Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos - Shaun Attwood (2016)
Chapter 18. Demise
“Colonel, I’m going to kill you. I’m going to kill all of your family up to the third generation, then I will dig up your grandparents and shoot them and bury them again,” Pablo notified Martinez. Three police bodyguards were on the way to pick up one of the colonel’s sons from school when hit men assassinated them. Despite the threat to his family and the stress they were all under, Martinez refused to back down.
One of his sons, Hugo, was a member of a special unit of the Colombian police, which had been experimenting with new technology to locate Pablo. Martinez didn’t want Hugo working on the case in Medellín, where members of the police were constantly murdered due to the $2,000 per hit offered by Pablo. But Hugo insisted that he wanted to help stamp out the threat to their family by tracking Pablo down with a device provided by the CIA.
Hugo’s team went out in vans. Parked on hills with their antennae raised, the vans could triangulate a location. Once a signal had been received, Hugo would race off in an undercover vehicle with a monitor that made a noise as it picked up the signal’s strength. As the technology was new, the team was having a hard time getting used to it. Hugo ended up chasing signals that led nowhere.
Due to the threat from Los Pepes, Pablo was in contact with his family more than usual. After being blocked from leaving the country, they were housed in a government building, worried about Los Pepes coming to kill them at any moment. Pablo’s wife wrote him a letter:
I miss you so very much I feel weak. Sometimes I feel an immense loneliness take over my heart. Why does life have to separate us like this? My heart is aching. How are you? How do you feel? I don’t want to leave you my love. I need you so much, I want to cry with you… I don’t want to pressure you. Nor do I want to make you commit mistakes, but if our leaving is not possible, I would feel more secure with you. We’ll close ourselves in, suspend the mail, whatever we have to. This is getting too tense.
Martinez and his son were relying on Pablo calling his family, so that they could trace the calls. Pablo made numerous calls to his son, Juan Pablo, a strapping six-foot teenager who used binoculars to watch out for Los Pepes. One day, he saw a man fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the building housing Pablo’s immediate family. Juan Pablo photographed suspects and jotted down license-plate numbers. Pablo sent him letters written in code, with instructions about dealing with lawyers and officials. Pablo received a response from his son:
I send you a big hug and warm wishes.
I see that Corrales [from the attorney general’s office] is in high spirits, fighting Los Pepes. He doesn’t have a choice anyway… The prosecutor played the fool about us leaving the country… to test us, to check what we were going to say and how we were going to react. I have been firm about your conditions and I have persuaded them. I even told them that you had planned to deal with the Cali people after turning yourself in, because you were willing to have peace back in the country.
Corrales was very rude to me. We were talking and he started to tell me, “I have to look for your father because that is my mission. I’m not from here or there [allied to any side], I am a righteous person and he (you) knows that I am serious about that.” So I told him that there was no need for him to tell me that to my face every time he came around here because he has been here three times and all three times he has said the same thing – that I knew that was his job, but that he had to respect me, because it was my father he was talking about, and I told him he should calm down because my father was also after all those who were looking for him, and that destiny will say who finds whom.
He answered, “I’m afraid, because it’s my job and no one has told me to stop looking for your father, because there are forty arrest warrants against him.” I answered: “This is not for you to be afraid, but for you to show me some respect because I am with him [Pablo] and I support him,” so he’d better cut it out or else. Then I told him that the prosecutor was the most fake guy in this country, that how did he expect us to believe him regarding you turning yourself in if he wasn’t a man who kept his word, and that he had protected us so far only to trick us with false promises. And he answered: “I don’t allow anyone to speak about my boss at my table,” and I told him, “I, like a member of this family, cannot allow you either to say bad things about my boss, who is my father.”
It would be good to tease the TV people, so they won’t make the building [housing Pablo’s family] stand out so obviously, because when they came here they told me they were going to erase the tape and they didn’t do it.
Take care of yourself.
I love and remember you.
The letter detailed where Juan Pablo suspected Martinez stayed in Medellín and described suspicious people lurking around their building.
