War - Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos - Shaun Attwood

Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos - Shaun Attwood (2016)

Chapter 11. War

Sensing weakness in its rival, the Cali Cartel started to move against the Medellín Cartel in the late 1980s. Both groups had different organisational structures. The Medellín was an alliance between independent operators, whereas Cali was run by a four-man executive board. Below the board were accountants, engineers and lawyers, and then the workforce. The executives, some of whom had law degrees, considered themselves more sophisticated than the rustic men from Medellín. They were known as the gentlemen of trafficking, whereas Medellín was regarded as thuggish. The head of the New York DEA told journalists, “Cali gangs will kill you if they have to, but they prefer to use a lawyer.”

In 1988, the Cali Cartel rebuffed Pablo, who wanted both cartels to join forces against the government. Instead, the Cali Cartel cut a deal with the authorities whereby its business operations would be left alone in exchange for providing information about the Medellín Cartel. The Cali Cartel told the enemies of the Medellín Cartel the whereabouts of Pablo’s safe houses and hiding places. These enemies included special units of the Colombian police assigned to find Pablo. The authorities were supposedly after Pablo to stamp out his illegal trafficking, yet were helping the Cali Cartel expand its cocaine business.

A cousin of Pablo’s was at a farm with his family on vacation when the police showed up. After stating that he didn’t know where Pablo was, he was hung upside down with his eyes covered, tortured by electricity and had needles inserted into his testicles. He died in front of his family. Friends, associates and bodyguards of Pablo received the same treatment. Due to the police torturing and killing so many of his associates, Pablo put a bounty on their heads. Teenage hit men attacked police stations with machine guns and bombs to claim thousands of dollars. In retaliation, police death squads drove through the barrios, machine-gunning young people unlucky enough to be out after dark.

After eating dinner on January 12, 1988, Pablo left his family in Monaco, an eight-storey apartment building, protected by reinforced steel. He hid out at a farm ten miles away. Around 5:30 am, a bomb went off at Monaco that woke people up two miles away. The blast killed two night watchmen, left a crater in the street thirteen feet deep, shattered windows throughout the neighbourhood, broke water mains and cracked the entire face of the building. Within minutes, a Renault arrived to transport Pablo’s wife and son to a safe house.

Pablo made a call. “Mom, you’ll soon watch some news about a bomb in Monaco. But I just called you, so you’d know nothing happened to me.”

By the time Roberto showed up, Pablo said he already knew who was responsible. Half an hour after the explosion, he’d received a call from the Cali Cartel’s Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, who said he’d heard about the bomb and wanted to know if Pablo and his family were OK. Rumours were circulating that the bomb had been planted by DAS agents, but Pablo suspected Gilberto.

Pablo knew that Gilberto had spent time in prison in Spain with a bomb-maker for the Basque guerrillas. Pablo tracked the bomb-maker down, asked him to train some of his workers and promised him excellent prices on cocaine to sell in Spain. After the bomb-maker agreed, Pablo asked if he’d ever had any experience working in Colombia. The man replied that he’d met someone in jail who’d brought him to Colombia to train some guys to make a bomb to be used against the government. Surrounded by armed bodyguards, Pablo said that the bomb had been used against him. The bomb-maker’s face turned white. Pablo told him not to worry and urged him to start to train Pablo’s workers.

Gilberto called Pablo, protesting that he hadn’t done anything. Pablo told him to stop lying and to get ready to be hit.

A car bomb exploded by Pablo’s mother’s house. Cut by glass, she was hospitalised. Pablo’s pregnant sister had also been asleep on the fourth floor. In hospital, she gave birth to a baby that had to live in an incubator for several weeks. Another sister on the fifth floor was treated for shrapnel wounds.

Regarding the Cali Cartel, Pablo told his mother, “If they broke my heart it was because they placed the first bomb.”

The Cali Cartel offered a band of killers from Medellín $5 million to kill Pablo, but he hired the killers himself. Pablo ordered the firebombing of the drugstores through which Cali laundered money.

By 1989, bombs were exploding almost daily, and international mercenaries, including ex-SAS members, had joined the hunt for Pablo.

