Pablo Escobar: El Patron del Mal (Review)

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Pablo Escobar's Grave (2010)
Pablo Escobar's Grave (2010)

On December 2, 1993, Pablo Escobar was gunned down on a rooftop in western Medellin while trying to flee Colombian security forces.

It was the culmination of a massive manhunt involving the Colombian police, army, and a special unit called the Search Bloc, a group of vigilantes called Los Pepes (“People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar”), and the United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency.

When I arrived in Medellin five years ago, all I knew of the city was its association with Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel.

To satisfy my curiosity, I visited the address where he was killed, as well as his family grave in Itagui. I read Killing Pablo, Mark Bowden’s detailed account of how Escobar was finally taken down. But it wasn’t enough.

Last year, from May through November, a television series aired in Colombia called Pablo Escobar: Patron Del Mal (Boss of Evil).

The 74-episode show followed Escobar’s rise to power, as well as his downfall, and it was created by two people whose families were directly affected by his violence.

Camilo Cano is a journalist and son of Guillermo Cano, the editor and publisher of El Espectador newspaper based in Bogota. Guillermo was murdered by Escobar’s men due to his outspoken editorials against Escobar and the cartel.

Juana Uribe, Vice President of Caracol TV, is the daughter of Maruja Pachon, who was kidnapped on Escobar’s orders, and held hostage for six months as he fought to have Colombia’s Constitution amended to disallow Colombians from being extradited to the United States.

I wanted to watch El Patron del Mal when it first aired, but was busy traveling. In October of this year, when I learned the whole series was available online, for free, with English subtitles on Telemundo, I dove in.

Pablo Escobar was killed running across the roof above the wall of graffiti on December 2, 1993
Pablo Escobar was killed running across the roof above the wall of graffiti on December 2, 1993

I was hooked from the first episode, which I’ve embedded above to give you a taste for the show.

Each episode is about 45 minutes, and includes a few brief commercials. The first few run 45 to 55 minutes each, and then they start splitting the episodes into two 22-minute parts. In total, the series runs about 55 hours.

Now that I’ve watched the whole thing, I can say I learned far more than I would’ve picked up from reading another book, plus the television format brought the whole experience to life.

I liked that real news footage of political figures, key characters, and the aftermath of bombings were shown. It was a reminder that this wasn’t a work of fiction, like The Sopranos. It was a true story.

Pablo Escobar's Grave (2010)
Pablo Escobar’s Grave (2010)

And because it was a true story, I was able to Google various characters as I watched to learn additional background info, of find out their fates.

The names of those still alive were changed slightly for the show, but it’s easy to find out the real names by referencing the list of characters on the show’s Wikipedia page.

A few observations, and things I learned:

  • Escobar was a pathological liar, especially when it came to his family. He kept them all in the dark about his business as long as he possibly could.
  • He was also a hypocrite. He’d regularly blame the police and army for human rights abuses, but had no problem ordering assassinations and the bombings of innocent people.
  • And a serial adulterer, with a penchant for 15-year old girls and prostitutes. He broke the mold when he had an affair with a smart, beautiful TV presenter, Virginia Vallejo.
  • Hacienda Napoles was 3-4 hours from Medellin by road. It was more than a finca, it was his Headquarters.
  • Escobar’s fear of extradition to the United States fueled his war against the Colombian state, and its people.
  • Most of the car bombings were directed at targets in Bogota and Cali, not Medellin.
  • Kidnapping victims were chosen strategically to apply maximum pressure on the government.
  • Escobar was ultimately successful in getting the Colombian Constitution amended to disallow extradition. After his death, it was changed back. Today, hundreds of drug traffickers and criminals are extradited to the United States each year.
  • The Cali Cartel came very close to killing Escobar and his family by bombing the Monaco building where they were living in Poblado. The building still stands empty to this day.
  • Escobar’s parents both outlived him. His mother played a bigger role in his life, while his father seemed distant and disconnected.

I found the first third of the series to be the most interesting, as we’re introduced to the cast of characters, and see Escobar in his early years. The middle third is filled with so much death and violence, and sadness, it’s depressing. You just want it to end.

And the last third tracks his gradual loss of power, including his reliance of kidnappings, brief incarceration at La Catedral, the prison he built himself on a mountaintop in Envigado, and ultimately, his death.

20 years have passed since his death, which marked the end of the Medellin Cartel, yet some of the key characters have been in the news recently.

Griselda Blanco, who introduces Escobar to the cocaine trade, and served time in the United States, was shot and killed September 3, 2012 while leaving a butcher shop in the upscale El Tesoro neighborhood of Medellin.

On July 25, 2013, Juan David Ochoa Vásquez, one of the founders of the Medellin Cartel, died of a heart attack.

In September, Escobar’s top hitman, Jhon Jairo Velasquez Vasquez (nicknamed “Popeye”) and portrayed by “Marino” in the show, was due to be released from jail after serving 23 years. Based on news reports, he may still have time to serve, so he’s not free just yet.

Popeye had confessed to killing 250 people personally, including his own girlfriend (which is portrayed in the show), and having been involved in the deaths of 3,000 more.

The numbers are staggering, and it’s a bit odd too, because in the show, he is portrayed as the most likable of Escobar’s hitmen. When asked in a recent interview how he can account for so much bloodshed, he says he was following orders, and in the thick of the “war” it all seemed justified. In hindsight, he of course says it is awful.

