Nowadays, especially thanks to the popularity of the Netflix show ‘Narcos’, the name Pablo Escobar is synonymous with drugs, cartels and murder. While the show dramatizes events and conversations that led to Escobar’s death grip on the drug trade, little imagination is needed from screenwriters when it comes to the harrowing scenes of murder and assassinations.
Escobar died in 1993 during a gunfight with the Search Bloc, a special operations unit of the National Police of Colombia. To this day his death has been shrouded in secrecy, with many believing he was shot execution style by the police, and not while fleeing. The fatal gunshot wound through Escobar’s ear also prompted many, including his two brothers, to believe Escobar committed suicide instead of allowing himself to be captured.
Escobar has been gone for over 23 years, but many of those who served him are still alive. Recently, one of his personal hitmen, John Jairo Velásquez sat down with Christopher Bucktin, the US editor for The Mirror. Velásquez recounted for Bucktin his position within Escobar’s cartel and his estimate for the amount of murders he carried out personally as well as those he was involved with.
Velásquez explained that despite the amount of people he was involved in killing, he never felt remorse for any of his victims. He spoke of Escobar fondly, remembering him as a magnetic person who was quiet and very respectful to those in his employ. Velásquez told Bucktin about his first contract kill for Escobar. It was understood in Medellin that no one could be murdered without Escobar’s permission. When an old woman was left to die after falling from a bus, due to the driver pulling away quickly and refusing to help her, the woman’s son approached Escobar to see that the man was killed. Velásquez, who had met Escobar at the age of 17 after dropping out of Police school, was tasked with finding and killing the man.
Velásquez estimates his total number of personal kills is around 300. Included in that 300 is Colombian Presidential Candidate Luis Carlos Galan. Galan’s 1989 murder was the only one Velásquez was found guilty of. He surrendered to police in 1992 – a year before Escobar’s death – and served 22 years behind bars. He was released two years ago.
It wasn’t the first time Velásquez had been behind bars though. In 1991 Escobar surrendered to the Colombian authorities in exchange for preferential treatment and a reduced sentence. The extradition of Colombian prisoners to the United States of America had been prohibited in the recent Colombian Constitution of 1991. This allowed Escobar to serve his sentence in a luxurious prison of his own making, La Catedral. During this time Velásquez voluntarily remained with Escobar, effectively imprisoning himself with his boss.
In 1992 the Colombian government became aware of Escobar’s ongoing criminal activity from La Catedral and made plans to move him to a conventional jail. Due to Escobar’s influence he was alerted to the government’s plan and was able to escape. Velásquez admitted to Bucktin that during their time in La Catedral he was involved in killings, including the torture and murder of the Moncada and Galeano brothers, who had been siphoning Escobar’s cartel profits. Today, Velásquez lives in hiding, stating that he believes there’s an 80 per cent chance one of his old enemies will kill him. He believes his victims were casualties of the war, but that he himself was a victim on Escobar, claiming he had no choice but to follow his orders.
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