Colombian Pablo Escobar became one of the world's richest men by distributing cocaine throughout the Americas from the late 1970s until his death in 1993. Pablo Escobar grew up outside the city of Medellín, and turned to petty crime at an early age. By the 1970s he was in the drug trade, and by 1975 he was boss of what came to be known as the Medellín Cartel. During the 1980s he was the top villain to the Colombian authorities, as well as an enemy in the "war on drugs" established by U.S. President Ronald Reagan
and furthered by President George Bush
the elder. Pablo Escobar spent part of his wealth on mansions, a private zoo and a private army. He was popular in some areas for his charitable deeds, including the financing of housing projects and football (soccer) playing fields, but he confronted law enforcement officials with a policy of "plato o plomo," silver or lead -- that is, the choice between taking a bribe or taking a bullet. Escobar killed anyone who refused a bribe or got in his way, including cops, by-standers, judges and presidential candidates. (He was "said to be responsible for around 7,000 deaths," according to a 2016 article in The Guardian
.) By 1991, under threat of extradition to the U.S., Pablo Escobar worked a deal with Colombian authorities that allowed him to surrender and serve time in a prison of his own design. An attempt to move Escobar to another facility resulted in his escape, and from July of 1992 until December of 1993 he was one of the world's most wanted fugitives. Those in the hunt included Colombian officials, vigilante para-military squads and Drug Enforcement Agency officials from the United States. (Later it was revealed that covert U.S. military operations were also involved.) Pablo Escobar was finally tracked down in Medellín and killed in a gunfight there on December 2, 1993.