Pablo’s nemesis in the police was the man in charge of the DAS, Miguel Alfredo Maza Márquez, who’d refused Pablo’s offers of bribery and pledged to defeat the Medellín traffickers. Pablo and Maza set about trying to kill each other. On May 30, 1989, a remote-detonated car bomb with 350 kilos of dynamite failed to seriously hurt Maza, but killed seven of his bodyguards. Although the underbelly of his armoured car was destroyed, the general opened the door and emerged, holding one of his injured men. “All at once I felt as if I had been tossed into the air by the surf,” the general said. Afterwards, a psychiatrist was assigned to help Maza recover.

With a price on his head of $10 million, Pablo went on the run without bodyguards because he believed that amount of money could tempt anyone. For eight months, he stayed at a farm forty miles away from Medellín, in the company of his brother and a couple who lived there. Visitors such as politicians or lawyers were brought to Pablo blindfolded. He stationed lookouts in the neighbouring farms, which he owned. He passed the time swimming in a pool by apple and orange trees, playing dominoes outside with a barbecue cooking or with his dog, Hussein, which had bitten him when he’d bought the farm.

The police arrived one morning. Pablo moved into a secret compartment built into the house. Pretending to be an artist, Roberto answered, wearing a cap and an artist’s glasses. In the living room was an unfinished painting of a farm and a small cow. The police said they were searching the neighbourhood because they’d found a head on one side of the road and a body on the other. Roberto said he’d been up painting and was oblivious to the goings-on outside. The police came in, drank some coffee and left. To let Pablo know that the police had gone, Roberto knocked in a special way that only they could decode.

For several months, Pablo stayed at another farm called the Parrot with members of the cartel including Jorge Ochoa and Gacha. It was by a river so clear that all of the fish were visible.

One night, Roberto had a bad feeling, so he made sure their boat had plenty of fuel. A local farmer radioed at 6 am, warning them to flee because trucks and helicopters were on the way. Pablo’s usual response to helicopters was to call them mosquitoes and to gesture slapping them away as if they meant nothing, but this time they had to hurry. With bullets whizzing by them, they raced out of the farm and headed for the mules and boats.

Without shoes or a shirt on and abandoning his paperwork in the house, Pablo dashed out with a machine gun. Bullets rained down and tore through the vegetation. The traffickers returned fired at the helicopters. Trying to get to a river, Pablo’s brother-in-law came under heavy fire. Shooting at the helicopters, Pablo watched his brother-in-law die. Others trying to escape were cut down by bullets.

They were so surrounded that Jorge Ochoa took his gun out as if contemplating the suicide pact agreed by the Extraditables. Pablo told him that the time wasn’t right. If it was, he would do the same. Jorge put his gun away and they escaped into the woods. The police arrested fourteen people, but none of the leaders. When they were safe, Pablo - known for remaining calm under all circumstances - cried for the loss of his brother-in-law.

These close calls lasted for months. The traffickers ended up sleeping in tents disguised by jungle brush. Many of them got sick.

From living luxuriously, Pablo had become a wartime commander. Despite all of the setbacks, the cocaine continued to flow. Pablo was listed as one of the richest men in the world in Forbes Magazine, with a net worth of $3 billion.

On the evening of August 18, 1989, a presidential candidate, Luis Carlos Galán, set off in a blue car for a speaking engagement to 10,000 people in a small working-class town. Years earlier, back when Pablo had attended Congress, Galán had helped Lara to expose Pablo’s criminal history. Galán was charismatic, admired, fearless and the favourite to win the next election.

His car stopped by a town square. Wearing a bullet-proof vest, he got out. To get Galán to the podium, his bodyguards and assistants had to push their way through the placard-waving crowd. Arriving at a wooden stage on a steel frame, his bodyguards scanned the area for threats and signalled the all-clear.

Carried by aides and besieged by animated supporters who were attempting to touch him and shake his hand, Galán moved briskly past a cluster of pink balloons and arrived at the podium. Back on his feet, he ascended the stairs. On the platform, he was greeted by a councilman. Standing by men in light-coloured suits, Galán lifted his arms - causing his bullet-proof vest to rise - and turned to salute the crowd.

Gunfire erupted from a hit man with a machine gun hidden behind a poster, shooting upwards from the ground at Galán’s exposed midsection. To a chorus of screams, the people on the stage fell or scattered. Hoping to shield themselves from gunshots, some pressed themselves to the side of the podium and clutched onto the wooden frame. Blasted in the abdomen, side and groin, Galán collapsed with severe internal bleeding. As shots continued from the killer’s accomplices, most of the people in the area remained crouched. Guards in beige suits, one holding a machine gun, dragged a body to a car. The killer rushed to a transit office, put on a grey sports jacket and escaped through the crowd. Around 10 pm, Galán was pronounced dead in hospital.

