What survived Escobar

women and men : Escobar orders Popeye to kill

I loved Pablo Escobar like a father. He was a strong patron who was good to us and whom we all showed great respect. He fought against the rival Cali drug cartel, against the Colombian government and defended Colombia against the United States. We have actually fought three wars, all at the same time.

We probably killed 15,000 people. And drop 250 bombs in the country. We killed 540 police officers, injured 800, and 1000 quit their jobs out of fear. I've read a lot about the Italian Mafia, but ours was stronger.

My way was the crime. I was drawn to it, and my toughness was my ticket. I didn't become a killer because otherwise I wouldn't have had anything to eat. I come from the upper middle class, my brothers have good jobs. But I needed adrenaline. I've never minded killing anyone. And I always keep my nerve when I kill. A good killer hits the head just above the eyebrows. He needs two shots to do this, and he keeps the remaining four if he gets into trouble while trying to escape. I was 17 years old when I carried out the first contract killing. I shot a bus driver with a .38 revolver and got $ 200 for it. At first I took orders to kill, later I only killed for him, for Pablo Escobar.

Pablo Escobar, the greatest drug lord of all time and founder of the Colombian Medellin cartel. Jhon Jairo Velásquez, known as "Popeye", was his closest confidante. Escobar made a billion dollar fortune with the cocaine trade, he almost brought Colombia to its knees with a private army of contract killers. Only after several months of police action brought him down, in 1993 he was shot while trying to escape before he was arrested. His most loyal killer, Popeye, is still serving his sentence in the Combitá maximum security prison in Boyacá, a few hours' drive northeast of the capital, Bogota.

Pablo Escobar shaped my generation. He came from a poor background and has never denied his origins. He did not have any fear of contact with the population. He talked to people, sat down with them on the floor, slept like them on a hard mattress. Pablo Escobar liked the people and the people loved him. In the slums he had hospitals, houses and football stadiums built.

He was very charismatic. He never had anyone killed for driving into their car or whistling after his wife. He always acted strategically and pursued his goals. There was nothing I didn't do for Escobar. I even killed my own girlfriend out of loyalty to him. Her name was Wendy and she was breathtakingly beautiful. She had previously been Pablo Escobar's lover and hated him for forcing her to abort her baby. He had forbidden his lovers to have children from him. I loved her and I loved Pablo Escobar, and that she had been his friend made me proud.

But he learned that Wendy was spying for the Cali cartel. We were at war and I was disciplined. I wouldn't have had the heart to kill her with my own hands. I made an appointment with her in a restaurant. She arrived before me. I called them - that was the sign for my people to shoot them. I heard her die on the phone and she knew the moment the bullets hit her that I had had her killed.

The power of violence made me invincible back then. In Medellín we had two or three exchanges of fire with the police every day. Every day we killed five of them while five of us died. I went around with 20 men, all armed and with souls poisoned by violence.

We used bombs to kill high-ranking personalities: politicians, judges, journalists. We demonstrated the Colombian state. We were 2,000 bandits, and within seven years we had the state sign its own bankruptcy declaration.

Popeye lives in cell 17. One of 20 concrete canyons built around a courtyard. The other 19 cells in the block are empty. Solitary confinement, solitary confinement. Velásquez doesn't seem unsympathetic, can talk charmingly, has gray hair and a stubbly beard. And yet he is surrounded by a military harshness that makes one shudder.

I've lived behind prison walls for almost 20 years now, and my hair has turned white over time. Back then, in 1991, Pablo Escobar surrendered and moved with his entire bodyguard into the legendary “La Catedral” prison in Antioquía. The state seemed to have won, but in fact Colombia had to go to the cross with a constitutional amendment in front of Pablo Escobar. He was so powerful that he had an extradition ban to the United States enshrined in the constitution. His motto was: "Better a grave in Colombia than a prison in the USA."

In return for the constitutional amendment, he surrendered to the authorities. The government demanded that I, as one of its main henchmen, surrender myself first. I found myself at a location agreed with the police at nine in the morning. At four in the afternoon I called Escobar so that he could show up at five as agreed.

In the “cathedral” we lived a full life. The prison was built according to Escobar's ideas. There was a pool room, soccer field, breathtaking views, antique furniture and paintings. He himself was in command there and gave specific instructions for murders outside the prison walls. I continued to wage war against the Cali cartel. Orgies and feasts for friends and followers were celebrated in the “cathedral”. High-ranking politicians visited Escobar, I saw them come and go.

The "five-star prison", as the media headlined, became the bitterest disgrace of the Colombian judiciary. And just a year later we broke out. But I hadn't been free for three months when I was arrested again. Seven months later, Pablo Escobar was shot dead on December 2nd, the day after his birthday.

That day changed my life. It was as if they had killed my mother a hundred times. I felt defenseless like an orphan. And for the first time in my life, I was scared. None of us ever thought that Pablo Escobar would die. We always thought he was immortal.

I started forming new alliances to stay alive and secure my position in prison. Because the "Pepes", a group of former supporters and business partners of Escobar, wanted to have me killed. I even made a pact with my former archenemy "Don Berna", the leader of the paramilitary association AUC. That's life. In the mafia you have to be flexible about new coalitions. Who was your enemy yesterday is your friend today. Whoever is your friend today wants your death tomorrow.

The midday sun makes the barren concrete walls shine in a cold gray. One hour of talk time for the story of a life. Popeye looks up at the blue sky through the bars of the open courtyard. 20 years behind bars, and yet not a broken man, but someone who obviously likes to talk about himself.

I am richer today than I was before, because today I am satisfied with what I have. I'm not a millionaire, but I have enough to live. I no longer need jewels or expensive women. The only thing I want: my freedom. When I get out of prison, I just want to walk the streets. Eat an ice cream or a green apple. I want to go to the cinema. And in the church. Get on a bus and drive to the country.

I want to do everything I used to do before I went to the mafia. And yet I do not regret this journey; I looked for adventure and found it. The crime made me who I am. But now it's all over. I want to start a new life far from death. I am no longer ready to fight for anyone.

I'm supposed to be released next year. Then a new adventure begins: not to let myself be killed. But if you want to kill me, you have to find me first. I found a lot of people; I know how professional killers work. That's why I also know what to look out for in order to be undetectable.

I will not take revenge on anyone; I don't feel any more hatred. My weapons are no longer rifles today. What I can use to defend myself today is that I know who was there back then. And some people are in important positions today.

The only friend I have left is God. God has always been my companion. I am the best proof that God exists. I was tried seven times and in another prison I survived an internal war that killed 300 people. Nevertheless, I'm still here and can tell about it. God is actually my only friend.

I have a 16 year old son who lives in New York, but I haven't seen him in nine years. I don't have anyone anymore. Nobody cries a tear after a contract killer. Good people identify with the innocent.

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