Dance with the Devil

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Oct 22, 2012

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Next stop was back to the big cities and this one is definitely a huge urban sprawl. Medellin was once known as the most murderous city in the world and shot to fame under the 'control' of the famous drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar.  Escobar was once the 7th richest man in the world, the big boss of the Medellin cartel (there was also a huge cartel in Cali) and the first man to export cocaine to the USA.   He apparently started out by stealing gravestones and selling them and his ambition (which he achieved) was to be a millionaire by the time he was 18.  Initially he managed to pull the eyes over the Colombian population about his drug dealing business.  He was popular because he gave money to the poor, even building a whole new community to house all the people who at the time he found to be living on the city’s municipal dump.  At one stage he was so popular he was elected as a member of congress in Colombia, but this was shortlived and he was finally exposed as an international drug smuggler.  Those who exposed him were executed in the street and the start of the terror that rained down on the people of Medellin began

Escobar caused the famous drug war in Colombia in which many innocent people died.  In his attempts to evade arrest he started a campaign known as ‘silver or lead’, take the bribe or die in other words.  He had a high price for police and bombings became rife in his attempt to thwart the efforts of the special police force put together to stop him.  He even went as far as blowing up airoplanes full of passengers just to kill one person on it. Escobar handed himself in at one point on two conditions both of which were granted and so extradition for your crimes was removed from the Colombian constitution (his biggest fear was being extradited and tried in the USA), and he was imprisoned in a prison he built himself, known as the Cathedral it was more of a luxury hotel than a prison and he came and went as he pleased.  When he killed two people inside the prison the authorities had had enough but alas by the time they arrived to take him into custody Escobar was gone.  Thousands of innocent people were caught in the crossfire and despite Escobar finally being caught and killed in 1993 in a joint effort by the USA and the Colombian police force he left behind a country struggling to shake off its reputation as the most murderous place in the world.

He is despite all this still loved by a huge area of Medellin which he built to house the poor who were living in the municipal dump. His family still support that community and aids victims in Medellin via the profits of the tour that we did.  This took us to an old safe house owned by an associate of the Escobars and now the main residence of his brother Roberto who was the accountant of the Medellin Cartel.  Pablo told his brother to give himself up while he was still in hiding, for his own safety, and he served ten years in prison for his crimes. He showed us the places where they could hide out in the house, the quick escape routes, bullet holes in the wall from an attempt on Roberto’s life in 2010 and sat down and answered any questions we had over a coffee.  All in all a very strange but really interesting day.  I can recommend the films ‘The two Escobars’ and ‘Killing Pablo’ if you are interested to find out more. 

Although Colombia is getting away from its past it is still a country rife with problems in the aftermath of its recent colourful history.  I am told that although there is no more Pablo there are now thousands of Pablo’s and probably even richer than he was as the drug trade now stretches across the world and not only to the USA.  The FARC paramilitaries are heavily involved in drug trafficking these days which they use to finance their cause along with kidnappings most of which are FARC led and which meant that most wealthy Colombians started using busses rather than be a target in a swanky car. 

Despite its shaky past Medellin is a bustling modern city and all the people we met were friendly normal people just trying to get along in a country where the drug industry has unfortunately become so endemic that it has financed most of its biggest institutions.  So we wanted to see what Colombians do on a day off in the city and apparently that is jump on the uber efficient metro system which connects to and includes the cable cars (in the past many of the slums of Medellin built up on the steep slopes around the city and so the city itself now sprawls upwards on all sides).  At the end of the line is another cable car ride that is 15 mins long and takes you way up out of the city over the mountains and the pine forests and into another world, Parque Arvi.  Here you take a free bus to a beautiful lake where we hired pedalos and pootled around the lake. 

Also in Medellin are the famous fat statues of Botero an artist who portrays his subjects with exaggerated and disproportionate volumetry.  He is perhaps the most famous Colombian artist and has donated a large number of his sculptures to a museum in Medellin.
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