Under Maza’s leadership, the DAS claimed that the Medellín Cartel had put a $500,000 contract out on Galán. Pablo and Gacha were blamed. This was disinformation to hide something more sinister.

On May 13, 2005, a former justice minister and congressman of the Colombian Liberal Party, Alberto Santofimio, was arrested and accused of being the intellectual author of Galán’s murder. According to the confession of Escobar’s former hit man, Popeye, Santofimio had suggested Galán’s murder at a secret meeting in order to eliminate his competition should Galán ever win the election. During the original murder investigation, Santofimio had been mentioned and his involvement was rumoured, but no direct evidence existed. From prison, Popeye told the media that he’d earlier denied Santofimio’s participation due to the congressman’s political power at the time. On October 11, 2007, Santofimio was sentenced to twenty-four years for the murder. He was released on appeal, but in August 2011 the Supreme Court reinstated the conviction, and he surrendered himself.

With the news reporting Pablo as the murder suspect and the government offering a reward for his capture, Pablo’s mother visited him, hoping to get an explanation. “Did you see the news?”

“Yes, Mom,” Pablo said, “but don’t believe that I did everything they say. I’m not that bad, and the first person I would tell what I do is you. I’m not a saint, but if they forced me to be bad, what can I do?”

In the aftermath of Galán’s death, the Colombian president declared a state of siege.

President George HW Bush made a statement: “In such difficult times, democratic nations faced with such common threats to their national security must stand together. Today we stand together with Colombia. The narco-traffickers who again have robbed Colombia of a courageous leader must be defeated. Colombians must know that we stand by its efforts to move aggressively against these criminals who seek to destroy both our societies.” When it came to battling traffickers, never had such strong words of support been issued by a US president to the rulers of Colombia. Bush was itching to send troops.

On August 21, 1989, the authorities arrested over 10,000 people. Seizures included 1,000 buildings and ranches, 350 planes, 73 boats and five tons of cocaine. Riveted to the TV, Colombians watched the security forces raid Hacienda Nápoles. Another of Pablo’s properties, a two-storey hilltop cabin was seized. Inside, they found thirty-eight Italian shirts and a mirrored ceiling over Pablo’s brass bed. The raids on Gacha’s property were just as impressive. Outside one of his mansions was a stone bridge over a man-made pond. Inside were porcelain cats, crystal coffee tables, Chinese vases, a pool table, a white marble bathroom with gold plumbing fixtures and Italian toilet paper with prints of naked women on each sheet.

Worst of all for the traffickers: extradition was reinstated with a new set of rules. Traffickers could be extradited to America by executive decree, without being processed through the courts or the government having to utilise the antiquated treaty that had been suspended in 1987. On August 21, 1989, the police arrested a cartel treasurer and started extradition proceedings.

On August 24, the Medellín headquarters of the Liberal and Social Conservative parties received bombs. Some politicians’ houses were set on fire.

A new communiqué announced “now the fight is in blood.”

We declare total and absolute war against the government, the industrial and political oligarchy, the journalists who have attacked and insulted us, the judges who have sold themselves to the government, the magistrates who want to extradite us, the union leaders, and all those who have pursued and attacked us.

We shall not respect the families of those who have not respected our families. We shall burn and destroy the industries, properties, and mansions of the oligarchy.

From the Extraditables and the Expropriated to the people of Colombia.

Bush sent $65 million to Colombia in emergency aid, which included twenty Huey helicopters, eight A-37 reconnaissance and attack jets, five C-130 transport planes, anti-tank weapons, assault boats, machine guns, grenade launchers… Dozens of US military advisers arrived with the equipment.

“We will provide only material support and training,” Bush said. “The United States has complete confidence in the capability of the Colombian police and military to deal with this situation.”

Based on information from ninety-three US attorneys, the Americans released a Top 12 Most Wanted list. The top five were Pablo Escobar, Jorge Ochoa, Fabio Ochoa, Juan David Ochoa and Gustavo Gaviria. Gacha was only ninth. According to the US Attorney General, the purpose of the report was to compile “the business structure of drug trafficking… find out once and for all how the deadly game is being played. Demystify it. Drag it out from under the rock where it lives and breeds, so that we can fully educate the American public as to the size and breadth of these illegal and insidious business operations.”

