SANTIAGO — For a time in the 1980s, Juan Pablo's father, Pablo Escobar Gaviria, became the world's number one mobster, the international Al Capone of his day. In his native Colombia, the name evokes senseless violence, bombings and executions that spread fear across the land and made the nation a synonym of drugs and crime.
There is a word for it: "terrorism," as the gangster's son has admitted in the past. Yet he recalls a loving father and a childhood replete with all the luxuries money can buy — dirty money as he only later realized.
Juan Pablo delved deep into his memory to finally publish a book, My Father, Pablo Escobar, that came out last year in Latin America — and for which he used his birth name, not his alias Sebastián Marroquín. América Economía asked him about his family life.
AMERICA ECONOMIA: How do you remember your father? What feelings do you have for him?
JUAN PABLO ESCOBAR: As the best father in the world. That was my experience. I feel unconditional love for him, which hasn't prevented my seeing and recognizing his acts of violence. I am not his judge, because I am a part of him.
What do you think Pablo Escobar meant for Colombia? And for you all as a family?
For the Colombian oligarchy, he was the worst enemy — as he was for the country's institutions, democracy, media and its leaders. Their worst nightmare. But for the poor he was a simple man who never lost sight of their needs and met these through thousands of dignified homes, health and sports centers, schools and public works he paid for with drug money. You will find many contradictions in these types of things in the book. He built football stadiums with drug money, precisely to keep the kids from poor neighborhoods away from drugs. For my family, he was an entirely devoted father, husband and friend.
How does it feel not to feel safe even in your family, with treason prowling around your father?
I thought there was a limit to people's wickedness, but the treachery of my father's family makes the story of Cain and Abel seem a fairytale. It was sad revealing how my uncle Roberto was an informer for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). I find it almost inconceivable that he should have been sold out to his enemies by Roberto and his brothers, even his mother, in such a vile, cruel way. Not happy with that, they then tried to strip us, his wife and children, of our lives and freedom when he had given them everything they have even today.
How did some of your father's enemies turn into your "allies," while friends turned against him?
About 95% of my father's enemies were not so much the people opposed to him as those who began as allies and friends. They all knew each other in the 1980s when there were no turf wars, because demand for cocaine in the West was always much greater than supply. My father's enemies know I am a man of my word. I promised not to avenge his death and have kept my word. It has been 21 years and the promise will never be broken.
Fernando Botero's portrayal of Pablo Escobar's death — Source: Wikimedia Commons
Nevertheless, those who claim to be his friends or some "right-hand man," betrayed him from the start. And destroying him wasn't enough. They want to do away with every remnant, like me, who could tell the world of their treachery and deceit. It is sad to know that if something bad were to happen to me, it would come from my father's family and not from his worst and bloodiest enemies.
What was your mother's role here?
She fell in love with the son of a neighborhood security guard, and eloped with my father to marry him when he was a nobody and had no money. She remained faithful to her marriage to the end of her days. She always urged peace, which earned her respect throughout her life. She was a brave woman who finally had to face this dark legacy from a position of love, and had to make peace with my father's worst enemies.
Beside the money situation and betrayals, what was most difficult when Pablo Escobar died?
Learning to enjoy the privilege of being a nobody.
If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
Things happen for a reason. And I hope the reason is to properly learn a lesson so we don't repeat this painful history. I cannot change the past ... but I can rectify my path and reinvent myself as a person, which can ensure the story has a better ending.
How do you see your life had your father not been killed?
We'd probably all be dead, because we were a shooting target and living on borrowed time, even in state custody.
How do you see Colombia's future, regarding drugs and the guerrillas?
I think we are finally sick and tired of violence in Colombia. All the warriors are tired of defending their ideas by force of arms. Anyone who needs a gun to defend his opinions needs to review his ideas. I believe in dialogue and that peace is entirely possible and will bring our people more prosperity, peace and dignity. I think as a society, Colombians lag behind when it comes to forgiving. We all deserve a second chance.
Drug trafficking will continue to exist and consolidate its corrupting and destabilizing power on the planet. More prohibition will bring more profits, more violence, more war and arms sales, and worse quality drugs among other things. If they jail or kill all the world's drug traffickers tomorrow, do you think that will be the end of drugs? We'll all lose out if they don't review the policies the world inherited from Nixon, who declared war on drugs and bequeathed us rivers of blood. We kill each other for a product for which demand is still greater than supply.
You have to declare peace on drugs, with education, culture and reliable information. That is the only way the world can win this endless fight that is surviving each and feeding every drug boss and cartel. Those who ban are knowingly feeding off a business that is destroying — just for being illegal — the foundations of society in Latin America and the world.