Colombian cocaine king Pablo Escobar died as he lived, in a hail of gun fire as presidents rejoiced and the poor people of
Medellin mourned the murderous thug who used some of his drug millions to play the role of a peasant Robin Hood.
It is the stuff of fiction but also the real-life story of a vicious criminal who killed hundreds of people, maimed thousands more through drug addiction, amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune, defied U.S. authorities and shook Colombian society and its government to its foundations.
"Colombia's worst nightmare has been slain," declared President Cesar Gaviria after a barefoot Escobar was cut down as he leaped from a hideout house that had been surrounded by soldiers and police. President Clinton sent congratulations. Drug enforcement leaders in both countries hailed Escobar's death as a triumph of law over crime.
Nevertheless, we would advise law-abiding citizens everywhere -- in this country, in Europe, in Latin America, in Asia -- to hold the cheering. Escobar may have got his and and the once-feared Medellin Cartel may be only a shadow of the criminal organization that once dominated the cocaine traffic through Colombia to the United States. But its dominant place has been taken over by the more sophisticated Cali Cartel that relies on bribery rather than bullets and is rapidly branching out into heroin as it develops "markets" worldwide.
The menace of international drug trafficking linking the Colombia-Venezuela-Peru operation with the Mafia in Sicily, long-established Asian sources and the new conduit to Western Europe through the Middle East and former Soviet states is not to be denied. It is growing. And Escobar's well-deserved death will serve its purpose only if it galvanizes the international community to combine resources in what must be one of the most "just wars" in history. This is no time to let down.
Colombia will likely be spared much of the narco-terrorism practiced by the Medellin Cartel since the late 1970s. But new traffickers in heroin are an especially bloody lot. And the network of which the Cali criminals are so important a part seems intent on tightening its web around the globe.
U.S. efforts to stop the inflow of narcotics remain as fruitless as ever. Until citizens learn to shun drugs as surely as they are learning to avoid tobacco and until the profit motive is denied drug runners on the streets of Baltimore and other cities, the threat that Pablo Escobar embodied in its most virulent form will continue.