In 1993, after years of effort, a team of Colombian police and soldiers, with help from the U.S. government, finally caught up with and killed Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin cartel and one of the world's wealthiest and most wanted criminals. This book chronicles the efforts of the Colombian National Police and United States forces that worked together to take Escobar down.
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Escobar began his criminal career as a smuggler, then began moving cocaine in the 1970s. He rose to power after killing a rival and taking over his operation. By the 1980s, he was believed to be a billionaire, and regularly featured on Forbes Magazine's list of the world's wealthiest people.
Colombian law enforcement had long sought to arrest Escobar and place him on trial, but he consistently eluded them. His massive wealth from cocaine smuggling allowed him to bribe countless officials, and to win the hearts of the poverty-stricken residents of communities where he hid out, by paying for amenities like youth soccer fields and schools when the government would not. In 1982, he was even elected to the nation's Congress, despite his status as a well-known criminal.
In 1991, Escobar made a deal with the Colombian government, in which he would serve five years in a prison designed to his specifications in exchange for not being extradited to the United States, where he was wanted for drug smuggling and murder. He continued to run the cartel from prison, and escaped a year later. It was at this point that the United States created a special operations committee consisting of members of the Navy SEALs and Army Delta Force, charged with capturing Escobar.
The U.S. group, code named CENTRA SPIKE, worked with Gen. Hugo Martinez of the Colombian National Police. There were many attempts to find Escobar within Colombia, mostly based on mobile phone triangulation. But he always slipped away, and the infighting between the two nations' forces, and among the U.S. agencies themselves (including the DEA, Army, Navy, and CIA) grew.
Finally, Martinez's forces tracked Escobar to a nondescript neighborhood in Medellin, where he fled on foot when the troops raided the house he was hiding in. During the firefight, he and his bodyguard climbed out of the balcony and ran, but Escobar was shot dead. His mother, who lived nearby, identified the body -- only after the Colombian forces had taken photos with the drug lord's corpse.
The reaction to Escobar's death was mixed. Many in the U.S. law enforcement community were pleased that he was dead, but there were other drug smugglers, notably the powerful Cali cartel, waiting to fill the void. Rumors swirled that Martinez and others in the Colombian government were paid by the Cali cartel to take down Escobar, their chief competitor. And cocaine continued to flow from Colombia into the United States.
Best part of story, including ending:
Bowden takes you inside the effort to find Escobar, such that you begin to feel like a member of the join special operations command yourself.
Best scene in story:
The scene where Pablo Escobar's mother identifies his body is very moving. Even a drug lord who spent years on the run from a multinational team of elite soldiers has a mother.
Opinion about the main character:
Escobar was certainly a terrible person. He murdered hundreds, and thousands more were killed as collateral damage in his various drug wars. Most people understand the drive to be rich, but it's impossible to sympathize with someone so ruthless.