: land reform, political participation, drug trafficking, rights of victims, disarmament of the rebels and implementation of the peace deal.
The BBC story continues: "In recent years, tens of thousands of Colombians showed their support for the negotiation at peace marches in major cities throughout the country. But a significant number also share the views of key opponents of the negotiations. These include former president Alvaro Uribe, who opposes the idea of an amnesty or allowing the rebels to enter politics."
Roberto Escobar: I don't like politics. I'm against politics.
Anthony Wile: Well, I'm an outright anarchist so I understand…
Roberto Escobar: But I think the peace process has the possibility of being a good thing, although in my opinion peace is not only an agreement with the guerrillas. To achieve peace here and elsewhere many things need to be done. We have to eradicate corruption, thievery, criminal bands, kidnappers, people who look for easy money. There are only a few countries in the world that have achieved true peace.
Anthony Wile: Well, a good first step is legalizating drugs, in our opinion – all drugs. Do you think the trade of cocaine in Colombia has been stifled or is it the same as it always was, with smaller players geographically dispersed? Has the business decreased or has it simply moved elsewhere, to Mexico, for example? In other words, is the cumulative business still there supplying worldwide consumer demand for cocaine?
Roberto Escobar: Yes. The business has simply fragmented and moved to other countries, but I think it's still meeting the demand.
Anthony Wile: So the supply is still there – despite the war on drugs?
Roberto Escobar: Of course, because the demand still exists.
Anthony Wile: Is this making the war on drugs more difficult to police?
Roberto Escobar: Of course. Criminal bands are smaller now. They probably move less product individually, but the same volume of supply exists.
Anthony Wile: Tell us a little bit about the picture behind the table, the picture of the horse. What's the story of the horse?
Roberto Escobar: The horse died two years ago and I had it cloned after that – part of it made in Canada, another in the U.S. and another in Colombia. The clone lives in Colombia. It was the first horse of fine step to be cloned in the world. I had the picture made. In the background you can see Manizales, the city where the horse was born, a city that was shaken by an earthquake. That's why the horse had that name, you know, "The Earthquake of Manizales."
Anthony Wile: Tell us about the time the police arrested the horse.
Roberto Escobar: That day the jockey was killed. I don't want to point fingers but someone took the horse, castrated it and then they gave it back a couple of days later. I took it to a clinic so it wouldn't die.
Anthony Wile: Was it an expensive horse? Where did it come from?
Roberto Escobar: It was valued at $5 million, and I bought it as a colt here in Colombia. It was born in Manizales.
Anthony Wile: Is that a normal price to pay for a horse?
Roberto Escobar: Yes. At the time I paid $20,000, but its value increased dramatically with all its triumphs.
Anthony Wile: The TV show that was produced here about Pablo, yourself and the Medellin Cartel – do you think that it was very accurate?
"Escobar: El Patrón del Mal" (Pablo Escobar, The Drug Lord) is a 2012 Colombian television series produced and broadcast on Caracol TV, about the life of Pablo Escobar. It aired May 28-November 1, 2012 on Caracol TV in one-hour episodes, later on Telemundo, Canal 9 and Telesudamérica and has been broadcast in at least 18 other countries.
The show quickly became the most popular television show ever in Colombia. It captured 70.8% of the market share in Colombia, an all-time record. Following other television series about Escobar, this series was produced by relatives of two victims of the cartel – an anti-drugs presidential candidate and a former head of El Espectador, the newspaper that had in 1983 revealed that newly elected congressman Pablo Escobar was a drug trafficker. The show's budget was $10 million for 60 episodes, according to Hollywood Reporter.
A 2012 article at In Sight Crime stated, "The latest episode of 'Pablo Escobar: The Boss of Evil' airs June 4 on Caracol TV. The debut last week attracted some 11 million viewers, the network said, a number which is expected to climb until the series finale.
One promotional spot for "The Boss of Evil" … is indicative of some of the difficulties that the show's creators face in packaging the program for a Colombian audience. The ad has several segments, each representing a different facet of Escobar's life: ruthless killer, rich businessman, lover, and finally the world's most hunted man. A deep-voiced narrator describes well-known stories about Escobar, such as the fact that he paid assassins 1 million pesos (today worth about $545) for each police officer killed. Each segment ends with the narrator asking the audience, 'What do you believe?'
Regarding the overwhelming popularity of the show, the BBC reported:
[I]n a country that is still waging a painful and bloody war against the cocaine trade, not everybody approves of giving a drug lord such top billing. Colombia has tried hard to overcome the association with drugs and violence it earned during the Escobar era. There are fears his rags-to-riches story could inspire a new generation of drug traffickers.
Indeed, as a self-made man who made it to Forbes magazine ranking of the world's 10 wealthiest men, Escobar embodied the ambitions and dreams of many poor Colombians. And, by doing so, he also offered them a rationale to justify the cocaine trade.
Roberto Escobar: It was all a lie, 90 percent, at least. I have a lawsuit against the producers.
Colombia Reports wrote on August 20, 2012:
The family of Pablo Escobar sued Colombian television network Caracol and newspaper El Espectador because a hit TV series based on the late drug lord's life and articles published about him "damaged Escobar's good name."
Escobar's sister Luz Maria filed a lawsuit claiming television network Caracol never received permission to include her family's characters in the popular series "Pablo Escobar: The Boss of Evil" that premiered in late May, breaking Colombian television records. The drug lord's family also sued newspaper El Espectador for publishing two articles chronicling Escobar's violent crusade against the state in the 1980s arguing they violated the integrity of Escobar's family, the newspaper reported Sunday.
Escobar demanded El Espectador rectifies the two articles and Caracol suspends the tv series until her family had access to the scripts and authorized the parts where they were mentioned.
According to El Espectador, the lawsuit was filed in June but was denied on Sunday by a Medellin judge. The court said it couldn't find any evidence that the TV series presented any "irremediable prejudice or imminent harm" against Escobar's family.
El Espectador defended the articles "The Evil in Person" and "Serial Killer", that were part of the lawsuit, arguing the facts presented were common knowledge and did not violate the right to privacy of Escobar's family.
It's curious that the family of Escobar tries now to wash the good name of such a character," El Espectador editor-in-chief Fidel Cano Correa told RCN Radio. "We hope that this case doesn't get repeated. It's ridiculous… with an article where we remember the acts of Escobar in the 80s we don't damage the good name of the lord of terror.
Anthony Wile: Do you have any regrets in your life?
Roberto Escobar: Everyone makes mistakes. But the most important thing, besides repentance, is not repeating the mistakes. I haven't repeated my mistakes.
Many thanks to Roberto Escobar for sharing his fascinating story with us.
Roberto, of course, is specially placed to speak about the failed war on drugs. And like many others who have firsthand experience with the war on drugs, he understands the basic futility of the current approach and speaks to the ramifications in a logical and even eloquent way.
Mr. Escobar also makes the practical point that along with the inevitable legalization of marijuana – and potentially many other drugs as well – ought to come some form of education. He doesn't make any firm distinctions about where that education should come from, but presumably parents should be involved as well as educators. That's certainly our thought anyway.
Roberto comes across as a person who seems at peace with his life and the tumultuous events that he has experienced. Even more importantly, he doesn't seem embittered despite all he has undergone both mentally and physically. Perhaps this is his real legacy, rather the urban legends that his family has spawned. We thank him again for his time and the interesting conversation he allowed us to share with our readers.