Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez, "Popeye", a former head of Pablo Escobars hitmen and confessed murderer of 200 enemies of the Medellin Cartel, remembered Tijuana as a violent challenging city the late eighties.
"Tijuana was the most dangerous and most of what one needed to take care of was done by the police. We knew that Mexican police were the most corrupt in the world and in the time that I was there, if you came with $ 10,000 to the Mexican police they would disappear", said Popeye in an interview with Proceso in high security prison Cómbita.
He traveled several times to Mexico in the late eighties as emissary of Escobar, the late head of the Medellin organization. He remembered Mexico City, the long corridors of the airport and connecting flights to Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, where he met with Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the Lord of the skies, head of the Juarez Cartel, to "fit" the first shipments of cocaine from South America.
Times were different, he said. The bulk of the drug business were handled by Colombians. Today, over two decades later, the opposite has occurred. According to "Popeye" Mexican gangs seized the cocaine industry and Colombian were outnumbered.
"The rich drug traffickers, the very rich, rich, rich, are Mexicans," he says, arguing that Mexico's criminal organizations are also more violent, though less effective than the Medellin Cartel in eighties and early nineties.
"They kill many people but do not have the effectiveness that we had to hit the state structures. Los Zetas have killed many. I feel they are wrong. To kill so many people is crazy, accomplishing nothing. Those 70 immigrants killed! (in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, in 2010) are crazy! "says the ex-pistolero which was arrested in 1992 serving a sentence of 21 years ending in July.
He noted that in the drug business currently "Colombian drug traffickers earn the least. The Mexican, without breaking a sweat, without getting wet, send 20 or 30 tons of cocaine through tunnels on the border (with the U.S.) and earn crazy money."
Consider, however, that the alliance between Colombian and Mexican is indissoluble, because the first control cocaine production in the Andean region, and second, the routes and the entry of the drug to the world's largest market, the United States, where, the major criminal organizations.
- So who are the major cartels in the U.S.?
- It is managed by multinational distribution of cocaine. What happens is that they are not violent. You know, the American infrastructure will not walk with AK-47 rifles, as Mexicans walk in the streets, as we Colombians were in another era. They are tie mafia and do not chase them.
The Juarez Organization
For "Popeye", now 50 years, the supremacy of the Mexican mafias over Colombia began when Escobar established a partnership with The Lord of skies in 1988.
Then the Medellin Cartel was responsible for 80% of shipments of cocaine into the United States. Escobar, whom "Popeye" still called El Patrón, escalated a war against the Colombian state to avoid extradition, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) blocked his pathway to Florida. He had to find new routes and new allies.
According to "Popeye", with the partnership between Carrillo and Escobar a route of cocaine opened bound by sea from the southwestern Colombian port of Buenaventura to the Mexican Pacific coast, where ships unloaded the drug to be delivered to the Juarez Cartel.
"It was a route called La Fanny, for accounting puposes (named by finance chief of the Medellin group, Gustavo Gaviria, cousin and partner of Escobar), and which was buoyed to Escobar, because the DEA war against the Colombians, began to take down planes in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, throughout Central America, "says Velasquez in the courtyard of the prison Cómbita, guarded by two guards who brought him from his cell in handcuffs and protected him with bulletproof vest and an armored shield.
He says the partnership between Escobar and Carrillo was very profitable for both until 1991, when the first surrendered and was detained in prison La Catedral, which he had built on the outskirts of Medellín.
"While we were in the Cathedral, Amado Carrillo stole 12,000 kilos of cocaine. This was done in partnership with the Cali Cartel, which was at war with us. That was the end of that organization," he said.
He said that at that time Escobar "was badly beaten financially" and thought of unleashing a war against the Lord of the skies, but he did not because "it was difficult, we had war with the States, with the paramilitaries (military exaliados Escobar) and with Cali, opening a fourth war against Amado Carrillo ... to go to Mexico is complicated. You know that Mexico is fucked, and you say that now, we will send 20 gunmen from Medellin to Mexico ... they would swallow them alive in 10 minutes. In these wars you have to be careful."
Even in jail Escobar kept track of what is happening in Colombia and the world through radio, television and major newspapers of the country, which he got each week. Also daily news of crime through contact with other inmates, despite a strict prison regime.
