|Popeye holds a book about his ex-boss Pablo Escobar.|
But don't feel scared. Popeye, age 52, has turned into a mild-mannered seen shuffling thru the Combita Prison in Boyaca clutching folders of documents. Because of all the enemies he made outside, Popeye is the one who should be scared. Several other ex-members of the Medellin cartel were assassinated soon after finishing their own sentences. Popeye himself says there's a $1 million dollar price on his head.
Popeye will now live in a Bogotá halfway house, where he'll get retrained for the normal world - and certainly be guarded 24 hours a day.
Popeye, whose real name is Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez, told Semana magazine that he killed some 300 people with his own hands and participated in 3,000 murders. His 24 years in prison constitute fewer than 30 days for each person murdered. In contrast, last August a Bogotá man was sentenced to 5 years in prison for stealing a cellular telephone.
Popeye got out early because of good behavior and because he studied in prison. But he also got his sentence reduced for cooperating with authorities, singing about other criminals (who may be aiming to get him now). While those confessions serve justice, they also show how the worst criminals - who naturally know the most - sometimes serve relatively short sentences.
It also seems strange that Popeye will not be extradited to the U.S. on narcotrafficking-related charges. While he may not have trafficked himself, he killed in the service of the most notorious narcotrafficker of all.
To walk free, Popeye had to pay a 9 million peso bail. I'd like to know where he got that money, which is more than half of Colombia's average annual income. I doubt Popeye the small fortune washing dishes in the prison lunchroom, and the government supposedly seized all of the Medellin cartel's fortune.
Who's placing bets on Popeye's life expectancy outside the prison walls?
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours