|The law caught up with these guys! Dead Medellin cartel members.|
|A Harley outfitted with gold parts. Crime never pays|
- except when it does pay.
The museum has free admission and our guide, Juan Pablo, spoke a rough but effective English. The tour began mundanely with the police's old horse-drawn mobile prison car. (Things have changed little: you still see the prison cars, now diesel powered, picking up drunks and rowdies for a night's stay in the drunk tank.)
I mentioned to him that we were interested in Pablo Escobar, who became one of the world's richest men by exporting Colombian cocaine, and generated a decade of bombings, murders and kidnappings in Colombia. I'm sure I wasn't the first person who'd asked Juan Pablo about Escobar, whose story brought the Colombian police their greatest tragedies and best-known triumph. Escobar paid hit men $1,000 for each cop they killed and car-bombed the secret police headquarters in Bogotá, but was finally hunted down on a Medellin rooftop by a Colombian team backed by U.S. technology.
|The guerrilla attack in Caqueta.|
Certainly, the museum is about lots more than just Escobar. Besides lots of police memorabilia and trivia (the Colombian police uniform was modeled after that of the Canadian Mounties), there's also tragedy. Young Colombian men are required to do either police or military service. But it's also legal to pay to not do it, meaning that it's poor kids who risk their lives in the barrios and jungles. Unlike other nations' police forces, Colombian cops also play military roles, fighting guerrillas, drug gangs and paramilitary forces. The museum includes a display about a 2010 guerrilla attack in Caqueta, in which 14 police officers were killed and seven wounded. Guerrillas attack Colombian police with a deadly regularity.
|Police recruits in the National Park in Bogotá.|
Plan Colombia, which exposes them to guerrilla sharpshooters and landmines.
In 2010, more than 174 Colombian police were killed on duty. That's more than in the U.S., even tho the States has almost ten times the population.
We weren't disappointed, however. The museum's lower floor is dedicated to Escobar and his generation of cartel killers and traffickers. Escobar headed the Medellin cartel, which fought against the police and the equally violent Cali cartel. The room is decorated with police photos of dead narcos.
|Do the crime, do the time|
- unless you're Escobar.
Besides the wanted posters, Escobar in a coffin-like glass case, the photos of the bloodied, swollen and disfigured Escobar cadaver, there's also memorabilia: a tile from the roof on which Escobar was gunned down; Escobar's guns, including a tiny one which Juan Pablo said Escobar carried around "like his wife," and a cassete tape of the telephone conversation which gave Escobar's location away to police. (You can't listen to it, however.)
Surprisingly, tho, I didn't see the famous photo of the obese Escobar cadaver on the rooftop, with the gunmen kneeling about him like heroic big-game hunters.
Asked what happened to Escobar's cartel, Juan Pablo said it had been eliminated. Today, the big cartels "are all gone," he said. "There are only little ones left."
In reality, the victory over crime hasn't been quite so complete. Colombia's cocaine production has declined, but it's still the world's leading producer. And, while the big cartels have been smashed, their place has been taken up by guerrillas and paramilitaries with political pretentions and smaller, less flamboyant traffickers. Much of the Escobar-style violence has now shifted to Mexico.
|The museum is in a handsome, century-old building.|
|The Colombians' uniform was inspired by the RCMP - but their work's a bit different.|
|Young cops line up for duty: Better to be here than in some jungle outpost.|
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours