Pablo Escobar became involved in the fledgling cocaine smuggling industry in the early 1970s. He expanded his operations from 1975 onwards and, by the 1980s, was the leading supplier of cocaine to the United States. He is estimated to have been responsible up to 80% of the entire world’s cocaine market at the height of his operation.
By 1990 Columbia had become the world’s murder capital due to the increasing number of killings by hitmen working for the drugs cartels. Determined to bring the situation under control the government under President César Gaviria negotiated Escobar’s surrender in 1991. With the promise that he would serve a maximum of five years and would not be extradited to the United States he was imprisoned in La Catedral prison, which had been built to his own specifications.
Referred to mockingly as ‘Hotel Escobar’, the prison was staffed by guards chosen by the drugs lord himself. Evidence soon emerged that Escobar was continuing to run his empire while behind bars, with one police report highlighting over 300 unauthorised visits including wanted criminals.
Such reports forced the government to act, leading to the decision to transfer him to a more conventional jail. Escobar, however, refused to go quietly and the operation soon turned violent. He and his henchmen seized hostages and, amidst fighting between cartel members and the Columbian army, Escobar escaped. He remained on the run for 16 months before being found and killed.