According to the report, the Medellín and Cali Cartels “control approximately 70 percent of the cocaine processed in Colombia and supply 80 percent of the cocaine distributed in the United States. These cartels act as true cartels in the classic sense that they attempt, through collusion, to set prices and to eliminate any effective competition.”

“Among the cartels, the Medellín Cartel is the most sophisticated organization.” It controls “most of the modern office buildings in the city of Medellín and many of the retail establishments. Overseas communications are done by fax. In the US, cartel managers serve on a rotating basis.”

“Of the three other major Colombian organizations, the Cali Cartel, founded in the late 1970s or early 1980s, comes closest to rivalling the Medellín Cartel in wealth and influence… A tacit agreement of ten years’ standing, giving the bulk of the New York City cocaine trafficking distribution to the Cali Cartel, was breached, and tons of cocaine were shipped directly into that market by the Medellín organization.”

On August 25, the Medellín Cartel announced that ten judges would die for every Colombian extradited. Over a hundred judges resigned. Seventeen bombs exploded within a few days, which were all blamed on Pablo. The Ochoas and Gacha tried to make peace with the government, but the president said that he would not rest until the traffickers were destroyed. Over a two-week period, the price of cocaine in Miami rose from $13,000 a kilo to $19,000, indicating that the crackdown had disrupted the short-term supply.

On August 29, old Fabio Ochoa Sr wrote an open letter to the president, identifying himself as the father “of so-called Extraditables, poor fellows, may God protect them,” who “prefer a tomb in Colombia to a life term in a cell in the United States - in other words, a living death…” But they “are also human. They have mothers, fathers, children, brothers, relatives and friends. They also have a heart. We are all brothers.” He asked the president to “let there be dialogue, let there be peace, let there be forgiveness, let us try wiping the slate clean and starting a new account. Let us forgive as Jesus Christ taught us.” The president ignored him.

On September 2 at 6:40 am, a pickup truck at a petrol station by the headquarters of the newspaper El Espectador, carrying 220 pounds of dynamite, exploded, injuring 75 people. Windows were shattered and the newspaper’s photo lab was destroyed. The damage totalled $2.5 million. The next day, the public bought half a million copies of the Sunday edition to help the newspaper.

On September 5, 1989, President Bush went on TV to deliver a speech:

In Colombia alone, cocaine killers have gunned down a leading statesman, murdered almost 200 judges and seven members of their supreme court. The besieged governments of the drug-producing countries are fighting back, fighting to break the international drug rings. But you and I agree with the courageous President of Colombia, Virgilio Barco, who said that if Americans use cocaine, then Americans are paying for murder. American cocaine users need to understand that our nation has zero tolerance for casual drug use. We have a responsibility not to leave our brave friends in Colombia to fight alone.

The $65 million emergency assistance announced two weeks ago was just our first step in assisting the Andean nations in their fight against the cocaine cartels. Colombia has already arrested suppliers, seized tons of cocaine and confiscated palatial homes of drug lords. But Colombia faces a long uphill battle, so we must be ready to do more. Our strategy allocates more than a quarter of a billion dollars for next year in military and law enforcement assistance for the three Andean nations of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. This will be the first part of a five-year $2 billion program to counter the producers, the traffickers and the smugglers.

I spoke with President Barco just last week, and we hope to meet with the leaders of affected countries in an unprecedented drug summit, all to coordinate an inter-American strategy against the cartels. We will work with our allies and friends, especially our economic summit partners, to do more in the fight against drugs. I’m also asking the Senate to ratify the United Nations antidrug convention concluded last December.

To stop those drugs on the way to America, I propose that we spend more than a billion and a half dollars on interdiction. Greater interagency cooperation, combined with sophisticated intelligence-gathering and Defense Department technology, can help stop drugs at our borders.

And our message to the drug cartels is this: the rules have changed. We will help any government that wants our help. When requested, we will for the first time make available the appropriate resources of America’s Armed Forces. We will intensify our efforts against drug smugglers on the high seas, in international airspace and at our borders. We will stop the flow of chemicals from the United States used to process drugs. We will pursue and enforce international agreements to track drug money to the front men and financiers. And then we will handcuff these money launderers and jail them, just like any street dealer. And for the drug kingpins: the death penalty.