Centra Spike and the Search Bloc tuned into Pablo’s calls to his son. Initially, the code words used and the alternation of radio frequencies presented problems. Hugo led his team on so many wild goose chases that they almost gave up on him and the technology.
With the help of the CIA, Hugo learned that Pablo spoke to his son for an hour each evening, commencing around 7:15 pm. By listening to the calls, Hugo decoded the words used to indicate that it was time to switch frequencies. He was so convinced that he had located Pablo that raids were launched on the wrong buildings. Hugo ended up demoted from his position as a commander of a surveillance team.
Despite the setback and fifteen months of searching, Martinez was convinced that Pablo would soon be found. The eavesdropping technology was accumulating more information and its location techniques were being refined.
Not everybody supported the efforts of Martinez. The press attacked him for taking too long to find Pablo. The attorney general wanted Martinez removed and prosecuted with Los Pepes for all of the murder and mayhem of which Pablo was accusing them. The DEA – whose mission statement was to combat drug trafficking – learned that Martinez was on the payroll of the Cali Cartel. The DEA noted that “[Gilberto José] Rodríguez Orejuela [a Cali Cartel leader] told [an informant] they had bandits working within the Search Bloc… The informant advised that Rodríguez Orejuela states they had made an arrangement with PNC [Colombian National Police] General Vargas and Colonel Martinez regarding a reward for Escobar’s capture. According to Rodríguez Orejuela, the Cali Cartel will pay a total of $10 million immediately following Pablo’s capture and/or death. Of this, $8 million has been promised to the Search Bloc and $2 million for the informants who provide the information that leads to a successful operation.”
The Americans knew that if this information leaked it would embarrass the DEA, but they decided it was worth the risk. They lobbied against the attorney general for trying to remove Martinez.
In October 1993, the government threatened to withdraw the guards protecting Pablo’s family, which would have left them at the mercy of Los Pepes. Pablo’s terrified wife asked the attorney general to visit their building and give Pablo more time to surrender, which she was encouraging him to do. She said she wasn’t a criminal and she shouldn’t be getting punished.
Juan Pablo sent the attorney general a letter stating how worried and desperate the family was getting. He noted that several of his close friends, a maid and a personal tutor had been kidnapped and killed in recent weeks and that some of the kidnappers were policemen.
In November, Juan Pablo negotiated a deal with the attorney general for Pablo’s surrender. The conditions were that Roberto Escobar would be moved out of lockdown and into a part of the Itagüí prison housing the Ochoa brothers and other Medellín traffickers. Upon surrendering, Pablo wanted to be housed with Roberto and to be allowed twenty-one family visits each year. The final requirement was for his wife and children to be flown out of the country. The attorney general promised to help them move to a safe country, but only after Pablo had surrendered. In the end, Pablo gave his word that he would surrender as soon as his family was flown overseas. Accepting Pablo’s word, the attorney general started to make arrangements for Pablo’s family to leave the country.
The Americans were desperate to prevent Pablo from surrendering. Pablo tried to distract the Americans by starting a rumour that he was in Haiti, while arranging for his family to fly to either London or Frankfurt. The authorities asked the Spanish, British and German ambassadors to refuse Pablo’s family entry into their countries.
After his family was airborne for Germany, Pablo found out that they were going to be denied access. Infuriated, he made a call, “This is Pablo Escobar. I need to talk to the president.”
“OK, hold on, let me locate him,” an operator said and contacted the National Police.
A policeman got on the phone. “We can’t get in touch with the president right now. Please call back at another time.” He hung up.
Pablo called again. “This is Pablo Escobar. It is necessary that I talk to the president. My family is flying to Germany at this time. I need to talk to him right now.”
“We get a lot of crank calls here. We need to somehow verify that it is really you. It’s going to take me a few minutes to track down the president, so please wait a few more minutes and then call back.”
The president refused to speak to Pablo. The police set up a trap to trace the call.
After the phone rang, a policeman told Pablo, “I’m sorry, Mr Escobar, we have been unable to locate the president.”
Pablo threatened to bomb the presidential palace and the German embassy if his family couldn’t stay in Germany.
