Okay, this is another case of a "dropped" book. Doron commented to me, "I'm reading this book now," to which I responded, "Oh, you are? Let me check it out from the library and read it, too," and here we are.
Except I read it faster than he did, finishing when he was a couple chapters in, and, well, okay, I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this, but it was an exciting read.
So, there's this guy, Pablo Escobar. You might have heard of him. I, for my part, was incredibly oblivious to much of the world around the time of Escobar's rise, domination, and fall, so while I was vaguely aware of his existence, I wasn't aware of his story.
Well, now I am.
This is the story of Pablo Escobar, as told by his older brother, Roberto. It is a fascinating story somewhat tarnished by Roberto's bit of whining "we didn't do anything illegal!" in various parts of the book. Okay, sure, doing the accounting for a cocaine cartel wasn't illegal, the whole operation wasn't exactly moral or legal. Neither was cooking the books to make the drug money appear to be real estate deals. So, while the history is fascinating, the near pleading "I didn't do anything wrong" was difficult to read non-judgmentally.
If you like non-fiction, and want an interesting recent-history read, this book is a good choice. If you're a fan of this genre, this is also a good choice. If you're more like me, and read it because you wanted to talk with a friend about the book he was reading, this is also a good book to read. I would not have chosen this book for myself, but still enjoyed the reading of it.
The point he emphasized so many times was that the growing legend of Pablo Escobar was used by other groups to service their own needs, from the traffickers of Cali who were ignored while the focus remained on Pablo Escobar, to the various factions within the government who used the shadows that covered the search for him to settle old feuds and destroy growing opposition, and even by those men who once had worked for him and after being arrested provided information that would reduce their own sentences. It was easy for everyone to blame all the violence, all the killings, on Pablo Escobar.
Our country has always been ruled by a class of wealthy families that did very little to help the poor. There were very few social programs that assisted people in making their lives better. We have a system of laws in Colombia, but we lived by a different set of rules. From the time we were growing up the government was run by corrupt people who made themselves richer while claiming they were starting programs to help the less fortunate live a better life.
Legends are built in many ways, but part of such legends consists of accusations made by enemies, and often for their own benefit.
The business of contraband means simply bringing goods into the country without paying the required government fees, the duties and taxes, which allows you to sell the goods to people for much less money than they would have to pay in the stores. It’s very profitable. While contraband certainly is illegal, because it benefits people and hurts only the government, it has long been an accepted part of the Colombian economy.
Once cocaine had been widely and freely used in America. A small amount was part of the original Coca-Cola and some cigarettes; it could be bought in drugstores. The first laws were passed against it in America in 1914, when people were told it made black people in the South crazy and caused them to attack white women.
Almost from the very first day Pablo knew he had to pay big bribes, just like in the contraband business. Pablo was generous with these payments, he wanted to make it so rewarding for people that they would never betray him.
We also knew that the kidnappers were calling our mother’s home from public phones. So Pablo gave out hundreds of radio transmitters to our friends and workers and instructed them to listen to a well-known radio station. Every time the kidnappers called my mother’s home the announcer on the station said, “This song is dedicated to Luz Marina [a code name that was used]; it’s called ‘Sonaron Cuatro Balazos’ and is sung by Antonio Aguilar,” those people were to check nearby pay phones to see if they were being used.
When the rivers rose during the winter there were many floods and Pablo and Jaime would go around our country replacing everything washed away by the waters, bringing mattresses, cooking utensils, furniture, and the things people needed for living. And then they would bring engineers to find ways to prevent more flooding. Pablo would supply the materials to the villagers so they could help reconstruct the affected areas.
Under the law of my country, our president must give several cabinet posts to members of the opposition parties.
I find this idea appealing.
There was a new method of assassination that was becoming common in Colombia. It was to become known as parrillero: A man with a machine gun riding on the back of a motorcycle sprayed his victim—usually in a cart—with bullets. The safety helmets gave the assassins a good disguise and the bike provided the best way of escape after the shooting. Eventually this method became so common in Colombia that the government passed a law against people on motorcycles wearing helmets, so they could be identified.
It was one of these colonels who informed Pablo that Noriega had said that he was going to speak with the North American government, especially to the DEA.
To watch your family suffering and not be able to stop that is the most terrible feeling. And I was a fugitive without committing any crimes: I was pursued by Belisario Betancur’s government just for being Pablo’s brother.
An example of an "ehhhhhhhh, I don't quite believe you there" moment.
The secret police death squads would go in black cars into the poor neighborhoods, the barrios, at night. Most regular people would stay off the streets after work, so the police decided anyone on the corner was a bad guy, and that they worked for Pablo. Their secret squads with machine guns would drive around shooting young people for just standing on the corner, or they would take them away and later people would find their bodies. This was every night.
The impossible thing to know about the police was whether they were working honestly or in the kidnap business. Or worse, if they were people just pretending to be police. There was no way of knowing.
I don't know how the people of the U.S. would react to something like this.
I suspect some people in the U.S. already experience this.
In your mind part of you is always the person you used to be. For me, that was the bicycle champion. If I had paused to think about the journey I’d taken it would have been impossible; from representing the country I loved in the sport I loved to running through the jungle as police helicopters fired tracer bullets down on me. So I didn’t think about it. I know that it seems difficult to understand, but it is true. Maybe that was my means of dealing with my reality.
"I saw this person who had been so powerful, so rich, who had always been surrounded by people, so all alone. I had tears.”