Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw – Mark Bowden

Somewhere, probably in some dusty back-alley private house in Pesawar or Quetta or some country farmhouse, is a quiet team of Delta Force operatives, patiently and relentlessly running the hunt for Osama Bin Ladin.

You see, they’ve done it before…

Killing Pablo is not about Bin Ladin, but outlines a very similar hunt for another of world’s greatest outlaws. The target was Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellin drug cartel and in Killing Pablo, Mark Bowden offers a chilling, gripping and fascinating glimpse into the long and difficult hunt to eliminate Escobar.

Killing Pablo outlines Escobar’s rise from a petty car thief in the slums of Medellin to his absolute control over the Colombian cocaine trade, and consequently his eventual rise to becoming an active threat to the fragile stability of Colombia. Bowden paints a disquieting (if fascinating) potrait of Pablo Escobar: By turns Escobar is vicious, charming, cunning, delusional, pedophiliac, a habitual marijuana-user and an indifferent businessman at best who made up for his entreprenuerial shortcomings by being utterly ruthless and coldly practical in the application of violence.

Bowden has penned a well-written, highly readable book, if somewhat disturbing, as it is essentially the tale of the efforts to find and kill one man, albeit one man who had destablized and crippled the government of Colombia and the Colombian justice system (Colombian jurists, police and prosecutors were generally offered one choice: gold or lead – referring to accepting a bribe or a shot in the head. One hell of a lot of them ended up dead….).

The book outlines the extensive involvement of the U.S. government and its most secret assets that were used to help track and hunt down Escobar. It also touches on the highly secretative involvement of the U.S. anti-terrorism unit Delta Force. Bowden, who previously won the Pulitzer (very deservedly, I might add) for his excellent book Black Hawk Down, hints at Delta Force’s involvement in the killing of Pablo Escobar and in their involvement in the extra-legal vigilante groups that targeted Escobar’s associates, partners and family. Think what you will about the relative paucity of hard evidence supporting the author’s theory, but as a result of Black Hawk Down Bowden knows the Special Forces community quite well. Read the book and judge for yourself.

Overall, an excellent read. The only quibble I had was with the cover, which was a photograph of the dead Pablo Escobar flanked by his hunters (Colombian police and, interestingly enough, a CIA guy). I was never able to leave the book lying around anywhere in my house where my five-year wouldn’t get a look at that disturbing image, so as a result the book has been shovelled into a storage box instead of gracing my bookshelf….

If you are interested, the Philidelphia Inquirer (the paper that Bowden writes for) has available online copies of the series of articles by Bowden that eventually became the book (they did something similar for Black Hawk Down). Check it out here.

For more about international drug trafficking, check out the DEA. For more on the war on drugs, check out Frontline’s Drugwars.

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