Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden documents the rise and fall of Medellin drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar.
The book is an excellent introduction to the modern history of Colombia. It opens with the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and the start of La Violencia. It was into this chaotic world that Pablo Escobar was born. The book discusses how Pablo Escobar started off as a simple street thug but managed to play the public relations game well. By killing members of the establishment Escobar managed to gain the sympathy of those the establishment oppressed. By giving money to charities and building facilities for the poor, Escobar managed to create a safe base of operations in the slums of Medellin. Among his supporters included the local Catholic Church which was full of Liberation Theologians. These people would love and try to protect Pablo throughout his life.
Pablo eventually became the seventh richest man in the world with all his drug earnings. He was even elected as a substitute to the Colombian Congress. It was here that the crackdown began. After a decade long escalating struggle involving mass kidnappings, assassination of presidential candidates, Delta Force, and shadow groups Pablo Escobar was killed.
The strategists in the Iraq War and Mexico's current drug war would do well to learn from the take down from Pablo.
The Need for Strong Will - When the first noose around Pablo's neck tightened he attacked the government at its weakest point. Pablo launched a terrorist war against the people of Colombia. Popular public figures were kidnapped, some were murdered, and car bombs were detonated in Bogotá. The public decided that letting a terrorist get his way was better than the effort and cost of bringing him to justice. The government gave into public pressures. But eventually the continued actives forced the government to finally take down Pablo at a much greater cost of money and lives.
The Need for Local Support - Pablo was able to avoid the government's special commando team and the CIA search equipment. Everyone on his trail were outsiders. The Colombians were from Bogotá and the CIA from the United States. These outsiders could not penetrate the societal networks which Pablo used to shield himself, his family, and business. Then a new player arrived on the seen. Los Pepes (Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar or"People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar") was comprised of rival drug lords, victims of Pablo, and pro-government vigilantes. Los Pepes, indirectly supplied with government information on the assets of Pablo, was able to strike at Pablo's friends and family. Pablo, always a family man, was forced to divert resources to protect his family and was taken off balance by these attacks. It was here were he made his lethal mistake and was finally killed.
Killing Pablo is a fast and educational read on the situation of 1980s and 1990s Colombia. One can easily see the parables between the Latin American country and today's Mexico, Somalia, and Iraq.