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Killing Pablo: The Hunt For The World's Greatest Outlaw (2002)

Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw (2002)
3.88 of 5 Votes: 4
0142000957 (ISBN13: 9780142000953)
penguin books
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Killing Pablo: The Hunt For The World...
Killing Pablo: The Hunt For The World's Greatest Outlaw (2002)

About book: “Plato? O Plomo?” One either accepted Pablo’s plato (silver) or took his plomo (lead). “Take my bribe or take by bullet. Your integrity or your life?” It did not matter to Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellin drug cartel and seventh richest man in the world. It was a difficult time to be an honest person in Colombia during the 1980-90’s. The Medellin Cartel assassinated hundreds of politicians, policemen, prosecutors and judges. “Violence stalked Colombia like a biblical plague, and it remained locked in this cabalistic dance of death.”Colombians joked that God had made their land so beautiful and rich that it was unfair to the rest of the world, so God evened the score by populating it with evil men. “Terror became an art, a form of psychological warfare with a quasi- religious aesthetic. Pablo assassinated the front runner for the Colombian presidency then he blew up a civilian airliner with 110 people on board in order to kill Galan’s successor. In response to this attack on civilization, the United State underwrote a five-year secret war to help Colombia to kill Pablo. In “Killing Pablo,” Mark Bowden (author of “Black Hawk Down”) tells the story of how the “Search Bloc” (a hand-picked group of Colombian soldiers and police under the command of Colonel Hugo Martinez) tracked and killed Pablo Escobar. Search Bloc received money, technology and intelligence from US Special Forces and the DEA (referred to by the code “Centra Spike”). Most controversial was the ruthless contribution of Los Pepes, a death squad made up of rival drug gangs who murdered the friends, family, lawyers, and bankers of Pablo using intelligence collected by Centra Spike (the USA team). “If Pablo stood atop an organizational mountain, then perhaps the only way to get him was to take down the mountain.”This forced him to keep moving and separated him from his family, then, when he tried to contact them, Search Bloc used radio telemetry to find him while he was talking on the phone to his 16-year-old son. After 6 years of trying, It took only ten minutes to actually kill Pablo, who ran to the roof. Shots were fired from every direction, and Bowden speculates that U.S. Delta snipers might have fired the kill shot. This is a controversial claim, as it insults the Colombians who closed in on him. Escobar did not look like the world’s scariest narco-terrorist. Pablo was plump and stood barely 5’6” “He was a slob, lazy, and self-indulgent in all his habits. He guzzled Coca Cola and spared no expense in recruiting beautiful women for his appetite.” He lived in a $63 million playground with its own roads, airport, heliport, and lakes. Pablo flew in exotic animals including buffalo, elephants, lions, gazelles, hippos, ostriches, rhinoceroses, and camels. Pablo spoke softly with refinement and without vulgarity. He was painstakingly polite and projected unruffled joviality at all time. Pablo might have been a great guy if he weren’t a mass-murdering terrorist.Bowden writes: “The underlying premise of diplomacy is that people, no matter what their differences, are well intentioned and can work together. Warriors believe in intractable evil. Certain forces cannot be compromised with; they must simply be defeated.” I was stricken with the integrity and grim determination of Colonel Hugo Martinez, who was forced to use every means necessary against intractable evil in order to save his country from narco-anarchy. In the first month of Search Bloc, 200 of Martinez’s men were killed. One day, Pablo sent the inevitable message to the bookish and quiet Martinez: “plato? o plomo?” Silver or lead? Pablo offered $6 million to Martinez if he would only pretend to search but not actually interfere with Escobar. Martinez knew that faithful command of Search Bloc was a virtual suicide mission, and Escobar had made it clear that he could easily get to the Colonel's family, which was forced to hide in the USA. I know of no greeater evidence of the Colonel’s heroism than his rejection of the bribe and willingness to face violent death. Yet, when he had accepted the assignment that nobody else would take, Martinez was unsure if he was brave enough for the job. Sometimes, the fate of an entire nation can hinge on the integrity of one man. Martinez (who does not even rate his own Wikipedia article) grew his courage, risked the lead, and discovered the silver within. August 10, 2013

