Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Popeye The Free Man

Popeye holds a book about his ex-boss Pablo Escobar.
Popeye, Pablo Escobar's favorite assassin, responsible for hundreds of murders and innumerable bombings, became a free man this evening. At this writing, he's on his way to Bogotá in an armored caravan.

But don't feel scared. Popeye, age 52, has turned into a mild-mannered seen shuffling thru the Combita Prison in Boyaca clutching folders of documents. Because of all the enemies he made outside, Popeye is the one who should be scared. Several other ex-members of the Medellin cartel were assassinated soon after finishing their own sentences. Popeye himself says there's a $1 million dollar price on his head.

Popeye will now live in a Bogotá halfway house, where he'll get retrained for the normal world - and certainly be guarded 24 hours a day.

Popeye, whose real name is Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez, told Semana magazine that he killed some 300 people with his own hands and participated in 3,000 murders. His 24 years in prison constitute fewer than 30 days for each person murdered. In contrast, last August a Bogotá man was sentenced to 5 years in prison for stealing a cellular telephone.

Popeye got out early because of good behavior and because he studied in prison. But he also got his sentence reduced for cooperating with authorities, singing about other criminals (who may be aiming to get him now). While those confessions serve justice, they also show how the worst criminals - who naturally know the most - sometimes serve relatively short sentences.

It also seems strange that Popeye will not be extradited to the U.S. on narcotrafficking-related charges. While he may not have trafficked himself, he killed in the service of the most notorious narcotrafficker of all.

To walk free, Popeye had to pay a 9 million peso bail. I'd like to know where he got that money, which is more than half of Colombia's average annual income. I doubt Popeye the small fortune washing dishes in the prison lunchroom, and the government supposedly seized all of the Medellin cartel's fortune.

Who's placing bets on Popeye's life expectancy outside the prison walls?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


coolcoil said...

You may very well be right about his prospects on the outside. However, assuming the guy is not dumb and isn't suicidal, he must think he's got a good chance of making it. It seems to me that if somebody really wanted to get him, they could have done it while he was in prison. A few pesos handed over to corrupt guards (and there are some in every prison, even the best ones) would have secured access.

Or maybe I believe too much what I see in movies. I've been fortunate to never have seen prison culture up close.

As for the bail, it could be innocent. Even murderers have family that care for them.

Miguel said...

Hi Coolcoil - I understand that in prison Popeye was kept in an isolated cell away from the rest of the population for his own protection. Yesterday's Washington Post has a blogpost about him in which he's quoted as saying that he expects to be killed.

As for the bail. Sure, it could be innocent - but it also could be from someone who doesn't want Popeye to let loose secrets about that person's past. Lots of politicians and other powerful people collaborated with Escobar, some for personal benefit, others out of fear. It's interesting, too, how in interviews Popeye continues expressing admiration for Escobar.


coolcoil said...

Assuming the case of the benefactor who wants to keep him quiet, another possibility is that he is smuggled out of the country. I hope that is not the case, as he clearly did not get the punishment he deserved.

Miguel said...

The day after Popeye got out, several men forced their way into the house of a house in Medellin, saying they were seeking a 'caleta', a buried treasure, supposedly left by Pablo Escobar. They proceeded to dig up the floor, but I'm not clear whether they found anything.

Did they get their clues from Popeye?