Recent news about Virginia, in “The Daily Mirror” of U.K.
He was the seventh richest man in the world, his violent empire controlling 80 per cent of the world’s cocaine. She was the most famous woman in south America. But when drug lord Pablo Escobar met beautiful television journalist Virginia Vallejo they fell in love.
His pursuit by the authorities and violent enemies made secrecy a necessity – but as rumours of their closeness circulated, the affair destroyed her career and almost cost her life.
“With Pablo I lose my reason, and with me he loses his head; and then all that’s left is a man pursued by justice and a woman pursued by the media who know and take care of and need each other, despite the pain caused by all the absences, all his crimes and her sins”, Virginia later wrote in her book about the relationship.
Over the course of their tempestuous love affair Virginia would come to witness first-hand the bloodshed, fear and corruption that accompanied the rise of Escobar’s crime empire.
She had a ringside seat for the drugs, sex, wealth and violence and watched as her married lover went from rising politician who was loved by the poor to a desperate paranoid fugitive who was the most wanted man in the world until his death in a hail of bullets.
Escobar – the criminal
Escobar is widely regarded as a monster beyond belief.
He masterminded the bombing of an airliner in which 107 people died, the murders of three presidential candidates, dozens of judges, journalists and politicians.
And hundreds of innocent civilians were killed in scores of bombings.
Yet in his native Colombia, Escobar was idolised by the poor because he shrewdly built them homes, roads, sports stadiums and provided thousands of jobs.
When he and Virginia met in 1982, he was a young congressman with hopes for high political office and the source of his wealth was still a mystery.
Still to come were the mass murders, violent shoot outs with police, political assassinations and thousands of deaths caused as a result of his business producing most of the world’s cocaine.
In her book Virginia paints a picture of a strong, commanding and ruthless businessman a long way from the image of a fugitive rat hiding out in run down farms and barely seeing daylight which characterised the months in the run up to his death in 1993.
Her portrayal in Netflix’s Narcos
The Netflix TV show Narcos alluded to the relationship with the character ‘Valeria Velez’, played by Stephanie Sigman, allegedly based on Virginia – although she is unhappy with the association.
She told the Mirror exclusively: “My portrayal in Narcos is as a pervert, and a criminal and corrupt journalist that in the end is tortured and killed.
“The purpose of the script was to defame me brutally and rape me in front of millions of people.”
Instead she has high hopes for the film of her book Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar , which stars Javier Bardem as Escobar and Penelope Cruz playing her.
As well as his dark side Virginia describes her former lover’s generosity and free spending and details dozens of meetings including an extraordinary visit to one of the drug lord’s jungle haciendas.
Whilst at the house she visited his private zoo complete with elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceros, giraffes, zebras, camels, kangaroos and Appaloosa horses.
And swimming in a river on his estate Virginia reveals a brush with death when says she got sucked into a whirlpool and was rescued by Escobar.
She writes: “Without a second thought he leaps into the water and reaches me in seconds.
“First, he uses words to calm me; then, movements so precise they seem choreographed; and finally, a strength that seems equal to whirlpool’s to pull me out.
“And that confident, brave man snatches me from the arms of death as if I was a feather, as if that act were just one more responsibility of a gallant host, and as if he were immune to a danger that he
At the time of the meeting Virginia says she had a boyfriend but his addiction to cocaine was to bring the relationship to an end – ironically bearing in mind she would soon find herself in the arms of the most famous dealer of that drug in history.
As a famous television host she was used to mixing with the wealthy elite and had a string of handsome suitors, but she was captivated by Escobar.
It was by most people’s experience of a romance an extraordinarily unusual relationship, with meetings between them conducted in secrecy and long gaps of up to three months with no contact as Escobar went to ground.
When the couple met Virginia says she was still technically married to her ex-husband who was refusing to sign divorce papers.
When Escobar heard about this he simply told her he would fix it within 48 hours.
She writes: “When I come home for lunch my housekeeper informs me my lawyer called three times.
“When I call him, he exclaims, ‘Your husband called this morning, desperate to tell me he had to sign the divorce papers before noon, or he was dead.
“‘The poor guy was as pale as wax and shaking like a leaf; he looked like he was about to have a heart attack. He almost couldn’t sign his name.'”
The next day Escobar sent six men bearing huge bouquets of flowers to her apartment as a sign of his regard.
She described how on one occasion Escobar turned up at her apartment with dozens of bodyguards who all insisted on coming to the front door of her apartment with him.
She said she reacted so furiously to the invasion of her privacy that he always left them downstairs in future.
She said: “Over the years I will see Pablo some 220 times, around 80 of them surrounded by an army of friends, followers, employees or bodyguards.
“But starting after that day he will arrive at either of our apartments or my hotel suite completely alone, and when we meet in his country houses, he will order his men to vanish before they see me.”
His extravagant lifestyle
Her book of the affair contains some fascinating details of the trappings of Escobar’s wealth including a description of a “James Bond car” full of gadgets.
She recounts Escobar describing it: “This button lets out a cloud of smoke that throws off anyone chasing you; this one releases tear gas that leaves them coughing and desperate for water, that one pours oil so they slide in zig zag and go off a cliff; this one drops hundreds of tacks and nails to puncture their tyres; this is a flame-thrower that you activate after this one sprays gasoline; that one sets off explosives, and on either side are the machine guns.
“And if all that fails to work, this last button emits a frequency that destroys the eardrum.”
