“Popeye”, the most famous hitman of the late Colombian drug dealer Pablo Escobar, who boasted of having murdered hundreds of people on the orders of the “boss”, died Thursday of stomach cancer, announced the prison services.
Jhon Jairo Velásquez, his real name, died at the age of 57 under the supervision of guards at the National Cancer Institute, where he was transferred on December 31.
According to the National Penitentiary Institute, “Popeye” was arrested again on May 25, 2018, for extortion.
He had previously spent 23 years in prison after giving himself up to justice in 1992. He had so far been one of the closest men to Pablo Escobar, the dreaded head of the Medellin cartel, behind the export of thousands of tonnes of cocaine to the United States.
In an interview with AFP in 2015, “Popeye” said he had killed “at least 250 people, perhaps 300”, on instructions from the “boss” and ordered some 3,000 assassinations. But these figures have not been confirmed by any official source.
To avoid his extradition to the United States, Pablo Escobar, considered as the embodiment of evil, waged a merciless war on the Colombian state, marked by car bombings, as well as kidnapping and assassination political figures, journalists and judges.
This cocaine baron was killed by police on December 2, 1993, in Medellín, the second-largest city in Colombia.
After finding his freedom in 2014, “Popeye” – thus nicknamed for having been a Sea Cadet and for a prominent chin operated on afterwards – had since made himself famous by his stories from the time of the cartel, notably broadcast on social networks, including its YouTube channel with up to a million subscribers.
He wanted to “make himself important and justify his criminal activity”, but above all he had a role of “propagandist of the crimes of the Cartel of Medellín”, the ex-vice-secretary recently told AFP retired president and general Oscar Naranjo, one of the men who most chased Escobar.
The army commander, General Eduardo Zapateiro, who fought the drug traffickers, surprised everyone on Thursday when he declared during a press conference: “I offer our sincere condolences to the Popeye family. Today, a Colombian has died, whatever his life has been ”.
Faced with the ensuing criticism, he then qualified his remarks on Twitter: “Knowing his criminal acts and the pain he caused to the Colombian people, whose scars have not yet closed, my only consideration will be to the victims. We will continue the offensive against this scourge “of drug trafficking.
For his part, Juan Manuel Galan, one of the sons of the liberal candidate Luis Carlos Galan, murdered on the orders of Pablo Escobar in 1989, paid tribute to the “thousands of families this criminal has destroyed”.
His brother, the politician Carlos Fernando Galan, recalled on social networks that “Popeye” had “confessed to having given the gun to the killers who murdered my father. I forgave her. I am not happy about the death of any human being. I hope that faced with death, he has repented of his crimes. ”
After being released from prison, this killer had campaigned against the peace agreement signed in 2016 with the former Farc guerrillas and against leftist leaders, even threatening them.
In 2018, he was arrested again for an extortion case, after being spotted by the police at a party given by a mafia.