Colombia: Freed Cartel Hitman Demands Protection

Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vasquez AKA “Popeye” is notorious in Colombia as former personal enforcer for late drug lord Pablo Escobar — and is now a free man after 22 years behind bars, two-thirds of his original sentence. But he seems to be more troubled than relieved about his release on parole — just before getting popped from the top-security Cómbita prison in Boyacá,

Popeye asked Colombia’s official human rights office, the Defensoría del Pueblo, for protection. “Please grant me police security from the moment I leave the prison gate,” he wrote. We can imagine that Popeye has made a few enemies over the years. In jailhouse interviews with journalists, he boasted that he personally killed around 300 people and helped arrange for the murder of 10 times that many. A judge nonetheless granted his parole application, and he was sprung on a bond of 9 million pesos ($4,700) Aug. 27. “In his own hand he asked [authorities] to protect his right to life,” the Defensoría said of the request, adding that the office has contacted the appropriate authorities to arrange security measures.

Popeye was convicted in connection with the murder of presidential hopeful Luis Carlos Galán in 1989, but in 2006 testified against former justice minister Alberto Santofimio, a rival candidate in the 1990 presidential race who was convicted of ordering Galan’s assassination. Galán, who campaigned promising a crackdown on Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, was the favorite to win the election before he was gunned down in the public square of a Bogotá suburb as he prepared to give a speech. In his press interviews, Popeye also claimed responsibility for the 1988 kidnapping of Andres Pastrana—then the mayor of Bogotá and later president of Colombia. He also admitted to murdering his own girlfriend on Escobar’s orders — and claimed involvement in the 1989 bombing of Avianca Airlines Flight 203, which killed all 107 people on board.

Popeye, who puts his odds on survival outside the prison walls at just 20%, is now contrite. “I want to teach the youth of Colombia that they don’t have to sell their lives for a Mercedes-Benz or the pants of a beauty queen, like I did,” he said upon his relase. “Perhaps they will give me that opportunity.”

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