She described how he had a string of private Lear jets which he would use to summon her in or send her to New York to go shopping with thousands of dollars in spending money.
Also how he had 14 passports all with pictures of him in different disguises so he could evade detection.
Over the course of their relationship Escobar, who was married to wife Victoria throughout his affair, confided in Virginia about his business and introduced her to his business associates.
But his confidences carried a potential cost as his enemies would have loved to access his secrets.
To “protect” her he gave her a nine-millimeter Beretta pistol engraved with his initials with the instructions: “I am going to teach you how to shoot yourself so you die right away.”
He warned her she would be tortured if captured and only to shoot any potential kidnappers if they were unarmed and less than five in number.
She writes: “He shows me what to do, where to place my fingers and where, exactly, to put the barrel.
“Again and again he pulls the trigger, again and again he pulls the trigger until I can’t stand the pain anymore and I learn not to let myself be disarmed.
“While I observe in the mirror images of our two naked bodies fighting for control of the gun, I can’t help thinking of two Spartan wrestlers.
“He forces me to feel terror, then lose my fear, to take control, to imagine the pain… to die of love.”
The couple had a passionate physical relationship and on one occasion he asked her to write down what she felt when they made love.
She writes: “On our next encounter I give him five and a half pages, and I sit watching him, not looking away for a second, while he devours them.
“He tells me, ‘But…this is the most salacious thing I have read in my entire life. Honestly… this’ll give me multiple erections.'”
Virginia paints a picture of two people in love with the future full of possibilities until Escobar ordered the murder of Rodrigo Lara, the Colombian minister for justice, who had been targeting drug traffickers.
His death shocked the nation and led to the Government approving the extradition law which would have led to Escobar being sent to the United States had he been captured alive.
It led instead to Escobar’s activities becoming increasingly violent and in turn him being sought even harder by the authorities.
As the authorities turned their attentions more on catching Escobar and his associates, Virginia began to get threatening phone calls. More negative stories appeared in the media about her links to Escobar and drug barons and her TV contract was not renewed.
The glamorous TV host, who now lives in Florida, says she was deeply in love with Escobar but her feelings changed as he became more brutal.
The turning point
A turning point in their relationship came in November 1985, when guerrilla group M19, financed by Escobar, stormed Colombia’s Palace of Justice and held all 25 of the country’s Supreme Court justices and hundreds of other civilians hostage.
M19 opposed the government’s move toward extraditing Colombians to the US, a point on which the rebels and Colombia’s powerful drug traffickers, led by Escobar, agreed.
Over the next two days, the Colombian army mounted an operation to retake the building and free the hostages.
By the time the crisis was resolved, almost all of the 30 to 40 rebels were dead, scores of hostages had been killed or “disappeared”, and 11 of the court’s 25 justices had been murdered.
Records for about 6,000 criminal cases were destroyed, including files for the criminal case against the cartel boss Escobar.
Virginia wrote: “I wonder if the man I had thought was the bravest of all has become merely the most cowardly of the monsters.
“I change my phone number, and with my soul shrunken by terror, I make the decision never to see Pablo Escobar again in my life.
“Overnight, I have stopped loving him.”
Virginia did see Escobar again but the relationship was over and they had minimal contact.
In the book she describes the last time she saw Escobar in 1987: “We stop a few feet from the hotel door, and we say goodbye forever.
“We both know it is the last time I will see him alive.
“He puts his hand behind my neck and kisses me on the forehead for the last time.
“In complete silence, he and I caress each other’s face for the last time.
“With eyes full only of infinite absences, he and I look at each other for the last time.
“He contemplates me a few seconds with those eyes that seem to contain every danger and announce every tragedy, his sad black eyes that seem to carry, every tiredness, every condemnation.
“And so that he will forever remember me as I always was, before I get out of the car I make a superhuman effort to swallow my tears, and give him my last, fleeting kiss, the last of my radiant smiles, my last couple of affectionate pats, and a look that can only offer him all those simple things that Billie Holiday’s dreamy voice sang in I’ll Be Seeing You.”
They would speak again on the telephone but Escobar had grown bitter and Virginia was scared for her life because of what she knew of his empire.
Then in December 1993 Escobar was dead.
How the Mirror reported on the death of Escobar:
“FUGITIVE drugs baron Pablo Escobar – the world’s most wanted man – was shot dead in a gun battle with the police and army yesterday.
“He died in a hail of bullets near a shopping centre in Medellin, Colombia, the city where he had based his bloodsoaked rule as the King of Cocaine.
“Escobar – on the run since a dramatic jail escape last year – was attacked and killed by officers from a 3,000-strong federal force helped by a tip-off.
“It was the end of a violent reign of terror by’ the 44-year-old gangster, who rose from the poverty-ridden back streets of Medellin to become the world’s biggest cocaine exporter.
“He ruthlessly slaughtered all those who stood in his way. Among his victims were judges, presidential candidates and police chiefs.
“His gang systematically destroyed them in a war of assassination and car bombs.
“He was once “jailed” in a luxury ranch prison where he was said to have held sex orgies and drugs parties.
“He escaped in July last year, giving dozens of armed officers the slip. As the net closed in, Escobar found himself hunted like an animal.
“With a £5 million price on his head, he daily found supporters gunned down by vigilantes.”
Today Virginia lives in the USA where she was granted political asylum after she testified in several cases involving drug cartels following the death of Escobar.
Her book Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar is a best seller and has recently been published in English by Canongate.