Pablo’s family was flown back to Colombia and dropped off at a hotel in Bogotá without any police protection. On the phone, Pablo told them to wait there, to lobby the authorities to go to another country and to contact the United Nations.
With Pablo’s family vulnerable in a hotel, Los Pepes announced that their cessation of operations – which had been initiated at the government’s request – was over and they were resuming hostilities with Pablo.
Fearing a bombing, the other guests checked out of the hotel housing Pablo’s family. Walking around the hotel, Pablo’s daughter, Manuela, sang about Los Pepes coming to kill her and her family.
On November 30, 1993, Pablo sent a letter to the suspected leaders of Los Pepes, including Colonel Martinez, the leaders of the Cali Cartel, the Castaño brothers and members of the Search Bloc. “I have been raided 10,000 times. You haven’t been at all. Everything is confiscated from me. Nothing is taken away from you. The government will never offer a warrant for you. The government will never apply faceless justice to criminal and terrorist policemen.”
Now they had Pablo worried about his family’s safety, the authorities relied on him calling the hotel housing his family. Hugo Martinez came back early from a vacation to resume the hunt. In a dangerous neighbourhood, Hugo’s van was spotted. A child on roller-skates approached the van and gave Hugo a note: “We know what you’re doing. We know you are looking for Pablo. Either you leave or we’re going to kill you.”
Even though Pablo was speaking while in a moving taxi, Centra Spike traced his calls to Los Olivos, a neighbourhood in Medellín near the football stadium, consisting mostly of two-storey homes. The Search Bloc set up surveillance in Los Olivos. In a car, Hugo listened for Pablo’s voice. For days, he ate and slept in the vehicle.
Roberto received a note from someone on the payroll that warned Pablo to stop talking on the phone or else he would be caught. Roberto immediately sent a note to Pablo about his phone being triangulated. He urged him to stop using it. Other sources warned that if Pablo surrendered, he would be killed.
Aware that the end was near, Pablo left a recording for his daughter telling her to be a good girl and that he would protect her from heaven. He bought his brother a copy of the Guinness Book of Sports Records, wrote a personal note to Roberto – who he described as his soul brother – and put it in the book.
Pablo spent his forty-fourth birthday, December 1, 1993 at building number 45D-94 on Street 79A, a two-storey house that he owned. He had one bodyguard, Limón. His cousin, Luzmila, was his cook. When Pablo wanted to make phone calls, Limón drove him around in a yellow taxi, which had given Pablo a false sense of security. Birthday congratulations kept Pablo on the phone longer than usual with his family. He celebrated with restaurant food and champagne.
Hugo picked up a signal on December 1. He sped to the location, which brought him to a roundabout with nobody there. Convinced that he’d just missed Pablo, he was disappointed. The next day, he returned to his apartment to rest.
To throw his pursuers off his trail, Pablo had decided to hide in the jungle. He wanted to say goodbye to his mother first, so he risked going to her apartment in the early morning. He told her that it was the last time he would see her in Medellín. His plan now was to form a new group, establish an independent country and be its president. Without crying, his mother said goodbye.
On December 2, 1993, Pablo woke up around noon and ate spaghetti. He sent his cousin to buy supplies he would need in the jungle: stationery and toiletries. In a taxi, he made phone calls. On the phone, he got out of the taxi and returned to the apartment, making the mistake of speaking for longer than five minutes.
Martinez notified his son that Pablo was talking. Hugo rushed back to his team.
At 1 pm, pretending to be a radio journalist, Pablo called his family. His wife, Maria Victoria, was crying. Numerous of their family members and associates had been killed by Los Pepes. The family was distraught.
“So, what are you going to do?” Pablo said.
“I don’t know,” she said, still crying.
“What does your mother say?”
“It was as if my mother fainted,” she said, referring to a few days ago at the airport when the family had unsuccessfully tried to flee to Germany. “I did not call her. She told me bye, and then–”
“And you haven’t spoken to her?”
“No. My mother is so nervous…” Maria Victoria said the murders committed by Los Pepes had traumatised her mother.
“What are you going to do?” Pablo said softly.
