75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2001
Killing Pablo is a hard-hitting book that truly represents the brutal reality of the war in Colombia. As a Special Forces Master Sergeant with multiple tours in Colombia I can honestly say that Mark Bowden has done a masterful job of encapsulating this conflagration by describing the events that led to the rise and fall of one of its most notorious figures-Pablo Escobar. Bowden starts off by giving a brief history of the war in Colombia, starting with La Violencia, and then of course the current Narco war that is currently consuming Colombia. The events are taken from various sources and Mr. Bowden does a superb job of describing, in detail, what lengths the US and Colombia went through to take down one of the largest criminal empires in history. The book ends with questions that we as American should be asking ourselves. Is it worth the effort - in the name of National Security- to selectively target foreign citizens for assassination? My conclusion is incomplete. However, I will say that the removal of Pablo Escobar was nothing more than a tactical victory in a war Colombia and the United States are losing strategically. This book is a must for Special Operations Soldiers, Latin American Historians, Law Enforcement Officers, and anyone who is involved in the policy decisions concerning the US war on drugs.
48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2001
Bowden has done it again. This is not quite the work of genius that Black Hawk Down was but this is a very engrossing and serious account of a manhunt that came to symbolize many of the challenges we face in the drug war. Pablo Escobar was the richest and most powerful cocaine dealer in the world. He acquired pretensions to enter politics and turn Colombia into a personal fiefdom. The United States government allied with the Colombian government in what became a multi-year campaign that was far harder and far more dangerous than any one would have believed when it began.
In the end Pablo was dead but the drug trade was as powerful and as profitable as ever. Its center of activity had moved from Medellin to Cali and the newer generation of drug lords had learned a lot from watching (and in fact participating in) the campaign against Pablo. In many ways the Cali cartel became the ally of the Colombian and American governments jointly seeking to get rid of Escobar.
This book raises serious questions about the nature of American involvement in the third world. When combined with Black Hawk Down you get a realistic pair of assessments of the limitations of American power and the nature of the grim realities we are trying to change in much of the third world.
This is a very helpful but sobering book for anyone interested in the drug war, in America's role in the world or in a recent skirmish with fascinating ramifications.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2001
I purchased "Killing Pablo" solely on the strength of Mark Bowden's previous stellar work, "Black Hawk Down." While "Pablo" isn't quite up to the standard of "Black Hawk" (one of the best books I've read in the past five years), it is nevertheless an engaging read that is at once informative and entertaining.
"Pablo" is Pablo Escobar, the ruthless Colombian drup kingpin who, by the late 1980s, had amassed one of the world's largest -- and certainly most illicit -- fortunes. Mr. Bowden recounts the story of how the notorious international narco-gangster was finally brought to heel by a combination of Colombian law enforcement agencies, the U.S. DEA and Army Delta Force (which provided critical training and surveillance technology), and importantly, Escobar's rivals in the cocaine cartel. The vigilante terrorism visited upon the infrastructure of Escobar's empire by his cocaine cartel rivals (equally as vicious as Pablo himself) -- with the tacit sanction of the Colombian government -- was the critical factor in the eventual tracking down and killing of Pablo following an off-and-on-again three-year manhunt.
This book is included in the "Wall Street Journal's" review (Friday, May 18) of the better reads of the Summer of 2001. That judgment gets no quarrel from this reader.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2005
KILLING PABLO is the story of the rise, hunt, fall and death of Pablo Escobar, the chief of the Medellin Cocaine Cartel. Mark Bowden (BLACK HAWK DOWN) is gifted in bringing essentially unknown tales into the public eye, and here he does it again, dramatically. His ability to take the hidden and twisted threads of covert operations and weave a complete story from them is impressive.
Pablo, as Bowden refers to him throughout, was a small-time hood who rose to true if notorious greatness on a ladder stained with blood. At the peak of his influence he had a net worth of billions of dollars.
