Drake said it best, but it’s worth repeating: It really is an amazing time to be alive. Everyday is like a roulette wheel of randomness. You never know what you’re going to get. Like today. I woke up this morning thinking I was going to have to go scouring the Internet for something worth everybody’s time and then this bad boy fell into my lap.
I’m sure everyone knows who Pablo Escobar is. Drug kingpin whose personal army of criminals fucked, snorted and killed their way into infamy. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these guys were tossed into jail for a number of decades. Surprisingly, some of them didn’t get shanked in the shower, and are being released back into the real world. Like John Jairo Velásquez who, after spending more than 20 years in prison, has decided to turn his life around by becoming a viral YouTube star. Because no one screams “How To Tutorials” like a guy who used to cut people’s dicks off so he could stuff it in their mouth.
“During his time as Pablo Escobar’s most feared enforcer, the man known as Popeye killed around 300 people, ordered the murder of thousands more, and masterminded some 200 car bombs during the Medellín cartel’s war against its rivals and the Colombian state.
Now, after more than two decades in prison, John Jairo Velásquez is attempting to recast himself as a YouTube star.
Through his channel Popeye Arrepentido (Remorseful Popeye), Velásquez says he is trying to warn young people away from a life of crime – but his newfound celebrity has caused distress and offence to some relatives of his victims. Paroled in 2014 after 22 years in prison, Velásquez started his YouTube channel earlier this year at the suggestion of a friend. “From one moment to the next I had 1,000 followers, then 2,000,” he says, in a telephone interview from Medellín. Nine months later, his channel has more than 100,000 subscribers: some way behind the site’s biggest stars, who count their followers by the million, but enough, he says, to earn a modest income.
His video posts open with a with slow motion shot of a flying bullet. “It may seem like an glorifying crime but it’s to attract young people,” says the man whose confessed crimes include ordering the bombing of a commercial airliner in which 110 people died.
“There is a certain degree of morbid curiosity about the killings, especially from young people,” he admits.
Although Velásquez was only convicted over one murder – the 1989 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán – he has claimed responsibility for thousands of deaths, including some those of about 500 policemen who were shot in return for a cartel bounty. In one posting, the brother of a murdered police officer asks Velásquez when he will meet the families of his victims. “That’s a painful question for me,” Velásquez answers. “It’s important that we could meet so I can ask for your forgiveness face to face and accept my responsibility.”
Velásquez claims he dedicates 14 hours a day answering questions sent to him, recording new posts and fielding questions from researchers into the underworld. He still refers to Escobar as “my boss”, although at the start of one post in which he recounts the capo’s life, he offers a disclaimer: “Before I start I want to say that everything Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria did was bad. It’s important that new generations don’t get fixated on the figure of Pablo Escobar and even less on mine. We should not be a model for anyone. We are bandits.”
Now, unfortunately, my Spanish is about as Tinder game (read: abysmal), so I can’t make heads or tails of what he says in any of these videos. Like this one:
V impressive. I assume. I literally don’t know. In my opinion, I think stuff like this is cool as shit. Those true crime docs are my heroin. I watched Making A Murderer in one sitting. So you know what, if this guy wants to start making videos about his insight into the criminal underbelly of the world, go for it. If this was in English, I’d be watching these more than a middle-schooler watches porn.
However, not everyone is as excited that ole’ Popeye is finding such success on the Internet. Mostly the family of people he killed.
“Gonzálo Rojas, whose father was on board Avianca flight 203 when it was destroyed by a cartel bomb, sees the former hit man’s YouTube channel as an affront to all his victims.
“It’s a slap in the face for us for him to present himself now as an expert, a consultant, when he hasn’t shown any remorse for what he did to us,” says Rojas, who adds that when he tried to approach Popeye to seek some answers, he was told to talk to his “manager”.
“He’s become a celebrity because of his crimes,” Rojas says,
Velásquez, who at the height of his power was paid as much as $1m for a high-profile murder, says he squandered much of his fortune on protection payments while in prison. What’s left he has had to deposit into an account through a front man because no bank will open an account for him. With the YouTube channel, he hopes to make a living. “It would be clean money from honest work,” he says.”
Sure, the dude killed a bunch of people, but plenty of famous people have killed people. Matthew Broderick once killed a guy while drunk driving. Imagine a world without Matthew Broderick? No Inspector Gadget or Godzilla films? We needed those. We need him. Broderick and this guy are on the same level. We can’t have one without the other. It’s just not fair. I like to think that maybe, when they make the movie about him, Matthew Broderick will play Popeye. He can bring a lot to the role. They both killed a person. Dream casting. I hope you’re listening, Hollywood.