Full review on my blog On the day that Pablo Escobar was killed, his mother, Hermilda, came to the place on foot.This book reads a lot like a thriller and it is even more fascinating because you know that everything in there really happened. Particularly the first half of the book was amazing. The language is beautiful and throws you right into the atmosphere. The violence, already deeply rooted in the culture, continued, deepened, twisted.Terror became art, a form of psychological warfare with a quasi-religious aesthetic. In Colombia it wasn't enough to hurt or even kill your enemy; there was a ritual to be observed.Killing Pablo is a fascinating read not only because Mark Bowden conveys the story in an incredible manner, but also because the subject is intriguing.Colombia in the 80s and early 90s was a dangerous, cruel place full of violence. And Pablo Escobar was one of the kings of that world. Pablo was establishing a pattern of dealing with the authorities that would become his trademark. It soon became known simply as plata o plomo. One either accepted Pablo's plata (silver) or his plomo (lead).While reading it is sometimes difficult to believe that yes, that is something that happened and people did these things to each other.As the book starts out and we get a short overview of Pablo's youth he seems charismatic. In the beginning. But that changes very, very quickly. Once, when a worker was discovered stealing something from his estate, Pablo had the man bound hand and foot, and in front of horrified guests at Nápoles personally kicked the man into his swimming pool and then watched him drown.The way Pablo Escobar is described in the book is very intriguing. His crimes and cruelties are laid bare but so are the more charismatic aspects of his personality. Whily I never liked Pablo Escobar while reading, presenting the different facets of his personality and life, including his family, make for a more balanced read.The rise of Pablo Escobar, his grasp for political power and then the first war that followed are a captivating read. Sometimes the fate of an entire nation can hinge on the integrity of one man. The bribe came at the lowest point in the colonel's career. He had been given a suicide mission, one with little chance of success. He had attended funerals almost every day.Unfortunately, the second part of the book wasn't as good as the first. The pacing got slower and there were so many new names introduced in rapid succession that it was difficult to keep track. Especially because some were named exactly the same.Furthermore, there were some chapters were the focus was too much on US politics and inter-agency strife. Those parts just weren't particularly interesting. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the request, but an under secretary of defense, Keith Hall, refused to concur without approval from the White House. Officers on Hall's staff were waiting at the White House for a meeting with president Clinton's staff when a colonel with the joint Chiefs of Staff calld to say they had decided to withdraw the request.What was incredibly interesting was the part about Los Pepes, a sort of criminal/vigilante group out to get Pablo, killing everyone connected to him. When Los Pepes surfaced, there was no shortage of likely suspects. Pablo had been warring with other drug exporters and crooks all of his adult life. His years-long campaign of intimidation and murder had left hundreds, if not thousands, of aggrieved family members, some of them from very wealthy and powerful families.The end, the actual hunt and build-up towards Pablo Escobar's death dragged on a bit too much. It was always the same: They listen to his calls. They try to track him. They think they know where he is. They launch a raid. Pablo Escobar is not there. So the part that should be the most suspenseful was the part that was the least spectacular. His end was more of a whisper than a bang. "Bring me the press release for Escobar's death," he said."Death in an operation or death by natural causes?" she asked."By operation!" Pardo announced triumphantly. Then he opened a box on his desk and withrdrew a big Cuban cigar, lit it, leaned back, swung his feet up, and savored a few private moments of victory.ConclusionA comprehensive, very well-written and incredibly interesting account of the hunt for the notorious cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.