Pablo cultivated a jolly demeanor and, in truth, lacked couth, though he could be personally disarming. In dress, he preferred white velcro-strap Nike sneakers and blue jeans. He was short and plump. He was hardly the image of the "Don Pablo" he wanted to be. He was easy to underestimate, as the world discovered.
At his zenith, he had all but convinced the ruling oligarchy of Colombia that coca cultivation and processing was a growth industry, even if frowned upon by staid norteamericanos with no taste for trend.
In 1983 Pablo was elected a Congressional alternate from his state of Antioquia, ruled Medellin with an iron fist, and was a serious contender for the Presidency of his nation. Ten years later he was dead.
Pablo Escobar was a study in contradictions. He was 'the most Wanted man in the world' who spent most of his criminal life in the open. A sociopathic megalomaniac, he saw nothing bizarre in blowing up planes and buildings and killing hundreds in the course of targeting one man. He was a devoted husband and father with a penchant for seducing teenage girls.
Unlike some other crimelords who habitually restrained themselves from killing 'noncombatants,' Pablo gloried in taking the lives of his enemies' friends and relatives no matter how uninvolved they were in the drug trade. As a result, no one in Colombia was beyond his reach, and even the U.S. Ambassador had to live in a special security vault while Pablo was at large.
A man who victimized others constantly, he saw himself as a victim of the State. A man on the outside he always wished to be on the inside and bought, bribed and murdered his way into positions of authority. A compleat robber baron, he spoke the rhetoric of Che Guevara, and spent hundreds of millions to rebuild Medellin into a major metropolis and made its citizens into some of the most fortunate of Colombianos. To this day, Pablo is lauded in certain quarters of Colombia as a Robin Hood-type character, but Bowden makes clear that Pablo's hero image was carefully constructed and disseminated through his vast public relations apparatus to insure his own protection.
Pablo was a man incapable of restraint who ultimately overreached himself. Although he had most of Colombia's government in his pocket, he failed to appreciate the need for subtlety in his game of control. For Pablo, the government, the police, and ultimately the United States were just rival cartels to be bossed and intimidated. Never realizing how badly he had outmatched himself, he became the instrument of his own destruction.
His fall came when he simply walked out of the prison he himself had built and staffed after reaching a ridiculously one-sided plea bargain with the Colombian government to stop intra-Cartel violence. Once Pablo escaped, the government of Colombia was virtually forced into a "hunter-killer" mode of operations against him, based on his own untrustworthiness.
Aided by the United States, Colombia hunted Pablo, at first with a notable lack of zeal. Too many ranking Colombians were beholden to him. But as Pablo retaliated by attacking innocent civilians throughout the country, his public support waned and his Cartel associates faded away. Pablo soon found himself hunted by Colombian and American Special Ops troops, and a terrifying vigilante group "Los Pepes," made up of people who had been victimized by him, Cali Cartel competitors, and other shadowy individuals. As Bowden cynically says, we need to "surmise" who they were.
Pablo's fall changed nothing. Cali became the new cocaine epicenter and the government's ties to the drug kingpins were, if anything, even stronger. But Pablo was a clear target. Moreover, he was a man who simply couldn't stop himself from killing. It was decided at the highest levels that, like a mad dog, Pablo needed to be destroyed.
Pablo died ignominiously, shot by a government-backed Death Squad, with his overhanging belly on prominent display in the cover photograph of the book. His hunters shaved his moustache into a Hitlerian brush for fun. Their smiles are both bitter and mocking. That one photograph, hanging in many government offices, Colombian and American, is Pablo's legacy.
Bowden obviously has no love for Pablo Escobar, but he is also clearly equivocal about the methods and results of killing Pablo. The vast energy put into finding and eliminating this one man certainly never blunted the drug culture, but it did rid the world of one of the most powerful and amoral figures in modern history.