He had heard of the tens of thousands of dead in the Mexican drug violence in the past six years and knew some of the protagonists. Very well located was Leyner Valencia Espinosa, Piranha, a Colombian who operated in the North Valley Cartel for Arturo Beltran Leyva, who was executed by the Navy in December 2009.
According to "Popeye", Valencia - captured in Colombia in 2006 and extradited to the U.S. in 2007 - began collaborating with the DEA in a Colombian prison and was instrumental in the attacks on the structure of Arturo Beltran Leyva and his whereabouts.
"The Mexican cartels are attacking from the Colombian jails. Snitching is what will kill them. Colombians here is what have nurtured the Mexican mafias and that is well known," he said.
He also considers Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to be the world's most powerful drug trafficker. And also the richest.
"He is richer than Pablo (Escobar), 100 times, considered taking 40% of the value of each kilogram of cocaine that is sent from their Colombian partners to places in the U.S., and that "without smearing the nail of cocaine, no sweat; passes and earns a ton of money."
-Some compare Chapo Guzman with Pablo Escobar. What do you think?
- "El Chapo" is rich and is violent and is handsome. But he does not have the criminal mind of Pablo Escobar, not even to his the heels. Pablo Escobar had the north, which was to overthrow the extradition, and "El Chapo" Guzman has no north, he did not have to ask.
- He does not have a cause?
-You have a cause, exactly. There is a cause-repeats.
He says Escobar and his Medellin Cartel members were the cause of abolishing extradition and succeeded when the 1991 Constitution was prohibited, express, delivery of Colombians to be tried in other countries, although this measure was repealed in 1997 Four years after the death of Colombia's most powerful drug lord.
- How many men you killed?
- I really ... because one ... counting the dead is for psychopaths, because I was a professional hitman. I had to do with the deaths of 3000 people, because that is what is in the process (judicial) of the Medellin cartel, and with my own hand, around 200 or so.
- And that makes you some kind of remorse and reflection?
-Look, self reflection, but really and one gray hair comb ... I paid more gray than fucking rude, as they say, because I cheated. I, being a bandit, I conned another bandit, an outlaw bigger than me which is the government, because I came to (pay) seven years (in prison) and I paid 22.
"Popeye" was jailed one year when first subjected to justice, in June 1991, along with Escobar, but escaped with this and other hitmen from the prison Cathedral in July 1992. He surrender to authorities two months later.
He has been in jail in Bogota and in the penitentiary in Valledupar and Cómbita and all three have tried to kill him. The first had him assassinate the late paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño.
"I would kill for showers in the morning and here, for one naked and soaped, then no one is exempt. Tiny and I'm going to drop my two beasts, two types of 22 years (wooden knife) received the whistle, "he says and adds that to the repeated attacks against them decided to change strategy.
He thought that if he wanted to kill the mob while he was an enemy of the state, would not live in prison. In 2005 he decided to collaborate with justice and said the Liberal Party politician, Alberto Santofimio, as co masterminding the assassination of presidential candidate of that party, Luis Carlos Galan, perpetrated by gunmen in Medellín in August 1989.
The testimony of "Popeye", who took part in organizing the murder-resulted in a sentence of 24 years against Santofimio. The closest associate of Escobar was witness in the trial for the bombing of an Avianca plane, which killed 107 people in November 1989.
In exchange for his cooperation with the law protects the State.
"What did we ended up with?" he asked, and lists the factors that changed the course of a war that at times seemed won by the drug traffickers: Creating effective intelligence and special operations forces, the fight against corruption in the security forces, the U.S. advisory and especially the rewards.
"The problem is the Mafia informers", he believes.
-Yes. What is the way to end the Mexican Mafia? The poster of "wanted". They have to be pulling in the media (posters offering rewards with photographs of the main bosses), distributing papers, throwing (by plane).
- A policy of rewards?
- It is the key. Pablo Escobar told me, when we removed the posters of "wanted" (in 1989): Pope, we are dead. It's like in the West, "seeks", we are dead. The poster of "wanted" is very sensitive to one as bandit you get to buy a soda and there is a picture of one and someone sees on TV and know that you are worth $ 10 million.
