John Jairo Velásquez, Assassin for Pablo Escobar, is Released

Twenty-two years in a maximum-security prison was deemed sufficient punishment for the favored hitman of former drug kingpin of Colombia, Pablo Escobar, on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. John Jairo Velásquez, also known by his nickname, “Popeye,” was released early from a prison located 100 miles north of Bogotá, Colombia, a place where he had confessed to atrocities far more numerous than the one murder for which he had spent his time serving. As Escobar’s number one assassin, Velásquez confessed to having killed “250 people with his bare hands - including his own girlfriend – and ordered the murder of up to 3,000 more. He detonated over 250 car bombs, and… [was] linked to the 1989 Avianca jet bombing, which killed 109 people” (Alexander). However, despite all the death and evil he brought to the world, “Popeye” served only 22 of his 30-year sentence for one murder: Luis Carlos Galán.

On August 18, 1989, presidential hopeful Luis Carlos Galán was scheduled to speak in a neighborhood in Bogotá, Colombia. In the presence of an enthusiastic crowd, Galán prepared to give his address, and walked toward the stage. As he took to the steps and waved to the masses, several rapid-fire shots sounded through the cheers of the audience, and Galán lay lifeless upon the stage (YouTube). The following year, the Associated Press reported that Pablo Escobar had been charged with the execution (Wells). However, it was not until two years later, in October of 1992, that Velásquez turned himself in to the authorities, and began his 30-year sentence for the murder of Luis Carlos Galán (Alexander).

 The murder for which he was convicted was not a one-man job, however, and was actually ordered by one of Galán’s political rivals for the nomination by the Liberal Party in the 1990 election: Justice Alberto Santofimio. In 2006, Velásquez had testified against Santofimio, stating, “Santofimio was the intellectual author behind the assassination of Galán,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported (Phillip). As this writer speculates, Santofimio had probably contracted Escobar to organize the hit in order to broaden his chances of victory, considering one of Galán’s primary platforms was the extradition of drug cartels, leaders and members alike, from across the country to the United States, as well as removing power from those very cartels and redirecting it back toward the government. Considering Galán’s popularity was rising, he had become more of a threat to the Colombian underworld than before, and Escobar and Santofimio now had a common enemy. “Kill him, Pablo!” is what Velásquez had testified and in 2011 the Colombian Supreme Court reinstated the murder conviction of Santofimio (Cardona).

 According to the BBC, Colombia remains divided with regard to the release of such a renowned killer (BBC). On one hand, many of the families of those whom Velásquez affected believe that 22 years is nowhere near enough time in prison, while others see his release as a second chance for a new life, although Velásquez estimates that he as “about an 80 percent chance of being killed by former rivals.” So it appears that in the killer’s mind, a second chance is nearly out of the question. “Popeye” plans on relocating abroad, however, in order to increase his chances of survival (New York Post).



Alexander, Harriet. The Telegraph. “How ‘Popeye’ became Pablo Escobar’s favourite hitman.”


BBC. “Colombia frees drug lord’s hired killer ‘Popeye.’”


Cardona, Libardo. The Huffington Post. “Alberto Santofimio Conviction Reinstated, Ordered Assassination of Colombian Presidential Candidate.”


The New York Post. “Colombia releases Pablo Escobar’s #1 hitman after 22 years.”


Phillip, Abby. The Sydney Morning Herald. “‘Popeye’, Pablo Escobar’s murderous offsider, is out of jail but says he is likely to be assassinated.”


Wells, Tom. Associated Press. “Cocaine Cartel Chief Charged in Presidential Candidate’s Assassination.”


YouTube. “Asesinato de Luis Carlos Galán.”

About Author(s)

Asa Equels's picture
Asa Equels
Asa Equels is a junior undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh studying Hispanic Languages and Literatures, as well as pursuing a Certificate in Latin American Studies. He is a member of the university's Cross Country and Track and Field teams. After graduation, Asa plans on continuing his education in graduate school, and hopes to become a teacher/professor and cross country/track coach.