There's a lesson here for the post-9/11 world.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2006
"Killing Pablo" by Mark Bowden
Bowden is a damn good non-fiction author. I read "Blackhawk Down" first, so reading "Killing Pablo" was a forgone conclusion. In a world where politically correctness dictates that in confronting Evil, we should fold our hands, bow our head and say "God Bless You" or worse, go read some academic study, Bowden gives an account of confronting Evil with the tools and methods that Evil merits.
Bowden gives a thorough background on Colombia, then explains the drug cartels and how Pablo rose to the top by the sheer volume of cocaine he shipped, and thereafter, nearly brought down an entire nation through terror.
It is a chilling account of terror to read of Pablo's car bombings and the murder and maiming of innocents. I now understand how the vigilante group, Los Pepes was forced to begin assassinating all the supporting personnel in Pablo's organization. Whether lawyers, real estate agents, etc....Los Pepes eliminated them. At least somebody in the world isn't so dang dumb they can't find their own hind end with a mirror and a six-cell flashlight. Los Pepes did it, and did it righteously.
America's Delta Force was involved, so if you found them interesting in "Black Hawk Down" you will enjoy reading about their role here also.
There's good info on the U.S. State Department, and how diplomatic relations affected methods, procedures, and involvement of various Nations and entities. A great read. You will enjoy it.
One reviewer suggested that Mark Bowden could have told the entire story in 100 pages or less, and that the book is boring because of the many "WE-ALMOST-GOT-HIM" stories. I suggest the following, in answer to that charge.
Except that the "we almost got him stories" are interspersed with the accounts of the Los Pepes assassinations of anyone doing business with Pablo.
Except that the "we almost got him stories" were interspersed with the accounts of tracking down Pablo's paid spies in the Colombian military forces, police, and government.
Except that the "we almost got him stories" are interspersed with the accounts of Delta Force's technology and methods, which are compelling.
Except that the "we almost got him stories" are interspersed with the accounts of the difficulties in getting the Columbian military to actually have the guts to take action and go get this guy.
Except that Mark Bowden takes the time to educate the reader about the unique history of the Colombian cities and countryside, which are as distinctly different as a modern European city and the wild west badlands.
Except that Mark Bowden takes the time to inform the reader about the human elements involved in the story: the government officials (honest & dishonest), the wealthy, the poor, the communist rebels in the countryside, the bandits, the drug culture, and tells how Pablo nearly controlled the entire government of a modern democratic nation.
******************************** But there's more about author Mark Bowden that I must mention. Bowden has philosophical depth, and it comes out in brief and brilliant paragraphs, here and there throughout his book. Bowden can show the blind stupidity, the refusal to act when action is called for, the cowardice, the greed, the political torpidity that stifles men of action, and does so with an acute description.
111 of 146 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2001
This is an interesting text, the first book-length approach to the greatest Colombian criminal in history. As a Colombian, I am impressed by the amount of information of which I was heretofore unaware. If only it were true...
In reality the book is full of mistakes, some of which would have been quite easy to detect and fix. These are just a few I found in a quick reading:
(1) Simon Bolivar did not try to join Colombia with Peru and Venezuela to form the "Gran Colombia" (p. 16)(the "Gran Colombia" included Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela); (2) The Rojas Pinilla dictatorship did not last five years (p. 18) (it lasted four years:1953-1957); (3) Carlos Lehder and Jose Rodriguez Gacha were not "Antioquia Crime Bosses" (p. 29) (Lehder was from Quindio and Rodriguez was from Cundinamarca); (4) President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen was not a founder of the Liberal Party (p. 62) (the Liberal Party dates back to mid-nineteenth century and thus could not have been founded by President Lopez Michelsen, who is still alive); (5) President Cesar Gaviria Trujillo was never part of Bogota's elite (p. 122) (Gaviria comes from an upper-middle class family in the provincial town of Pereira); (6) Marina Montoya was not a slender woman (p. 127) (Miss Montoya was a heavy-set woman); (7) Father Garcia Herreros was not named Fernando (p. 130) (his name was Gabriel); (8) The "Procuraduria General de la Nacion" is not "a kind of internal-affairs unit for the government" (p. 189) (the Procurador General is a constitutional level state official appointed by Congress and not part of the government); (9) The government owned radio and television station is not called Intravision (it's named Inravision); (10) Natives of Medellin are not called Medellinos (p. 280) (they are called medellinenses or just paisas).
