The chief hitman of Colombia’s most infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar, was released from prison Wednesday after 22 years behind bars.
Jhon Jairo Velasquez, alias “Popeye,” was set free after serving only three-fifths of his original sentence, for reasons of “good behavior,” according to Colombia’s W Radio.
By his own admission, Popeye participated in over 300 murders; however, he has been implicated in coordinating over 3,000 assassinations, including of Colombian police, politicians, and journalists.
Now that he is being released, Popeye himself has reason to fear for his life, after cooperating extensively with authorities.
“I am ready to spend 30 years here [in prison] because freedom scares me, but I will fight for it,” he said last year in an interview.
Once outside, Popeye says he would like to start working with the community, to steer minors away from lives of violence.
“I want to teach the youth of Colombia that they don’t have to sell their lives for a Mercedez-Benz or the pants of a beauty queen, like I did. Perhaps they will give me that opportunity,” said Popeye before his release.
The 52-year-old former Medellin Cartel had been in prison since October, 1992, and his release has caused heated controversy. During the early 1990s, Popeye was instrumental in Pablo Escobar’s self-declared “war” on the Colombian govenrment, one of the bloodiest chapters in Colombian history.
In 1989 alone, Popeye was allegedly responsible for both the bombing of Avianca Flight 203, in which 107 passengers were killed, and the assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan.
Additionally, he was the mastermind behind numerous car bombings and kidnappings, including the abduction of former President Andres Pastrana when the latter was mayor of Bogota, as well as former Vice-President Francisco Santos, the cousin to acting President Juan Manuel Santos.
On the same day as Popeye’s release, Pastrana announced that he intends to flee the country, citing certain unspecified changes in his government-issued security detail that have caused him to fear for his life and those of his family.
Pastrana claims he was the target of some 97 attacks against his life during the course of his political career, according to Colombia’s RCN Radio.