Drug traffickers and paramilitaries who had become enemies of Pablo Escobar, supported by the Colombian Public Forces and some U.S. institutions, created the Pepes group to murder the boss of the Medellín Cartel and avenge his terrorist attacks.
Between August and September 1992, the Castaño brothers, Don Berna, members of the Colombian Police and members of the DEA and CIA created the Pepes (Persecuted by Pablo Escobar”) group. This group aimed to weaken and murder the drug lord, using the same violent methods as him. They planted bombs, kidnapped, tortured and killed lawyers, accountants, hitmen and any other person close to their enemy.
The Drug Lord’s Ambition
On July 3, 1992, Pablo Escobar murdered Fernando Galeano and Gerardo Moncada in La Catedral prison, two members of the Medellín Cartel who refused to pay the increase in the fee to use drug trafficking routes. Additionally, Galeano and Moncada made a secret stash and when Escobar found out, he understood it as a betrayal.
In response to these events, on July 4, 1992, the head of the Medellín Cartel ordered the kidnapping and killing of Mario and William Moncada, and asked for USD 10 million to return each body. But his revenge did not stop there and on July 10, seven gunshot and incinerated bodies appeared in Medellín related to the murdered drug traffickers above.
After this, Diego Fernando Murillo, alias Don Berna, a member of the Galeano security group decided to attack Escobar with the support of Fidel and Carlos Castaño, who were also in the drug lord’s sights. Carlos had become an informant for the Colombian Police because he did not agree with the methods that Escobar had used to prevent extradition. Furthermore, he and Fidel, the main enemies of the guerrilla, could not tolerate Escobar’s sympathy for the M-19 and ELN guerrilla groups.
Carlos Mauricio García Fernández, alias “Doble Cero”, and according to Don Berna, the major of the Police Search Bloc, Danilo González, also joined this group, as well as the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers, Helmer Herrera, José Santacruz, cattle farmers, businesspeople and former partners who had all been victims of Escobar.
To carry out their actions, they created large intelligence strategies and operated as a team with police officers and members of the CIA. Additionally, they received citizen information, which they rewarded with the money provided by Escobar’s enemies.
On February 1, 1993, a corpse appeared in Medellín with a sign that announced the emergence of a group as vicious as Escobar. This murder was in retaliation for the attack carried out on Escobar’s orders the previous day in Bogotá, killing 16 people. From that moment, tens of bodies appeared, which became the main way of avenging the deaths ordered by the drug lord.
Escobar’s lawyers, his hitmen and those in charge of money laundering and guarding his properties were the Pepes’ main target. The intention was to leave Escobar without money and to corner him so that he would make a mistake that would lead them to him. At least fifteen of his lawyers died in this persecution. Some front men and allies of his inner circle, including Popeye and his brother, turned themselves in to the authorities.
It is estimated that the Pepes murdered at least 300 individuals, although they said that they would not attack innocent people. However, Escobar’s family denounced the killing of Alba Lía Londoño, music teacher of Manuela Escobar, the drug lord’s daughter; Nubia Jiménez, nanny of Escobar’s children; Alicia Vásquez, general services employee of one of his properties; and Juan Carlos Herrera, a minor who was a friend of Juan Pablo Escobar.
César Gaviria’s government always denied its involvement in this group and expressed that it did not agree with the methods of torture used by the Castaño brothers, the same that were denounced by Escobar in a communication. After the murder of the drug lord’s lawyer, Guido Parra, the President of Colombia publically rejected the actions of the Pepes and offered a reward for their capture.
The Death of Escobar
The boss of the Medellín Cartel was increasingly more concerned with his family’s safety, at risk from the Pepes. In his preoccupation with protecting them, he got careless with his security and so they were able to intercept his calls. After arduous intelligence efforts and team work, Pablo Escobar was taken down on December 2, 1993.
Although the photos in all the media showed officer Hugo Aguilar as the person who killed the most wanted man, the fatal gunshot has been attributed to several people, including staff of the DEA, and Carlos Castaño and Don Berna state that it was someone from their group.
In the struggle to stop Escobar, this group ended up increasing the number of innocent victims. The crimes committed by the Pepes remain unpunished, with the exception of one, Vicente Castaño, who was sentenced when he was already dead. Their violent acts and victims have remained forgotten over the years and need truth and justice.
¿Quiénes son Los Pepes? (Who Are the Pepes?)
Élites y crimen organizado en Colombia: alias `Don Berna’ (The Elite and Organized Crime in Colombia: Don Berna)
Yo fui el creador de Los Pepes. (I Created the Pepes)
Los Pepes, un horror que sigue en la impunidad.(The Pepes, A Horror that Remains Unpunished)
Los Pepes, el reciclaje criminal de los enemigos de Escobar. (The Pepes, the Criminal Recycling of Escobar’s Enemies)