The book is full of mistakes in names and dates as well (we do like our names to be properly spelled, if it's not too much trouble), and it relies altogether too much on a self-serving account published by Escobar's brother, Roberto. The author's lack of familiarity with Colombian history and language is obvious, and pervasive. This makes it a bit hard to trust some of the more sensational revelations.
As semi-fiction it's quite fun, though.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2005
What makes this a good story is that the prospects for good to prevail seem utterly, desperately hopeless. To couch it in elementary terms, there are good guys, bad guys, and other bad guys. The bad guys are at odds with each other, and the good guys take full advantage of that. This could be the ultimate case study in expediency and fighting fire with fire. It's a quick read anyway, but once the first ray of hope comes, it becomes absolutely riveting!
This book chronicles the rise and fall of a slimy, duplicitous little two-bit car thief who bullied his way into cocaine trafficking and amassed wealth beyond his wildest dreams by being in the right place after murdering any potential competitors. It is also a heartbreaking account of how he held a nation hostage with a terror campaign.
There is a lot of insight into electronic surveillance (it's positively creepy what they can do now) and the United States government vis-a-vis the intelligence community. What overstepping of legal bounds there was is described in detail.
The title hints of violence and the book delivers that in spades without even trying, so beware if you are easily upset. There is a photo of Escobar's fully-bearded corpse that resembles a pudgy werewolf.
There is no happy ending to this bloody affair. I consider this essential reading for anyone commenting on South American politics and the rebel groups (FARC and ELN) because they are intertwined with the cocaine trade. There are many insights into "how things are down there," plus inspiring accounts of a few incredibly brave, principled Colombians, almost all dead now, who dared to stand up to Escobar's staggeringly pervasive organization.
Tidbits: (1) Bowden stops just shy of making this connection, but I believe Fidel Castro had everything to do with Jorge Gaitan's assassination in 1948. (2) There is a brilliant paragraph on page 42 characterizing the transition of cocaine's socially obligatory status among elite/"hip" Americans in the 1970's to becoming the outcast scum crack in the 1980's.
I hold authors to high standards of English and journalism and after approaching this book critically, I must recommend it. Will be reading more Bowden. (Although, regarding the History Channel video, I found his mis-pronunciation Spanish names and words annoying.)
PABLO ESCOBAR WAS NOT A HERO or a legend, as some of the poor around Medellin believe, but a killer of toddlers.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
You will not find the word "Narcoterrorócracy" in the dictionary. I made the word up and gave it my own meaning.
Narcoterrorocracy is the process of being a narcotics trafficker and kingpin of an illegal drug. The trafficker takes over the governmental functions of a county with terrorist acts, blackmailing, bribing, murder and corruption, against government officials as well as the general population.
Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down) lets the reader know at the beginning of the story that Pablo was killed. However, as he tells the story on how difficult, dangerous, time-consuming and expensive the operation was the reader is, nonetheless, kept on the edge until the end.
Pablo and his gang got their start in criminal activity at a young age. From stealing headstones from cemeteries and reselling them after they were redone to running petty street swindles selling contraband cigarettes and false lottery tickets and swindling people out of their hard-earned cash. He became an accomplished car thief before he turned twenty.
No one had the slightest inkling Pablo Escobar would become not only the world's richest man but also the world's most wanted criminal. He had placed a people, a city, and a government, a country in manacles with terrorist's acts, blackmailing, bribing, corruption, fear and murder.
Pablo Escobar was the cocaine cartels kingpin; he built an empire by bringing a Country its government and its people to their knees by his terrorist acts. His terrorists tactics makes Osama ben Laden a Cinderella of terrorism.