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This well told, if a bit over-told, story of Pablo Escobar, the man who held a country of 27 million hostage, raises interesting questions for those of us living in post 9-11 times. On the one-hand, the author makes very clear that this wanna-be Latin Robin Hood, who built apartments and soccer stadiums for the poor with his $5-$10 billion in drug money, was nevertheless a very bad man who killed presidential candidates, the prosecutors who investigated him, the police who accompanied them and the judges who later issued warrants for his arrest relating to such murders. And all that was before lunch. Escobar also engaged in the wholesale murder of his drug-dealing competitors, hired Communist insurgent groups to hold the entire Colombian Supreme Court hostage (which resulted in the death of half the justices), held the rich and famous hostage (and killed many of them) and detonated car bombs throughout Bogota. He was effectively a combination of Al Queda and Al Capone.On the other hand, the response of the Colombian government is somewhat disturbing. Completely unable to stop him, the Colombian President decided upon a new strategy which abandoned any pretense of constitutionality and instead relied upon an unholy alliance of other drug-dealers, murderers, rogue police units and American Special Forces to kill all of Escobar's family, friends, business associates, attorneys and accountants in an attempt to hurt his ability to finance his private war and thereby flush him out. While the strategy ultimately worked, the question is whether the price of success was too high. The book never really grapples with this issue, but we need to since 9-11 saw Congress and most of the Country ready to cede all power to the President with their blessing to do anything necessary to make sure it never happened again. This makes the story a timely read for all of us.
This is the second book I have read by this author. This book is very riveting account about the rise and fall of the brutal Columbian cocaine cartel King Pablo Escobar. His criminal empire held Columbia under a reign of terror ended only by his death. Our U.S. operatives led a 16 month manhunt to get him. It took several men to bring Escobar down; Columbian president Cesar Gavinia is forced to let our military operate in Columbia. Our ambassador Mr. Busby put together a very sophisticated surveilance team, our Delta force came over, and the leader of the Columbian forces colonel Hugo Martinez (who was incorruptible) all participated. He was finally killed on Dec.2, 1993 ending a 15 month effort that cost millions of dollars. Thankfully it was the deathblow to the Medillin cartel. His associates were killed by angry vigilantes and were not charged.
In the 1980s, the biggest industry in Colombia, a nation of then 30 million people, was cocaine manufacture and smuggling, accounting for 6% of the country's GDP. It was controlled by two cartels, one based in Medellín, the other in Cali. The head of the Medellín cartel was one Pablo Escobar, a professional criminal who assassinated his way to the top of an existing production and distribution network, and grew the business. Listed by Forbes Magazine as the seventh richest man in the world, Escobar lived in opulence: his country estate had a private zoo with hippos; he organized races of naked beauty queens for his friends to watch. However, this was not enough for him: he wanted to enter politics. Offering "silver or lead" to Colombians who stood in his way, Escobar assassinated presidential candidates, judges, journalists, policemen and soldiers, kidnapped children of politicians. Escobar also went out of his way to cultivate his image of a man of the people among Colombia's poor, although he was nothing of the sort: he was a drug baron who once had a dishonest servant drowned in front of his guests to drive home the point that this is what happens to people who cross him. After he blew up an airliner that a presidential candidate was supposed to fly in, the United States has had enough, and brought pressure on Colombia to extradite Escobar so he could be tried on drug and terrorism charges in a court he did not own. After a campaign of terror to fight the extradition, Escobar and the government agreed to a deal: he would not be extradited, but instead would serve five years in a prison he himself built. The prison was more like a luxury hotel with a telephone switchboard from which he ran his cocaine empire. After Escobar ordered two subordinates murdered, the government felt that he had broken his part of the deal, and sent a vice minister of justice to tell him that he would be transferred to a regular prison. The vice minister was taken hostage; the prison was stormed, and Escobar walked out: what soldier would risk his life by pointing his gun at the most powerful man in his country? After Escobar's escape, the government no longer felt bound by any deal; it brought in elite American soldiers and eavesdroppers; also, somebody whose identity is not revealed organized a regular Latin American death squad, which murdered, tortured and dispossessed not Marxist guerrillas and Liberation Theology priests, but Escobar's relatives and associates; the death squad seems to have made use of the American surveillance data. A year and a half after the escape, a young lieutenant, a son of the colonel who headed the task force for tracking down Escobar, honed in on the emissions of Escobar's cell phone, and saw him in a window of a house in Medellín. The lieutenant called in his father's forces, and Escobar was killed in a firefight, which ended a mission that cost hundreds of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars.
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