"Popeye" knows his life will hang on a thread when he regains freedom in five months. He says he will try to lead a Catholic life, "as mandated by God", but he has many enemies: Family, friends and members of the more than 3000 victims of the Medellin cartel, the former heads of the recently defunct DAS-Colombian agency intelligence against the mafia medellinense headquartered detonated a truck with dynamite in 1989 and which agency accused of complicity in the death of Guy and explosion-Avianca and brothers Jorge Luis and Juan David Ochoa Vasquez, among others.
The Ochoa Vasquez-Escobar partners who surrendered to justice in 1990 and six years purged lodged a complaint with the prosecution of attempted extortion and "Popeye" accused of committing further crime of ties to Los Zetas.
- What options do you have when you regained freedom to survive?
- "80% wants me dead and 20% wants me crowned", he expressed with a smile. That's the game. I'm not a huevón (meaning asshole, Colombian slang). I paid 22 years in prison and won't go to looking for enemies and say, 'Hey, remember me?' No. I care and if a guy comes to kill me, I will defend myself. I'm not suicidal."
Interesting read. Thanks.
O te alineas o te mueres.
Bjeff. Interesting story. He made 2 particularly insightful points. When asked how many people he had killed, he answered that counting them was for psychopaths, he killed as a professional.
Kind of reminded of Stalin's statement of "kill one man and it is a tragedy, kill a million and it is a statistic."
The second thing he brought out that I agree with is the way to deal with the cartels is like they did in the old west (and the FBI still does in the Post Office), with wanted posters and rewards. Show the public their pictures with a reward just below it. If every store and public place has your picture posted with a reward below it, as Popeye said if you walk into a store to buy a soda and see yourself posted on the wall behind the counter, it is going to give you second thoughts about your line of work. He said throw them out of airplanes over the cities. He is probably partially right in the concept that they would have to be distributed very widely or everyone would be afraid to post them.
Unfortunately Mexico is going in the opposite direction. EPN has in effect erased the word "cartel" from all public statements and no longer identifies a criminal as a member of a cartel.
Words are powerful weapons, be careful how you use them.
Popeye was prominently featured in Pablo's Hippos, which is an interesting movie. I can't find the entire movie, but here's a trailer.
Those that say, don't know. Those that know, don't say.
There is a big inconsistency in his storytelling though. In this article he says people like him can be stopped by wanted posters etc, but in Der Spiegel article he says you cannot stop him, unless perhaps drugs can be bought in pharmacies:
I agree with Der Spiegel's comment:
Popeye is a pale, 50-year-old man with a shrill voice -- a psychopath who doesn't count his kills
@DD: What I found hilarious is his assertion that, although Chapo G is 100X richer than Escobar ever was, Escobar had a better criminal mind and was smarter. He forgot one small detail, namely, Escobar is very dead and Chapo G is very much alive and appears to be untouchable. I think his life span has been extended by prison, maybe he should get his sentence extended and live a little longer.
Hmmmm Chapo like all the others is only there till they catch him or kill him, there is no retirement in the Florida sunshine for the Capo's it only ends one way, same for most of the foot soldiers.
It's a strange world they all live in, all the money a man could ever want, but they are never at peace always living on their nerves, it's a tragedy of Ancient Greek proportions.
It will end when the State establishes proper Civic Society as exists in all Western Countries nowadays
Now he is more than 80% dead. With terminal cancer he is going out with a blazing exit
He's all over the place with his comments and stories. I can't make sense of the guy. He contradicts himself and makes randomly bizarre statements.
Maybe it's the translation but in this piece he sounds eerily manson-esque...
Things must get worse before they can get better
In reply to this post by leChef
Interesting.I wonder how long he's got?I'm sure a lot of his victim's family's are cheering his impending death.He's just lucky he was able to go out naturally.He's out and free right?
In reply to this post by El Guero
Judging from that photo he looks to have a good 9-12 months left if he's on chemo which I doubt. Without it probably 3-6 months. It's already reached his lungs and liver.
Things must get worse before they can get better
I think that photo is old like maybe 10 years ago.
Guero is probably referring to the picture on that link I posted. Popeye looks ill and he has been in jail since May 25, 2018.
Here it is:
Yes. That picture. Between that and his diagnosis it's certain he's knocking at the gates of hell.
Things must get worse before they can get better
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