“Pablo Escobar” and “White House” don’t seem like they belong in the same sentence. Yet there’s a photo floating around the Internet of the infamous drug kingpin posing in front of the D.C. landmark with his son, looking like a tourist in his white shirt and blank pants. So what’s the story behind the Pablo Escobar White House photo?
The Rise Of Pablo Escobar
By 1981 — the year that most believe that the Pablo Escobar White House photo was taken — the drug kingpin was not as notorious as he would later become.
Born in 1949 in Colombia, Pablo Escobar grew up in a suburb near Medellín. After starting as a petty thief stealing cars and reselling stolen tombstones, Escobar became involved in the nascent Colombian cocaine industry. It was a family affair — Escobar’s cousin Gustavo Gaviria and brother Roberto were also involved — and Escobar soon consolidated power.
In the 1970s, Pablo Escobar helped establish what would become the Medellín Cartel. By the mid-1980s, Escobar’s cartel would dominate the drug trade and pull in some $420 million a week, according to History Defined. This would eventually give Escobar the eye-watering estimated net worth of over $30 billion.
But in the late 1970s, Escobar was not as wealthy and powerful as he’d later become. In addition to growing his cartel, Escobar was focused on his growing family. Escobar married his wife, Maria Victoria Henao, in 1976 and had two children with her: Juan Pablo Escobar and Manuela Escobar.
And like any well-off family, the Escobars planned a trip together in the 1980s. They would go to the United States and visit famous landmarks. There, Maria would snap a photo of Pablo Escobar at the White House.
Inside The Pablo Escobar White House Photo
By the time Pablo Escobar and his family traveled to the United States, the drug kingpin was on a mission to legitimize himself. As History Defined reports, he was on Medéllin’s city council, and would go on to win an alternate seat in the country’s Congress in 1982.
Escobar may have used a diplomatic passport — or possibly even a fake passport — in order to get into the country with his family. That said, the United States didn’t view him as a great threat at the time. The War on Drugs was unofficially launched in the 1970s under President Richard Nixon, but not expanded until President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981.
At the onset of the decade, Escobar and his cartel weren’t yet seen as an important enemy. So Escobar, his wife, and two children were able to enter the United States without much difficulty in 1981. There, they acted like tourists.
Though details of the Escobar family trip are somewhat murky, they appear to have made at least two stops: in Washington D.C. and in Orlando, Florida. In the nation’s capital, Maria took a photo of Juan Pablo and Pablo Escobar in front of the White House. Juan Pablo is seen hanging off the railing as his father casts a protective glance down, one hand on his son’s arm.
The family also made their way to Disney World in Orlando, where Pablo Escobar was photographed looking like any other dad dragged to the theme park. Newsweek reports that Escobar even agreed to face his fear of roller coasters in order to go on certain rides with Juan Pablo.
The Escobar family’s trip to the United States passed without serious incident — Newsweek reports that Escobar made sure of that by hiring a bodyguard — and they returned to Colombia. There, Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel would soon grow dramatically more powerful.
But it wouldn’t last.
The Downfall Of The Infamous Drug Kingpin
After his trip to the White House, Pablo Escobar’s power and wealth grew. Living by the mantra of plata o plomo, which roughly translates to “silver or lead (bullets),” he and his cartel murdered police, politicians, journalists, and innocent citizens in order to consolidate their hold on the cocaine trade.
Escobar eventually controlled about 80 percent of the world’s cocaine trade, which brought him great wealth. He had a sprawling, opulent home called Hacienda Napoles, where Escobar kept his infamous pet hippos. And when Escobar went to prison in 1991, he did so on his own terms.
Then, Escobar entered a prison in Medellín that he had designed himself called La Catedral. Unlike most prisons, La Catedral had a sauna, a jacuzzi, a billiards room, and a disco. And unlike most prisoners, Escobar was able to continue conducting cartel business from behind bars.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Escobar managed to escape from La Catedral in 1992. His flight triggered a massive, nationwide manhunt. Escobar was pursued both by a group called the Search Bloc, a Colombian police unit, and Los Pepes, which was comprised of many of Escobar’s enemies.
The Legacy Of Pablo Escobar
Pablo Escobar was finally cornered 16 months after he escaped from prison. The drug kingpin was killed on Dec. 2, 1933, while fleeing from Colombian authorities along rooftops in the Los Olivos barrio of Medellín.
With that, Escobar’s life ended. But his legacy has continued to loom large. Not only has his story been dramatized in films and television shows like Netflix’s Narcos (2015-2017), but Escobar remains a fascinating figure. It’s no wonder that the Pablo Escobar White House photo is a subject of interest to many.
In the picture, there’s little sign of who Escobar actually was. He looks like a tourist and a dutiful father, keeping one eye on his young son as they stand before an American landmark. In the photo, the truth of Escobar’s identity — as cartel leader, murderer, and more — is difficult to discern.