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Demise of a drug lord

Times Staff Writer

Anyone who doubts that truth can be stranger -- and more fascinating -- than fiction should check out “The True Story of Killing Pablo,” a two-hour documentary showing tonight at 9 on the History Channel.

Based on Mark Bowden’s bestseller, the production chronicles the epic hunt for bloodthirsty drug lord Pablo Escobar, who rose from squalor to rule the Medellin, Colombia, cocaine cartel in the 1970s, eluding authorities until they finally gunned him down on a rooftop in December 1993.

The documentary, from executive producers David Keane and Carl Lindahl, tells the Escobar story in a straightforward style, combining realistic re-creations, interviews with key figures and commentary from Bowden. It makes flashy, fictional portrayals of the drug underworld, such as the movie “Scarface” and the TV series “Kingpin,” look almost silly for trying so hard.

“The True Story of Killing Pablo” reveals a marathon manhunt that turned into a vicious covert war underwritten by the U.S. government, whose obsession with Escobar grew as he murdered cops and ordinary citizens by the hundreds in terrorist bombings and lived a life of luxury, thanks largely to America’s drug habit.

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Escobar built a lavish estate with a private zoo; collected planes, helicopters and cars; and repeatedly cut deals with the Colombian government and then double-crossed the authorities. He funded his own paramilitary army to protect his interests from the Marxist guerrillas in Colombia as well as the police.

The controversial aspect of the hunt for Escobar has parallels now as the U.S. battles to bring down such enemies as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden after decades of twisting allegiances.

In Colombia in the 1980s and ‘90s, the battle lines became ever more blurred as U.S. Special Forces and local authorities apparently (and unofficially) joined forces with Los Pepes, a brutal local vigilante group waging a violent campaign against anyone associated with Escobar.

Aligning with Los Pepes was a necessary evil, one U.S. military veteran said. In the view of many, a despicable enemy required a dirty fight.

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