As if the fact that you can go on a tour of the life of Pablo Escobar, deceased majorly wanted druglord, is not strange enough, I am now on a friendly visit to his brother and former partner in crime. An audience with the Godfather, just with posed pictures
My perplexity quickly gives way to a wave of excitement. This old familiar face, greeting tourists with handshakes and warm smiles, has been on the wrong side of the tracks, having been a celebrity for that back in the 90s. I feel like I am in a Coppola movie, maybe the “Godfather.” Mr Escobar has opened his door to me, and I have come to pay tribute to him, though not on the day of his daughter’s wedding. Hopefully he will not make me an offer I cannot refuse.
Inside, we admire assorted memorabilia of the Patron’s megalomania. Bikes and bulletproof cars, huge pictures of Pablo behind bars or wearing cowboy outfits. Our attention is drawn to some bullet holes in the wall, result of a recent attack on Roberto’s life. One of at least 40 attacks so far, he is proud to report. The places where the cartel members hid from the police are now a photo opportunity, as are the “Wanted” posters for Roberto and Pablo. Hard to believe that this fragile figure’s life was once wanted for ten million dollars. You can also take a picture with Roberto wearing the cap that Pablo wore in jail. Finally, I get the chance to ask Roberto some questions. It comes as no surprise that he is proud of his life and the things he has done for the people of Medellín. “We built houses for 3000 people, with all the conditions, all the equipment. And we included food for a month. No one has ever done that !” Does everyone here agree? “Some people love us, others hate us. But in a war, you have to have enemies.”
As much as I want to just go with it all and yield to the temptation of simplicity, finding the drug lord ‘cool’ and taking thumbs up photos next to his picture, I cannot help but feeling uncomfortable with this guy being humanized, glorified as some kind of modern Robin Hood. Even more so when I think of the angry old man in Medellín. To him, the Escobars were criminals, nothing more. With this, I decide to go to Bogotá, the capital. I figure that there, where the central administration is, I should find a different perspective, maybe another side of the story. On the bus, I meet Marina, born in the capital. She’s a brunette, frail, petite girl in her late twenties who reminds me of a foxtrot dancer of the Belle Epoque. When I tell her about my impressions so far, she gets really upset. “Escobar fue un asesino!” She cannot help being a bit mad at me. And she shows me that. I soon find out why. She tells me that a neighbor of hers was killed in the cartel war back in the day. For her, elevating Escobar is of bad taste, to say the least. ” He killed so many people, especially when he got in a war with the Cali Cartel. It is ridiculous that people actually go and admire him.”
In Bogotá, I visit the National Police Museum which has a section entirely devoted to Escobar’s capture. The drug lord’s confiscated weaponry arsenal is proudly displayed, including the small revolver he always carried and actually called his “second wife.” But this is not the creepiest part of the exhibition. In another section, I encounter a number of Escobar puppets, mustache and everything, some behind bars, others in his office, and one dead in an acrylic coffin. A true celebration of the “National Police greatest accomplishment.”
In the end I am still torn between the two ends of this weird moral spectrum.The extreme glorification of Escobar I saw in Medellin was matched by the intense demonization I witnessed in Bogota. Two opposite poles of a society. Same intensity of feelings. I leave Colombia with a strange feeling. A beautiful country, yet at the same time one where people suffer of guerrilla wars and drug trafficking. But also a country of people intensely enjoying the best things that life has to offer. At places like the Cafe Saint Moritz, the oldest in Bogotá, I see people laughing, cracking jokes – I see a happy people. The same laughter I found in the people of Sapzurro, in the rhythms of Cartagena or in the slums of Medellín. Just as if they just wanted to forget and chase away all the rundowns that their country has passed. Escobar’s life has touched the good and the evil, the poverty and the riches of this country. Which is why my aftertaste is both bitter and sweet. Nevertheless, my time in your arms, Colombia, was truly memorable! Thank you for your kindness, warmth and making me feel like one of you.