Bush was challenged in an open letter from Milton Friedman, the 1976 Nobel Laureate in Economics:

The path you propose of more police, more jails, use of the military in foreign countries, harsh penalties for drug users and a whole panoply of repressive measures can only make a bad situation worse. The drug war cannot be won by those tactics without undermining the human liberty and individual freedom that you and I cherish.

You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are tearing asunder our social fabric, ruining the lives of many young people and imposing heavy costs on some of the most disadvantaged among us. You are not mistaken in believing that the majority of the public share your concerns. In short, you are not mistaken in the end you seek to achieve.

Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore. Of course the problem is demand, but it is not only demand, it is demand that must operate through repressed and illegal channels. Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces, so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault.

Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike. Our experience with the prohibition of drugs is a replay of our experience with the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

I append excerpts from a column that I wrote in 1972 on “Prohibition and Drugs.” The major problem then was heroin from Marseilles; today, it is cocaine from Latin America. Today, also, the problem is far more serious than it was 17 years ago: more addicts, more innocent victims; more drug pushers, more law enforcement officials; more money spent to enforce prohibition, more money spent to circumvent prohibition.

Had drugs been decriminalized 17 years ago, “crack” would never have been invented (it was invented because the high cost of illegal drugs made it profitable to provide a cheaper version) and there would today be far fewer addicts. The lives of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent victims would have been saved, and not only in the US. The ghettos of our major cities would not be drug-and-crime-infested no-man’s lands. Fewer people would be in jails, and fewer jails would have been built.

Colombia, Bolivia and Peru would not be suffering from narco-terror, and we would not be distorting our foreign policy because of narco-terror. Hell would not, in the words with which Billy Sunday welcomed Prohibition, “be forever for rent,” but it would be a lot emptier.

Decriminalizing drugs is even more urgent now than in 1972, but we must recognize that the harm done in the interim cannot be wiped out, certainly not immediately. Postponing decriminalization will only make matters worse, and make the problem appear even more intractable.

Alcohol and tobacco cause many more deaths in users than do drugs. Decriminalization would not prevent us from treating drugs as we now treat alcohol and tobacco: prohibiting sales of drugs to minors, outlawing the advertising of drugs and similar measures. Such measures could be enforced, while outright prohibition cannot be. Moreover, if even a small fraction of the money we now spend on trying to enforce drug prohibition were devoted to treatment and rehabilitation, in an atmosphere of compassion not punishment, the reduction in drug usage and in the harm done to the users could be dramatic.

This plea comes from the bottom of my heart. Every friend of freedom, and I know you are one, must be as revolted as I am by the prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp, by the vision of jails filled with casual drug users and of an army of enforcers empowered to invade the liberty of citizens on slight evidence. A country in which shooting down unidentified planes “on suspicion” can be seriously considered as a drug-war tactic is not the kind of United States that either you or I want to hand on to future generations.

Milton Friedman’s mistake was assuming that Bush was genuinely concerned about the drug problem. Bush was using Pablo and the traffickers to justify transferring billions of taxpayers’ money over to weapons manufacturers and prison industries - small change compared to the trillions US taxpayers would spend fighting a War on Drugs that only exacerbated the problem exactly as Milton had predicted. The black market in cocaine was as profitable for those fighting the traffickers as it was for the cartels. Decriminalisation would have wiped out the profit for both sides. Milton was also unaware of the CIA’s role in drug trafficking, because anyone who blew the whistle back then was silenced.

On September 17, Pablo responded to Bush in a slightly more aggressive fashion than Milton Friedman. Near the US embassy - which was on a high state of alert - a man was taking a stroll in a park. After scoping out his surroundings for witnesses, he pulled out a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, took aim and fired. The rocket hit the embassy building, but failed to explode. It only damaged the cement facade. Diplomats sent their families home.

On November 27, 1989, a presidential candidate was expected to board Avianca Airlines Flight 203 from Bogotá to Cali. At a meeting with Pablo present, it was decided to eliminate the candidate by putting a bomb - consisting of five kilos of dynamite - on board the plane. A ticket for seat 15F was purchased in a fake name. An unwitting accomplice was given a suitcase he was told contained a recording device, and instructed to use it to record the conversations of the Cali Cartel people scheduled to sit in front of him.

