Colombia To Develop Escobar’s Weekend Home
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
BOGOTA, Colombia — Imagine the real estate ad: “Dead drug lord’s ranch, nestled on 2,000 hectares of prime Colombian cattle country, with 5,000-foot airstrip, 1,000-seat bull ring, five life-sized dinosaur sculptures, Bonnie and Clyde’s bullet-ridden car, 18 wild hippos. Additional development possible.”
The Hacienda Napoles was Pablo Escobar’s lavish weekend getaway before he was gunned down 13 years ago on the roof of a three-story safe house in Medellin as he tried to escape from a special police task force. Since then, the Spanish-style Napoles has been ransacked and left in ruins by treasure hunters seeking millions of dollars worth of cocaine loot that many believe is buried on the property. The ranch served as one of the headquarters for Escobar’s $20 billion drug business.
The Colombian government, which seized Napoles from Escobar’s exiled wife and children, will begin breaking up the property into smaller lots next month. Part of the ranch is intended for a prison housing 1,200 inmates, and plans are in the works for an anti-crime museum and theme park. Tourists are expected.
“We want to return the property to its golden age and use the name of Pablo Escobar to attract people to it,” Luis Francisco Sanchez said. Mr. Sanchez heads the Puerto Triunfo municipality’s plans to develop Napoles, about 200 miles from Bogota. Escobar bought the property for $63 million. Construction on the prison may begin as soon as September, Mr. Sanchez said.
Occasional cars already turn off the highway to Bogota from Medellin and pass through the entrance gate to Napoles, eager to check out where Colombia’s most notorious citizen lived. At the entrance arch, a small plane — since stolen — once stood. Escobar claimed he used it to make his first drug run.
The sprawling, L-shaped villa sits at the end of several kilometers of potholed dirt road, within stone walls topped with barbed wire. The white, two-story house, once “El Patron’s” luxury playground, is now gutted, and its walls are crumbling. Floors have been dug into and ceramic-covered walls smashed apart. Visitors use the house as a bathroom, perhaps to tell friends they have been to the toilet at Pablo Escobar’s.
The bedroom, which overlooks the murky, slime-covered swimming pool, looks like the hanging gardens of Babylon, as trees curl through the windows and up through a gaping hole in the floor. The kitchen has become a favorite of souvenir hunters who pry gaudy green and yellow tiles from where Escobar’s staff once prepared food for murderous guests at drug-fueled parties. Mr. Sanchez hopes to attract enough outside investment to rebuild the house.
Escobar, a plump man with longish hair and moustache, started out as a petty thief, later taking advantage of a growing appetite in America for cocaine. Credited with blowing an Avianca airliner out of the sky, killing 110 onboard, and orchestrating an attack on Colombia’s Supreme Court that left 11 justices dead, Escobar terrorized Colombia with bomb attacks and thousands of assassinations.
At the height of his drug dealing in the 1980s, Escobar and his associates provided more than half of the cocaine entering America, according to Mark Bowden, author of “Killing Pablo,” a blow-by-blow account of the joint American-Colombian hunt for Escobar.
Part of the tourist attraction at Napoles would be Escobar’s collection of vintage cars. One, thought to have been used by Bonnie and Clyde, now stands rusted and burned out in a massive garage, after revenge by a rival drug cartel. But the biggest attractions for tourists, other than to fantasize about power and riches in the home of the world’s Public Enemy no. 1, are the hippos.
Back in the 1980s, Escobar imported elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses, zebras, and two hippos from Africa to graze and wallow at his many man-made lakes. While most of the animals have since died or been transferred to zoos, the hippos, which can grow to 4,000 pounds, have multiplied to 18.
“They are certainly an attraction, but a potentially dangerous one, if their numbers outgrow the property,” Mr. Sanchez said. “We will keep a few of them, but the rest will have to go to zoos, locally and internationally.”
The head veterinarian at the Santa Fe Zoological Park, near Medellin, Martha Cecilia Ocampo, is worried that the hippos, which kill more people in Africa each year than any other wild animal, have outgrown their habitat. Her park already houses many of Escobar’s animals, including two hippos.