Pablo Escobar’s Iconic White House Photo: A Closer Look

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This notorious photo captures Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in front of the White House, with his only son, Juan Pablo Escobar, beside him. It’s believed the photo was taken around 1981, although the exact date remains unknown. On the same trip, Escobar also took his family to Disneyland.

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How Pablo Escobar Managed to Pose in Front of the White House

Pablo Escobar, perhaps the most infamous drug lord in history, led the Medellín cartel from 1976 until his demise in 1993. At its height, the cartel was raking in about $420 million a week, with Escobar’s net worth estimated at $25 billion. The cartel’s wealth was so vast that an estimated $2.1 billion was lost annually due to spoilage.

Escobar, born in 1949 to a farmer and a schoolteacher, ventured into crime early. He started with selling counterfeit diplomas, tampering with report cards, and eventually escalated to grand theft auto and smuggling. By the mid-1970s, he pivoted to cocaine trafficking, which marked the beginning of his notorious career.

The photo of Escobar at the White House was taken by his wife, Maria Victoria, and was first shown in the HBO documentary “Sins of My Father” in 2010. The documentary explores Escobar’s life through the perspective of his son Sebastian Marroquin (born Juan Pablo Escobar) with his wife, Maria Henao.

In 1981, Escobar was attempting to “legitimize” his image. He served on Medellín’s city council and had ambitions for higher political office.

Despite his efforts to legitimize, the United States agencies like the FBI and CIA were likely aware of his activities, even though the War on Drugs hadn’t yet reached its zenith. It’s suspected that he traveled to the U.S. using a diplomatic passport or possibly forged documents.

The photo was taken in front of the White House’s North Portico, along Pennsylvania Avenue. At present, this area is inaccessible from Lafayette Park. Typically, a similar photo could be taken today, albeit from behind a much taller fence.

A year after the photo, Escobar secured a parliamentary seat in the 1982 election as part of the New Liberalism movement, a branch of the Colombian Liberal Party.

During that period, Escobar was hugely popular in Medellín, known for his philanthropy. He constructed football fields and distributed money to the poor.

However, the government resisted becoming a narco-state and began to push back. After they ousted Escobar from office and tried to arrest him, he retaliated fiercely. He orchestrated the Palace of Justice siege with the M-19 guerrilla group, resulting in the deaths of half of Colombia’s supreme court judges.

He also orchestrated bombings, such as the attack on Avianca Flight 203 and the DAS building. Twelve years after the infamous photo was taken, Escobar was killed on the rooftops of Medellín.

Escobar’s legacy remains deeply divisive. His criminal activities were responsible for thousands of deaths, yet for many, he was seen as a modern-day “Robin Hood.” About 25,000 people attended his funeral, highlighting the complex views surrounding his life and death.

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