The reader will feel disgusted with how the Colombian government gave in and negotiated with the kingpin of the Colombian cocaine cartel. The Colombian president and government officials amended the constitution of the country to accommodate the wishes and needs of Pablo Escobar.
The CIA, DEA, Delta Force, and Centra Spike from the United States, and Los Pepes (a Colombian homegrown vigilante group) made it possible to catch and kill the elusive and dangerous Pablo Escobar; however, not before millions of dollars were spent and more than seven years had gone by.
I highly recommend Mark Bowden's "Killing Pablo." It is a story that will astonish, surprise, amaze and overwhelm the reader.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2002
Mark Bowden has once again produced a gripping peice of journalism. While not the tale of close combat portrayed in "Black Hawk Down," "Killing Pablo" is just as good a book. It is, perhaps, superior.
Beginning with a brief description of Pablo Escobar's rise to power as a ruthless Colombian mafioso, a man who kidnapped and murdered his way from petty street crime into becoming the world's leading narco gangster, Bowden goes on to deliver a page turning account that is the core of this book: Escobar's war on the Colombian state, his compromise "incarceration," his escape, and ultimately his assassination by the Colombian police.
The account of Escobar's war on the Colombian government (indeed, the Colombian nation) should be an eye-opening experience for anyone not familiar with how "law and order" really works for most of the world. Escobar's drug empire was so fantastically lucrative that it made the Medellin Cartel a state within a state. His ability to bribe even the highest public officials, murder those who would not accept bribes (up to Presidential candidates), and commit acts of rampant terrorism should shock and horrify the reader. The Medellin Cartel was able to wage a campaign that traditionally is associated only with strong revolutionary movements. The reader should walk away with an understanding of what living in a Third World country (granted, at its worst) can be like.
The story of the struggle against Escobar takes two general categories. One is an interesting expose on US covert operations. Those familiar with "Black Hawk Down" should find this account of what General Garrison and the Delta Force do when they aren't shooting at people to be fascinating. The book details a major US covert operation involving the military, CIA, DEA and State Department, and employs everything from the most sophisticated electronic surveillance to good old fashioned, shoe leather police work.
The other side is the activities of the Colombian special paramilitary police force that was detailed to combat Escobar. The story of the implacable Colonel Martinez is a gripping morality play. On the one side, it shows how the grit and determination of one man really can make a difference in this world. On the other, it shows the degenerative effects of being at war, surrounded by corruption, with death lurking around every corner. Martinez's story is both one of courage in the face of a nakedly evil monster, but also of a test of morals that the Colonel does not completely pass.
I found the book to be a page turner in every sense of the word, particularly after I reached Escobar's escape from his luxurious "prison." I was unable to put it down from that point forward. I strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in covert activities, true crime, modern history, or who just likes to read a good yarn.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2003
Mark Bowden's "Killing Pablo" is a very well researched law enforcement tale that makes for an enjoyable read. I use the term "law enforcement" loosely because Bowden's main thesis seems to be that the killing of Pablo Escobar was successful only because of the efforts of extralegal vigilante groups that terrorized Escobar's associates and who were helped--at least indirectly--by the U.S. military, DEA, and CIA. Also, capturing the fugitive Escobar was never an option, the understanding was that he would be killed when he was found.
Bowden does a great job of outlining how deep U.S. involvement was in this affair. An incredible amount of money was spent by the U.S. on killing Escobar despite the fact they knew it wouldn't have any appreciable effect on the cocaine supply available to the States. The other subtext of the book is how corrupt and violent Colombia was, and likely still is. If you ever have a chance to interact with Colombians, you will no doubt find them to be the most cultured and worldly Latin Americans there are; it's sad that just below the surface their country is so lawless.
Overall I would recommend the book. I would warn, however, that it is poorly written and certainly poorly edited. There are run-on sentences and many subject confusions that make you have to stop and re-read a paragraph to figure out who Bowden is talking about. If you're a stickler for good prose, it may drive you nuts.