In most businesses, seeing a return on investment (ROI) of 100% would be more than enough for a company to thrive. By some estimates, notorious Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar enjoyed an ROI of as much as 20,000%. Put another way, for every $1 he put into his business, he got about $200 in return.
That is one seductive ROI, for certain. It doesn’t account for risk, but for most of Escobar’s professional life at the head of the Medellin cartel, the risk wasn’t his, nor was it financial: The risk fell to the lives of Pablo’s rivals and to the lives of the (mostly) American dealers who pushed his product to the users who snorted it. Only after his wealth, notoriety and brutality made him the target of both big governments and small (but determined) vigilante groups did Escobar finally endure some risk. Not surprisingly, on December 2, 1993, a day after his 44th birthday, it caught up with him in the most permanent way after a rooftop chase-down in a middle-class part of Medellin.
1. Rats Ate $1 Billion Of Pablo Escobar’s Profits Each Year
The first thing you didn’t know about Pablo Escobar testifies to an uncommon, staggering degree of wealth. According to Roberto Escobar, one of Pablo’s closest brothers, at a time when their estimated profits were circling $20 billion annually “Pablo was earning so much that each year we would write off 10% of the money because the rats would eat it in storage or it would be damaged by water or lost.”
If that weren’t enough to drop your jaw, Roberto adds that the cartel spent as much as $2,500 every month on rubber bands to “hold the money together.”
2. Pablo Escobar’s Paradise Now Houses Refugees And Hippos
Near the small northwestern Colombian town of Puerto Triunfo, Pablo Escobar once built himself a vacation getaway befitting a man of his stature. Hacienda Napoles was just shy of paradise, spread across almost 5,000 acres (7.7 sq-mi.) and featuring everything from pools to a bullring to an exotic zoo with hippos, giraffes, elephants, and more. Stories of enormous drug-fueled parties at Hacienda Napoles with some of Colombia’s most powerful and most beautiful in attendance continue to circulate, contributing to the legend of Escobar.
Today, though, that paradise is in ruins. Everything that could be gutted has been gutted by people looking for rumored stashes of coke or cash. Its only residents are families of refugees from the country’s war against guerrilla fighters and about 20 hippos which roam the area with the same kind of impunity that Pablo enjoyed decades ago.
3. Pablo Escobar Was Suspected Of Bombing The World Trade Center
Another thing you didn’t know about Pablo Escobar is that he was named as an early suspect in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Shortly after the bombing, which killed six and injured over 1,000, a New York City prosecutor publicly suggested that the bombing could have been carried out by any “enemy of the U.S.,” including Escobar’s Medellin cartel.
Well, Pablo may have assassinated a presidential candidate (Luis Carlos Galán), threatened to kill the offspring of a sitting U.S. president (allegedly one of Bush Sr.’s sons), blown a commercial jet out of the sky (Avianca Flight 203), and orchestrated the attempted slaughter of the Colombian Supreme Court (Palace of Justice siege), but bomb the World Trade Center? Escobar was sufficiently offended, enough so that he sent a handwritten note to the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia declaring his innocence. “You can take me off the list,” he assured Ambassador Morris Busby, “because if I had done it I would be saying why I did it and what I want.”
4. Pablo Escobar Built His Own Barrio
Medellin is Colombia’s second largest city (with almost 2.5 million residents), but it is, and always will be, linked by name to the legacy of Pablo Escobar’s cocaine cartel. To many of the city’s poorest people, Escobar — whom they called Don Pablo — was nothing short of Robin Hood in the flesh, a reputation he enjoys among some to this day.
In his prime, he was undeniably a public works tour de force, establishing food programs, building parks and soccer fields, but his masterstroke may have been Barrio Pablo Escobar, a neighborhood of 450 red brick homes housing a couple thousand of Medellin’s most indigent. Did they pay rent? Nope. Property taxes? No way.
The only problem? Writing for the Washington Post in 1989, Michael Isikoff noted a growing frustration among the barrio’s residents with kids from other areas coming to Barrio Pablo Escobar to peddle drugs.
5. Pablo Escobar Bought A Learjet To Fly His Cash
The last thing you didn’t know about Pablo Escobar is that he had an interesting solution to a very rare kind of cash flow problem. Escobar and his cartel began to see soaring profits rather quickly. His being a cash business, Escobar needed to get that U.S. cash back to Colombia. For a while, the small plane he used to transport that cash was sufficient, as it could hold about $10 million. Keeping in mind Escobar’s estimated ROI of 20,000%, and that he was getting cocaine to the U.S. by a wide variety of methods (including a pair of submarines which would each carry about 1,000 kilos), it’s no surprise that he needed an upgrade. Escobar thus bought a Learjet, a substantially faster plane and one that could carry as much as 10 times the amount of cash. Problem solved.
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