When he’s released from prison, the former hit man says he wants to work with the youth of Colombia to teach them they don’t need to live a life of crime simply to chase money and beauty queens.

If you’re interested in learning more about the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, you can watch the whole series on Hulu (see all episodes here), Netflix depending on your location and Caracol Play.

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Pablo Escobar Historical Tour 

To learn more about Escobar during your visit to Medellín, sign up for a half-day tour through Latin Hosts Medellín. 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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23 COMMENTS

  1. Hello David
    Thanks for the interesting ‘review’. I have always been f fascinated by this subject and this man. Question: it is commonly reported amongst colombians that Escobar was an animal lover and that his fiercest defense of them was to shoot up a dog fighting ring in Medellin. Have you heard, come across information concerning this?

    Many thanks
    david pollitt

    • Yes, he’s generally known as an animal lover, which is why he imported many exotic animals like elephants and hippos to Colombia, and gave them space on his sprawling Hacienda Napoles (former HQ, which has since been turned into a theme park).

      It should strike anyone as odd that he spent so much money bringing non-indiginous animals to Colombia, while at the same time ordering the deaths and bombings of so many people.

      I’m not familiar with the story about the dog fighting ring, and it’s not an event depicted in the TV series. There’s very little mention of his animal interests in the show.

  2. Thank you for such an excellent review and the link to Telemundo. I am really interested to watch the series, but the videos just don’t play. I have tried on both my laptop and phone. I press the play arrow and nothing happens and the video screen is just black. Is there something I’m not doing. I see you can get Mun2, do I need to get this?

  3. Although it was based on real-life, it is not a documentary and as such not everything that happens in the TV series is true. It was made for entertainment and was very successful, I imagine a lot of the truth is distorted. I watched the first few weeks but because it was shown every day at 9pm I was unable to watch it all. The short part that I did see I was glad that it showed both sides to being a drugs baron, so it didn’t glorify it. I have heard they are planning to make another series or remake it in an international version, should be interesting.

    • Agree, you have to take it with a grain of salt, but in terms of highlighting his most notorious assassinations, bombings, and kidnappings, it’s very much based on actual events. I’m sure liberties were taken, and I’ve heard his sister (the one taking care of him in his final days) is suing the show for the way they portrayed their mother.

      • We do not know how his mother influence his behavior in real life, but it is true that the serie portrait his mother as the one who push him to be smart when he decided to pursue a criminal career. According to the television serie, she told him: “Bad things have to be well done”. I do not know if I really translate it in correct way. In Spanish it should be read as: “Las cosas mal he has, deben ser bien hechas”.

  4. How can i find out the members of the medellin cartel and who they portrayed in the Series of EL PATRON DEL MAL. im very curious to know wich one is who

  5. ive watched the show over 5 times literally. butanewshow just came outcalled Narcos and some things of his life events are the opposite. Example how his cousin Gonzalo dies,and when Cali cartel bombed the apartment where his wife and kids were it also shows Escobar there as well un like in patron del mal and lastly when he is in prison and kills his 2 partners, well in patron del mal it shows he had Marino and another guy kill them but his brother tried to stop the killing but they were to late but in Narcos it shows that Pablo killed them himself ..So its a little confusing which part is true?How does the family feel about these 2 shows that are based on true story? The wife ,the son, he brother and everyone else who is still alive???? and do they offer tours to see where all theses events took place??/

    • I feel the same as you Sasha…. just sadly will we really ever know our it be told? Good question and discussion over a good America no.

    • Patron del mal is more on point as popeye who is alive has said so himself. Also members of the escobar family have publicly stated narcos has many things wrong.

  6. Where can we access an extensive list of all the actors involved? Quite a few characters are missing from the cast lists provided online.

  7. Any idea who is the actor who plays Mayor Aristides? In the show he takes over Pedegral’s position as chief of police in Medellin. The actor is not credited on any lists or sites that I’ve checked out.

  8. I think scobar lost his mind or problably mentally affected when in congress they confronted him with pictures of him as a narco trafficker, from there on he was completely a different person and the true evil showed up. He had plans of perhaps becoming president someday and it didn’t go his way. I think that prior to that or before that happened to him he had a good heart for certain things like his family and friends and was very generous. He also had plans on legalizing cocaine. So if things would of happened different than they did, is really hard to tell if perhaps he had good intentions for the people after all. He truly royally screwed up by having so many people murdered a big no no. Popeyes his hit man that’s out of prison now, had to follow whatever orders were given to him and had no way out of the cartel or he would of been killed. So it’s kind of a hard thing for him been out knowing all the things he did and even though he says he’s not scared of death, you know that he truly is cause he lives his life always watching he’s back not knowing what might happen to him at any day. I think he regrets what he did but had no choice at the time, so I don’t blame him he problably wanted to make lots of money in which he did and fell victim of something very evil.

  9. Whatever happened with Yesenia …the young girl he impregnated? That he ordered a forced abortion by a veterinarian is just nauseating. Also, whatever happened to the news reporter Vallejo? The last I saw in the series was how he burst into her home, assaulted her and ask her who did she think she was. I mean, she wasn’t his wife… she wasn’t his employee , but clearly he expected her to be something like a vagina waiting around for him whenever he so desired. I cannot continue watching this show because it’s just too sad and makes me angry. I wonder how those two women are doing today if they are still alive.

  10. This is odd n really doesn’t make sense to me. In the show Chili was cast as the top hit man, Mariano came later on and didn’t have much power until chili was killed in the show. I would think chili played the role of Jhon, not Marino.