Escobar’s hitman, ‘Popeye’, had killed 257 men

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Pablo Escobar’s notorious hitman passed away at the age of 57 on 6th February, all while the drug wars in Latin America continue.  

Jhon Jairo Velásquez, nicknamed ‘Popeye’, died at the age of 57 in a hospital in Bogotá on 6th February 2020, as a result of esophageal cancer. For those who are not familiar with this name, Velásquez had been identified as one of the most important hitmen of Pablo Escobar, the legendary ‘King of Cocaine’ who monopolised cocaine trade between Colombia and the US back in the 1980s.

Velásquez had been identified as one of the most important hitmen of Pablo Escobar, the legendary ‘King of Cocaine’

The death of Velásquez may serve as a lasting remembrance of Escobar’s legacy. However, it also reminds us that despite the end of these big-named drug lords, the threat of drug wars still hang above the heads of millions of Colombians and Latin Americans to this day.  

According to Popeye’s own claims, during his career he had personally killed 257 men, among these victims were many prominent politicians and public figures. He had also helped to arrange more than 3000 killings, as well as the bombing of Avianca Flight 303 in 1989 which killed 110 people. The career of Velásquez had been a testimony to the power of Pablo Escobar at his height, and to the sheer scale of the drug wars in Colombia and Latin America: the gangsters and drug lords were far more than underground criminals of the unstable societies in which they lived in; on the contrary, they were able to become important political actors on the basis of their wealth and influences, able to become major enemies or allies of the weak national governments, paramilitary insurrection groups or even sometimes US agencies.  

With renewed effort from the Colombian and US governments, drug trade in Colombia fell to an all time low in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Since his own surrender to Colombian justice in 1992 and the death of Escobar in 1993, Velásquez had served 22 years in prison, and after receiving probation in 2014 had turned himself into a YouTube personality and memorialist,

Velásquez had served 22 years in prison, and after receiving probation in 2014 had turned himself into a YouTube personality and memorialist

before being arrested again in 2018. The old estates of Escobar were turned into tourist attractions, and for some years it seemed like the age of drug barons reigning like feudal lords would be remembered only in local legends and TV series such as Narcos. But in recent years, with economic crisis and civil conflicts rising in several Latin American countries, the drug trades are prevalent once again, led by a new generation of drug barons operating even closer within the political systems and with more flexibility.

Meanwhile among Latin American politicians, accusations of old connections or alliances with Escobar still haunt the headlines of newspapers. Individuals and even dynasties of drug barons will come and go, but it seems like the presence of drug barons and their wars are going to last much, much longer.

Image: rebcenter-moscow.ru via Creative Commons

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