Popeye – in his own words

By Steve Hide February 6, 2020

The Colombian hitman cum media pundit Popeye died of cancer today.

Popeye died from cancer, aged 58.
Popeye described himself as a “professional” killer. Photo: Youtube

Infamous cartel hitman Popeye died from cancer today in Bogotá, aged 58, leaving mixed reactions from a Colombia constantly trying to bury his bloody past.

In later life, Jhon Jairo ‘J.J.’ Velásquez repented the 300 murders committed at the orders of his boss Pablo Escobar and forged a reputation as a social media pundit, TV star, and altogether pain in the butt for politicians targeted by his acid wit.

Related: Escobar’s hitman freed

But it was his link to the inglorious 1980s Medellín cartel – as a treasure trove of memories from being sidekick to one of history’s most enduring villains – and ability to turn out a quotable quote that brought worldwide fame.

Here we remember the divisive figure in of his own words:

“With the politicians we have in Colombia, being a bandit is an honor.”

Popeye told a journalist in 2017. His discourse belied the fact his own cartel had spent millions corrupting  the state.

“It was a work of art.”

Describing a briefcase bomb he planted on an Avianca airliner in 1989. It killed 110 people.

“I regret the death of Dr. Luis Carlos Galán, because that distorted the history of Colombia.”

The jailed sicario told TV news channels just before his release after 23 years. Galán was a populist Liberal leader assassinated by henchmen of Escobar and Velásquez in 1989, with state complicity.

“We need an ultra-right-wing government here to stop Colombia from succumbing to communism,”

Popeye told veteran New Yorker journo Jon Lee Anderson in 2018. Popeye, later accused of tweeting death threats to left-wing politicians and supporters, courted the  extreme right in his social media outbursts.He was a fierce and influential opponent of the peace process.

“I could be murdered here and nobody would come.”

During the same interview, Anderson accidentally fired Popeye’s gun, shocking the former professional killer. It was also clear that for all his bravado, Popeye lived in a simple Medellín flat with a basic lifestyle. 

“Donald Trump is a miserable dog, he’s damn full of money, full of hate.” 

Despite his right-wing leanings, Popeye had little love for the US president, letting fly the above soon after Trump’s nomination. Like many of the narcos of his generation, Popeye’s philosophies were full of contradictions from a life embracing extreme wealth, luxury and demonic violence – but showing a touch for the common people. 

“They’ll have to kill me with bullets and not with fear … with 30 gunshots at the traffic light, as a gangster should die.

This was one of many rants against the Colombian state. In later life, Popeye was again a wanted man. The state – embarrassed by his popularity and worldwide platform dissing politicians – kept him under tabs before arresting him in 2018, supposedly for a return to extortion rackets with old cartel buddies. 

Destiny is an uncertain game, for everyone’s life, without exception.”

One of J.J.’s more thoughtful quotes. What no-one expected was that Popeye’s would live to die a natural death. In that sense, he certainly beat the odds.