“I don’t know. I mean, wait and see where we are going to go and I believe that will be the end of us.”
“Don’t you give me this coldness! Holy Mary!” Pablo said.
“What about me?” Pablo said.
“What are you going to do?”
“Nothing… What do you need?”
“Nothing,” Maria Victoria said.
“What do you want?”
“What would I want?”
“If you need something, call me, OK?”
“You call me now, quickly,” Pablo said. “There is nothing more I can tell you. What else can I say? I have remained right on track, right?”
“But how are you? Oh my God, I don’t know!”
“We must go on. Think about it. Now that I am so close, right?” Pablo said, referring to his proposal to surrender to the government.
“Yes,” Maria Victoria said. “Think about your boy, too, and everything else, and don’t make any decisions too quickly. OK?”
“Call your mother again and ask her if she wants you to go there or what…” she said. “Ciao.”
With the Search Bloc attempting to home in on the precise location, Juan Pablo got on the phone. He wanted his dad to help him formulate answers to questions from a journalist.
“Look, this is very important in Bogotá,” Pablo said, hoping to present his case favourably through the media. He wanted to hear the questions first. “This is also publicity. Explaining the reasons and other matters to them. Do you understand? Well done and well organized.”
“Yes, yes.” Juan Pablo began with the first question: “‘Whatever the country, refuge is conditioned on the immediate surrender of your father. Would your father be willing to turn himself in if you are settled somewhere?’”
“Go on,” Pablo said.
“The next one is, ‘Would he be willing to turn himself in before you take refuge abroad?’”
“I spoke with the man and he told me that if there were some questions I did not want to answer, there was no problem, and if I wanted to add some questions, he would include them.”
“OK. The next one?”
“‘Why do you think that several countries have refused to receive your family?’ OK?”
“‘From which embassies have you requested help for them to take you in?’”
“‘Don’t you think your father’s situation, accused of X number of crimes, assassination of public figures, considered one of the most powerful drug traffickers in the world...?’” Juan Pablo stopped reading.
“But there are many. Around forty questions.”
Pablo said he’d call back later in the day. “I may find a way to communicate by fax.”
“No,” Juan Pablo said, concerned about a fax being traced.
“No, huh? OK. OK. So, good luck.”
The Search Bloc and Centra Spike traced the call to Los Olivos. They waited for Pablo to make another call.
At 3 pm, Pablo called his son, who said that the journalist wanted to know what conditions Pablo would be satisfied with in order to turn himself in. Members of the Search Bloc started to go street to street, hoping to detect Pablo’s location. Hugo’s scanner led him to an office building. Convinced Pablo was inside, the troops stormed in, but Pablo was still conversing as if nothing had happened.
“Tell him, ‘My father cannot turn himself in unless he has guarantees for his security.’”
“‘And we totally support him in that,’” Pablo said.
“‘Above any considerations.’”
“‘My father is not going to turn himself in before we are placed in a foreign country, and while the police in Antioquia–’”
“The police and DAS is better,” Juan Pablo said. “Because the DAS are also searching.”
“It’s only the police,” Pablo said.
“‘While the police–’”
“OK,” Pablo said. “Let’s change it to, ‘While the security organizations in Antioquia…’”
“‘–continue to kidnap–’”
“‘–and commit massacres in Medellín.’”
“Yes, all right.”
“OK,” Pablo said. “The next one.”
Due to the amount of time Pablo had spent on the phone, Hugo’s scanning equipment had narrowed down Pablo’s location. Led by Hugo, members of the Search Bloc arrived at a stream by Pablo’s house.
Juan Pablo asked why so many countries had refused to allow their family in.
“‘The countries have denied entry because they don’t know the real truth,’” Pablo said.
“‘We’re going to knock on the doors of every embassy from all around the world because we’re willing to fight incessantly. Because we want to live and study in another country without bodyguards and hopefully with a new name.’”
“Just so you know, I got a phone call from a reporter who told me that President Alfredo Cristiani from Ecuador, no, I think it is El Salvador–”
“Yes?” Pablo went to a second-floor window and scanned the street, checking out cars.