At 7:13 am, the plane took off. It was in the air for five minutes and flying at a speed of 794 kilometres per hour when the accomplice turned a knob on the recording device. At an altitude of 13,000 feet, the bomb blasted a hole in the floor and the side of the plane and ripped the airliner apart. The nose section separated from the tail section, which tumbled down in flames. All 107 people on board were killed, as well as three on the ground from the falling debris.

At the last minute, the presidential candidate had switched to a private flight. Eventually, he became the president.

After the explosion, a Bogotá radio station received a call from a member of the Extraditables, claiming responsibility because the passengers had included five informants. Four years later, the bomb maker confessed to the DAS that he’d been paid a million pesos by a senior Medellín Cartel member.

The death of two Americans on-board Avianca Airlines Flight 203 prompted the Bush administration to classify Pablo as a clear and present danger and to begin Intelligence Support Activity on him. George HW Bush dispatched the CIA, a secret surveillance unit called Centra Spike and Delta Force, the top counterterrorism unit.

Mostly language experts and technicians, Centra Spike specialised in eavesdropping on electronic communications to find people. By tracking Pablo’s phone calls, they mapped out the members of the Medellín Cartel. They forwarded the information to Search Bloc, a group of elite Colombian police and soldiers hunting Pablo.

Pablo announced he would destroy the Search Bloc within eight days. Two car bombs killed twenty-five officers. Instead of disbanding, they received more men and ammunition, turning them into a seven-hundred-strong SWAT team.

In November 1989, Gacha’s son was released from jail. Two months earlier, he’d been arrested during a raid on a ranch north of Bogotá, and charged with possessing illegal arms. Hoping he’d lead them to Gacha, the police shadowed him. In December, he joined his father at a small ranch. Having finally pinpointed his location, the government sent more than 1,000 Colombian National Police and Marines.

Colombian military personnel aboard two helicopters opened fire on Gacha, hitting him in the leg. In a gun battle, Gacha, his son and fifteen bodyguards ended up disfigured by bullets. A chunk of Gacha’s head had been blown off. Initially, the extent of the damage to his head and the noise of grenades going off led the neighbours to believe that he’d committed suicide by holding a grenade to his head. But this was debunked when it was confirmed that his hands had not been damaged. It is believed that a bullet to the face from a helicopter-mounted machine gun killed him. Even though he’d been a murderous cocaine trafficker, 15,000 people attended his burial, many of whom viewed him as a public benefactor due to his building projects and assistance to the poor.

In December, 1989, Pablo launched his biggest attack on General Maza. A bus brought a 500-pound bomb to the DAS building. Inside the lobby, one of Pablo’s workers was waiting for the arrival of Maza and his bodyguards to give the signal. A man outside was supposed to send the bus into the lobby. But Maza arrived through a different entrance, thwarting the original plan. The man in the lobby gave up waiting for Maza and exited the building. Upon seeing him, the men outside detonated the bomb at 7:30 am, almost killing Pablo’s man as he walked out.

It was one of the biggest ever explosions in Colombia. The blast opened a crater ten feet deep and demolished a complex of two-story commercial buildings next to the avenue where the bus had been parked. The bus crashed into a car. The entire front of the eleven-story DAS building fell off. Numerous buildings were damaged and windows shattered in a twenty-six-block area. Out of the almost one thousand injured, those who could stand wandered through an area strewn with rubble, destroyed cars, corpses, blood-splatter and body parts.

Despite the devastation and dozens of deaths, Maza emerged without a scratch. “It was like a mini-atom bomb,” he told reporters. “The ceiling fell down on top of me.” He said that the bomb was positioned to aim shock waves at the upper floors of the building. “Without a doubt, it was aimed at me.” He credited his survival to the grace of God and the steel protecting his office. Pablo put a $1.3 million contract on him.

On August 7, 1990, a new president called for a reduction in the demand for cocaine from the consumer countries, which was viewed as a peace offering to the traffickers. But on August 12, Pablo’s cousin, Gustavo, was located in a house in Medellín. In what the police claimed was an exchange of gunfire, he was killed by members of the Search Bloc. Any hope of peace was off. Devastated by the loss of his right-hand man, Pablo started to torture and kill people inside his organisation whom he felt were cooperating with the authorities.

According to the Colombian National Police, there were 25,000 murders in Colombia in 1990. They included judges, politicians, three presidential candidates and many of Pablo’s associates, friends and family.