Jailed Cartel Boss Calls Drug War "Unwinnable"

By McCarton Ackerman 02/26/13

Pablo Escobar's former right-hand man says "people like me can't be stopped."

Velásquez speaks out from prison. Photo via

In an interview from his jail cell, John "Popeye" Velásquez, the former right-hand man for legendary drug lord Pablo Escobar, says the the drug war is "unwinnable." Velásquez, who has spent the last two decades in a maximum security prison near the Colombian capital of Bogotá, was interviewed by Jochen-Martin Gutsch and Juan Moreno of Der Spiegel for a five-part series titled Our Right to Poison: Lessons from the Failed War on Drugs. Velásquez was a former security chief for Escobar, helping him industrialize cocaine and seize 80% of the drug's global trade. He also killed approximately 250 people, although he says he never really counted and the figure could be higher. He adds: "only psychopaths count their kills." After decades in prison, he remains adamant that winning the war on drugs is impossible. "People like me can't be stopped," he says, "It's a war. They lose men, and we lose men. They lose their scruples, and we never had any." Since former US President Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs on July 17, 1971, roughly 40,000 tons of marijuana, 800 tons of cocaine and 500 tons of heroin have been produced annually, while the cost of the drug war has increased more than 30-fold. Velásquez says the money and stakes are so high that cartels will continue to be unstoppable; he suggests legalization of all drugs could be the only solution. "In the end, you'll even blow up an aircraft because you believe the Colombian president is on board," he says. "I don't know what you have to do. Maybe sell cocaine in pharmacies. I've been in prison for 20 years, but you will never win this war when there is so much money to be made. Never."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.