Colombia's heartbreak

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January 20th 2015
Published: June 16th 2017
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Escobar property vacant for 20 years Escobar property vacant for 20 years Escobar property vacant for 20 years

It's recently been purchased for a hotel, but for 20 years has sat vacant. Someone had enough money to pay for guards though, so there've been no squatters.
Geo: 6.23593, -75.5751

Imagine growing up in a country so torn apart by violence that when your father leaves for work in the morning, you don't know if he'll return alive. Imagine being five years old and cowering in a corner because dad's late and your mother's in a total flat-out panic.

This was Pablo Escobar's Colombia of 20 years ago. A Colombia where an army of children assassins from the poorest regions held the power of life and death. Escobar recruited young boys mired in spirit breaking poverty and gave them guns.

They gave him loyalty.

Their motto was plumo o plata, bullets or money. You take the bribe or you get the bullet. No negotiation and no questions asked because anyone who would have was dead by now.

Escobar murdered hundreds of policemen, bombed police headquarters, even bombed the Colombian Department of Justice where evidence against him was held. Bombed and burned up the entire building and all the people in it.

Living safely in the US it's pretty hard to imagine the civil war these people lived through. A civil war brought on by drugs.

The Medellin cartel headed by Escobar was locked in deadly struggle with the Cali cartel and with anyone who would stand up to them. The Cali cartel used a string of drug stores to launder their money--Escobar bombed them --including anyone shopping at the time.

Another deadly group in the mix was the Pepes, people who had been hurt by Escobar and were on a vendetta of revenge. They would do anything, including torture, to destroy the cartel, but in the meantime, they're killing innocents, too.

We went on a Pablo Escobar tour yesterday to learn more of this drug lord people would like to make invisible. Colombiaños are cheerful and polite by nature and understandably don't want to talk about this terrorizing figure in their much too recent past. Their hurt is too recent. The wounds are still too raw.

Visiting with my Spanish teacher last week about this part of their history, she was actually shaking as she told me about the consuming terror of not knowing who would be next to die.

Over 6 million people were killed during Escobar's reign of terror, most of them innocents.

Our tour guide said five of her uncles were murdered starting with the oldest down
Escobar's hideoutEscobar's hideoutEscobar's hideout

A simple middle class house with only one bodyguard, Escobar was almost totally alone at the end.
to her father's next oldest brother. Her father, it was feared, would be next and her parents used to get in many fights about him delaying his trip home after work because her mother would be so panicked.

Escobar even got himself elected as a legislator because members of the ruling elite were immune to prosecution no matter what they'd done.

To gain favor he built a whole new barrio--500 homes, and gave them to the poor, ensuring their votes. But when one brave legislator denounced him as a drug dealer after only four months, he was kicked out--now he no longer had immunity. However, the legislator and his whole family were murdered.

Escobar was so wealthy--the 7th richest man in the world--he offered to pay the country's entire $21 billion national debt--for the price of total immunity. His country declined.

When Colombia had finally had enough they were happy to receive help from the US and together with a massive force from both nations the search to find him commenced.

We visited the home where he was shot trying to escape, his grave and a few of his properties around town--properties that have been vacant
All Escobar property is guardedAll Escobar property is guardedAll Escobar property is guarded

With much controversy and plenty of corruption, his properties sit vacant-- the ones that haven't been destroyed, that is. People have broken down walls, dug up basements, & tunneled through yards in search of hidden treasure. Escobar's men hid tremendous amounts of cash and jewels amongst their properties.
for 20 years but so mired in corruption even now they stand deserted and vacant.

The drug violence has moved to the jungles in the south where the para-military and guerrillas have control. They have been no less murderous and are directly responsible for displacing millions of people from their ancestral homes.

These groups continue the pattern of violence and terror, but in the south. They've come to the table with the Colombian goverment a couple of times to find peace, but each time have broken their promises. I don't pretend to understand the forces at war here, only to try to give a picture of a small part of their history we've learned a little about.

I need to be clear about this one point. Colombia is a safe, thriving, friendly country. Have no fear of coming here-- just stay away from the southern jungles where the guerrillas have control.

When we were visiting with Mario and Magely in Bogotá, Mario became very somber when talking about the voilence Colombia has endured. He's hoping this current round of peace talks with the guerrillas can be successful. There has been so much killing, he said, we just can't take anymore.

Additional photos below
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Praying for a miracle Praying for a miracle
Praying for a miracle

The story goes that a certain woman had come here to pray for help from the Virgin Mary because she had no money and her family was starving. Behind her stood one of Escobar's men trying to get close enough to pray for blessings in his next killing spree. He disgustedly shoved some money into the woman's hands and told her to get out of the way with her worthless petition-- he had more important things to pray about. The woman left shouting praises and thanking the virgin Mary for a miracle.

21st January 2015

Karen, what a story you wrote. I knew yrs ago was bad but not really like what I read. We are so lucky to live in the USA. We think it is bad here but nothing like that. I am sure you are having fun learning about their country. Glad you t
wo are together and able to go everywhere you want to. Stay well and safe! Stay young as long as you can!
21st January 2015

Thanks. It was a very emotional tour and I wonder how many people have even amy idea at all of what drugs do on this level. We hear a lot about what drugs do to the individual person but not so much about what it does to the country that is
literally taken over by traffickers.

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