Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden

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Pablo Escobar's family grave in Itagui
Pablo Escobar’s family grave in Itagui.

Ever since landing in Colombia, and Medellin, in particular, I’d wanted to read Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden.

In Cambodia, there was no shortage of opportunities to buy (knock off) books about the 1979 genocide, but in Colombia, I’ve yet to see a copy of Killing Pablo despite checking stores in Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena.

Very few stores offer books in English, let alone books about the country’s most notorious narco-terrorist.  As tourism continues to grow, I expect bookstore owners will catch on to the business opportunity.

Christmas Eve may sound like an odd time to read about covert American military operations, disturbing tales of murder, bombings, and a country terrorized, but once I picked up Killing Pablo, I couldn’t put it down.

I read the 272-page book in just 24 hours.  That’s a record for me, and yes, that means I was reading most of it on Christmas Day (after opening presents of course).

The rooftop where Pablo Escobar was killed
The rooftop to the left, above the graffiti, is where Pablo Escobar was finally killed by police.

I like to read books about a country while I’m there, but after a collective 12 months in Colombia so far, I could easily picture the geography and major locations as they were being described by Bowden.

When the story reached the point of Pablo’s actual death in 1993, I remembered my visit to that exact location in 2009.

I went there out of curiosity, as well as to verify the address where Pablo Escobar was killed so I could share it on Medellin Living.

Ironically, Bowden lists the street address in the book.  I wish I’d known that at the time, as it wasn’t easy to dig up online.

Before reading the book, I was vaguely aware of how Escobar bribed police, judges, and government officials, as well as had the ones who turned him down assassinated, but I don’t think I realized the scale of his influence.

He seemed unstoppable.

When he decided to surrender, only after Colombia overturned a law allowing extradition, he was able to construct his jail, known as La Catedral, high up in the mountains of Envigado.

The accounts of his stint in this “prison” which was more akin to a resort, involved all his normal vices — food, marijuana, teenage prostitutes.

After escaping from his jail, which was more like walking out the back door in advance of a government raid, a vigilante group began to murder his extended family, lawyers and business associates.

From the book alone, one gets the impression that American intelligence was vital in this effort, but, of course, the powers that be deny any wrongdoing.

The Cali cartel, the main rivals of Escobar’s Medellin cartel, or Colombia’s police unit assigned to bringing down Escobar take the blame (or credit, perhaps, given the effectiveness of the strategy).

Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden is a captivating account of America’s secret operations in Colombia, which helped local police locate and kill one of the world’s most dangerous criminals.

Hollywood is currently developing a full-length, feature film based on the book.

Below is the History Channel’s “The True Story of Killing Pablo” in its entirety, which includes interviews with Mark Bowden and many of the major players in the story.

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After a visit to Guatape, I published Photo Essay: Lake Homes of Pablo Escobar & Family over at Go Backpacking.

Pablo Escobar Historical Tour 

To learn more about Escobar during your visit to Medellín, sign up for a half-day tour through Viator. Historical points of interest include the Monaco Building where the Cali Cartel tried to kill him, his last safe house where security forces did kill him and his family grave.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I’m following Medellin Linving quite frequently since I’ m very interested in reading your stories.
    Nevertheless, Pablo was brought down by Los Pepes (not the Cali Cartel) which was more or less lead by Carlos Castano. Pepes gave their hints to Colombian Police and US-Force, the Search Bloc Units.

    I’ve been visiting Medellin, as well as La Catedral and can only recommend it to all of you!

    There is also a brilliant documentary, called The 2 Escobars. It’s really worth seeing it when that booked did already capture you…

    Have a good and safe start in 2011

    • Hey Philipp, yes I see how what I wrote could be misconstrued with regard to who was ultimately responsible for taking down Escobar, though in both the book and the History Channel documentary there are mentions of the Cali Cartel helping to fund the activities of Los Pepes.

      I’ve heard good things about the 2 Escobars movie as well — still have plans to watch that as I think it’s available online.

  2. I loved Bowden’s “Black Hawk Down” and I’m quite interested in Colombia so I’ll definitely have to read this at some point. I wonder if part of the reason that they don’t sell the book in Colombia is due to embarrassment or denial about what happened or something like that.

    I’m sure there’s a Spanish translation of it, so the fact that people there don’t speak English can’t be the problem. If they wanted to sell it they’d just stock the Spanish translation.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  3. Hi Dave,
    I love your blog and I hope to link it to one of my upcoming stories soon. This blogging thing is all new to me, but I love writing, so I’ve had fun.
    I went through a phase reading several books about Escobar, and Bowden was my first. I have to say, he touched most of our lives (Colombians) directly or indirectly, and as I get older I hear more and more stories that amaze me.
    You have to watch the two Escobar’s soon, is a really good movie. Have fun in your travels, lucky you to have been twice to Cali already….I haven’t been in five years.

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