In 1981, infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar defied authority, once again, by posing in front of the White House in Washington, DC.
Pictured with his son, the Pablo Escobar was on a family trip to Disneyland at the time and made a layover to the capital city for this photograph. The photo, taken his wife Maria, has been shared widely since it appeared in the 2010 HBO documentary Sins of My Father, which tells the story of the drug trafficker through the lens of his son Juan Pablo Escobar (who later changed his name to Sebastian Marroquin).
Let’s get into the story of this photograph in more detail. But before that, let’s take a brief detour into the life of this infamous and polarizing figure.
Who Was Pablo Escobar?
Pablo Escobar (1949-1993) was a Colombian drug lord whose net worth peaked at around $30 billion. One of the richest men of his age, he created a cocaine monopoly in the late 20th century and was responsible for supplying the drug worldwide.
One of the most infamous criminals of all time, Escobar transformed the cocaine trade into a worldwide enterprise making $420 million a week at one point.
Growing up in the city of Medellin, Escobar’s criminal career began with a string of petty crimes such as thieving, scamming, stealing, and creating counterfeit documents and diplomas. He soon moved on to the narcotics world where he would soon make his huge fortune.
Pablo Escobar’s career in the drug trade began in the mid-70s and started off small. He would personally carry bags of cocaine and smuggle them on planes that he personally bought. By the 1980s, he had established an enormous drug network and was shipping cocaine around the world.
The drug’s increase in use and status spelled large profits. Escobar was so rich that he spent thousands of dollars every month on rubber bands to keep his cash in. At the peak of his powers, his network was smuggling 15 tons of cocaine into the United States every day.
He was one of the world’s most wanted men and invested heavily into his personal security. However, his capture was inevitable and he was finally tracked down by law enforcement gents in late 1993.
Though Pablo Escobar was vilified by most, he achieved cult status among the working classes of his native country thanks to his PR skills and investment in local communities. He built football fields, multi-sports courts, and community centers for the working-class locals.
After a long and extremely expensive manhunt, Escobar met his end on December 2, 1993, after his hiding place in Medellin was discovered by authorities. Escobar tried to flee the scene by running across multiple rooftops but was shot several times. One of the bullets provided the fatal shot. He is buried in a family plot in Colombia.
His funeral was attended by over 25,000 people – a testament to his popularity among Colombia’s poor population. He continues to be heralded by some as a martyr and even a saint – praying to him in the hope he delivers divine help from the afterlife.
The White House Photograph
During the time the photo was taken, Pablo Escobar was at the peak of his powers and, ironically, would’ve been several times wealthier than the President of the United States. Escobar was in the process of trying to become a legitimate politician in his native country at the time.
He held a diplomatic passport, yet it is unknown if this was legitimate or simply a fake. After all, Escobar did begin his criminal career by counterfeiting documents.
He became a substitute congressman and then joined the City Council in his hometown of Medellin. However, he was detested by the Colombian government and was considered extremely dangerous. He also was accused of turning the nation of Colombia into a giant stereotype – one that remains to this day.
The White House Photo, taken in color, was in front of a publicly accessible facade of the building near Pennsylvania Avenue. You can stand in this spot today, but the fence is a lot higher nowadays.
The Legacy of Pablo Escobar
Almost thirty years after his death, Pablo Escobar continues to be a polarizing figure. Condemned by most as a bloodthirsty and tyrannical drug lord, there is a certain demographic of people who continue to see him as a Robin Hood-like figure.
He continues to play a prominent role in popular culture as several documentaries and television shows have either featured him or have been loosely based on his life.