“Well, he has offered to receive us. I heard the statement. Well, he gave it to me by phone,” Juan Pablo said.
“And he said if this contributed in some way to the peace of the country, he would be willing to receive us because the world receives dictators and bad people, why wouldn’t he receive us?”
“Well,” Pablo said, “let’s wait and see because that country is a bit hidden away.”
“Well, but at least there’s a possibility and it has come from a president.”
“Look, with respect to El Salvador.”
“In case they ask anything, tell them, ‘The family is very grateful and obliged to the words of the president, that it is known he is the president of peace in El Salvador.’”
The length of the call had exceeded Pablo’s safety limits. When asked about how the family had felt about living with government protection, Pablo said, “You respond to that one.”
“‘Who paid for maintenance and accommodation? You or the attorney general?’” Juan Pablo said.
“Who did pay this?” Pablo said.
“Us. Well, there were some people from Bogotá who got their expenses paid… but they never spent all of it because we supplied the groceries, mattresses, deodorants, toothbrushes and pretty much everything.”
After two more questions, Pablo said, “OK, let’s leave it at that.”
“Yeah, OK,” Juan Pablo said. “Good luck.”
The call had lasted for so long that Hugo and the Search Bloc were on Pablo’s street, driving up and down. Hugo stopped studying his equipment and started observing the houses. He noticed a bearded man behind a second-story window, phone in hand, watching the traffic. After a few seconds, the man disappeared into the house.
Hugo leaned out of the window. “This is the house!” he yelled at the vehicle behind him. Suspecting that Pablo had noticed his white van, Hugo told the driver to keep going. He radioed his father, “I’ve got him located. He’s in this house.” Assuming that Pablo’s hit men were on their way, Hugo wanted to leave.
“Stay exactly where you are!” Colonel Martinez yelled. “Station yourself in front and back of the house. Don’t let him come out!”
While all units of the Search Bloc sped to the house, Hugo parked in a back alley and got his gun ready.
There have been many accounts of what happened next.
A sledgehammer knocked down the front door. Six Search Bloc members stormed inside, shooting at an empty garage with a taxi. Charging up the stairs, one member of the team fell as if shot, startling the rest, but he had only slipped.
The authorities reported that Limón had escaped through a window onto an orange-tile roof. As he fled, Search Bloc members behind the house sprayed gunfire. Shot multiple times, he careened off the roof onto the grass.
Pablo tossed his sandals and leapt down to the roof. Not wanting to end up like Limón, he stayed against a wall, which blocked clear shots at him even though marksmen were all over the place. Aiming to escape down a back street, Pablo hastened along the wall.
Shots erupted. The gunfire was so intense from all sides of the house that it tore up the bricks and the roof and some members of the Search Bloc thought they were under attack by Pablo’s bodyguards and radioed for help.
The shooting stopped.
“It’s Pablo! It’s Pablo!”
Troops approached the blood-soaked corpse and flipped it over.
“Viva Colombia! We’ve just killed Pablo Escobar!”
“We won! We won!”
In the book Escobar, Roberto described the police barging in downstairs and Pablo sending Limón to investigate. Shot multiple times, Limón died while Pablo made it to the roof, looked around and saw he was surrounded. Having pledged to never be captured or killed, he shot himself in the head to deprive the government of being able to claim that they had killed him.
Pablo was shot three times: in his back, leg and above his right ear. Roberto believes the wound above the ear was the suicide shot.
Troops shaved a Hitler moustache onto Pablo’s face and posed for pictures with him.
Shortly after Pablo’s death, his mother and two sisters arrived. At first, they thought that only Limón was dead. Pablo’s mother later described what happened when she found Pablo’s corpse: “I felt something I have never felt in my life. It was terrible. Since then, my soul has been destroyed because there will never be anyone like Pablo again.”
While the upper classes celebrated, the news devastated the poor. At the funeral, over 5,000 rushed to touch the coffin. Pablo’s wife had to be evacuated. Along the streets, ten thousand joined the procession. For the first year, his grave had an armed guard.
Pablo’s death had no impact on the cocaine flowing into America.