A ban on extraditions and a promise of leniency in his pocket, the world's most powerful drug boss settled Thursday into a luxurious prison outside this city he has ruled by the bullet and bomb.
Billionaire cocaine lord Pablo Escobar was quoted by a Colombian journalist as saying he decided to surrender "because I could not remain indifferent before the longings for peace of the vast majority of the Colombian people."The government has waged a costly two-year war on the country's drug traffickers that has demoralized Colombians, and Escobar's surrender Wednesday was widely viewed as part of a deal aimed at ending the bloodshed.
The 41-year-old Medellin cocaine cartel boss turned himself in just hours after a popularly elected government panel writing a new constitution voted to ban extraditions of criminals.
Colombian drug bosses have used intimidation and bribery to stay out of their own nation's jails but feared extradition to the United States, where Escobar is wanted on murder and drug trafficking charges.
At a news conference in Bogota on Wednesday night, President Cesar Gaviria insisted his government's leniency toward Escobar does not mean it has abandoned the war on drugs.
"Our policy does not constitute nor will it constitute a negotiation," he said. "No country has paid a price as high as Colombia in the battle against drug trafficking."
In the first comment by a U.S. official, Robert Martinez, the leader of America's drug-fighting efforts, Thursday said Escobar "represents all that's evil, that's bad with drugs" and questioned Colombia's treatment of him.
Asked about Escobar's prison, Marti
nez told ABC's "Good Morning America" that "There are questions. Is this going to be Pablo's hacienda or is it going to be a real prison? Are the barbed wires out there to keep people out so he can do business, or is it to incarcerate him so that he can't do business?"
Asked about Colombia's ban on extraditions, Martinez said Washington "had hoped extraditions would have been part of their criminal justice system."
Officials in Colombia say they expect the cocaine trade to continue to flourish. Escobar's network is thought to be responsible for about half the 600-800 tons of cocaine smuggled out of Colombia every year.
Opinion polls indicate about two-thirds of Colombians oppose extradition, many considering it an insult to national pride.
Escobar is accused of having a hand in hundreds of murders in the past 20 months, including those of 107 people killed in the bombing of a domestic jetliner, a presidential candidate, a justice minister and 10 percent of Medellin's police force.The only journalist allowed to speak to Escobar after his surrender said the drug boss had handed over his pistol in a jungle near Medellin to officials accompanied by the Roman Catholic priest who first announced two weeks ago that Escobar would surrender and has served as mediator.
Escobar also was quoted by the Colombian television reporter, who spoke to him in the prison outside this city 150 miles northwest of Bogota, as saying he had been made a "scapegoat" for all the drug-related violence.
Escobar denied that his surrender had anything to do with the extradition ban but praised the constitutional assembly "for its grand contribution to the noble cause of national peace."
The reporter said Escobar had a long black beard and was wearing a white leather jacket, blue jeans and tennis shoes.
If convicted of the charges against him, Escobar could receive a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. But court officials said Escobar would likely serve no more than eight years.
While no major Colombian drug trafficker has been successfully convicted and served prison time in Colombia, 46 have been extradited to the United States for trial since 1984. There is no guarantee he won't continue to run his violent drug ring from behind bars.
The Rev. Rafael Garcia, who negotiated Escobar's surrender, called it "a great step toward peace."
Upon surrendering with three of his lieutenants, John Jairo Velasquez, Carlos Aguilar and Otoniel Jesus Franco, Escobar was taken by helicopter to the jail prepared for him in his hometown, the Medellin suburb of Envigado,
The prison, originally planned as a drug rehabilitation center, has private baths, gardens, a soccer field, television and game rooms.
Pablo Escobar at a glance
The billionaire drug trafficker, who surrendered just hours after the Colombian Assembly voted to ban extradition of drug lords.
-Head of the Medellin cocaine cartel
-Was born in Rio Negro, Colombia 41 years ago.
-His mother was a teacher and his father was a farmer.
-Ordering hundreds of murders, including a justice minister, an attorney general and a presidential candidate.
-Ordering about 300 bombings in the past two years, including the bombing of the Colombian jetliner that killed all 107 passengers and crew in November 1989.
Indictments in the U.S.
-Faces nine charges of either drug trafficking or murder.
Colombia's major role is in the refining of the cocoa leaves from other countries such as Peru and Bolivia. This is done mostly throughout the vast expanses of the remote Plains and Amazon regions in the southeast, areas accessible only by air or slow-moving river transport.