Pablo Escobar’s dark legacy refuses to die 25 years on

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Dec. 2 marks the 25th anniversary of drug lord Pablo Escobar’s death. (AFP)
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Tourists visit the Monaco building, which was once home to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, in Medellin, Colombia. (AFP)
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Medellin’s Mayor’s Office announced that the Monaco Building will be demolished next year and the site will be turned into a park in memory of the victims of the drug war. (AFP)
Updated 02 December 2018
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Pablo Escobar’s dark legacy refuses to die 25 years on

  • Escobar is remembered as the “Colombian Robin Hood” in the neighborhood that bears his name
  • Colombian society remains deeply divided over the legacy of Escobar and other drug barons

MEDELLIN, Colombia: Twenty-five years after he was gunned down by police, Pablo Escobar’s legacy refuses to die in Medellin, the Colombian city where he ran his cocaine empire with a mix of brutality and largesse.
Even as city officials prepare to demolish the bunker-like mansion where the late drug lord lived, in the neighborhood that bears his name residents who live in homes he built for them are planning heartfelt tributes to mark Sunday’s anniversary.
Escobar was killed in a rooftop shootout in Medellin on December 2, 1993 — one day after his 44th birthday, and five months after he appeared on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest people for the seventh straight time.
His eight-story mansion, the Monaco, a symbol of the decadent opulence of the Colombian mafia in the 1980s and 90s, has fallen into disrepair in the years since his death.
Its battered frame still bears the scars of Colombia’s first car bombing, in 1988, the start of a bloody war between the country’s rival cartels.
The hulking white building is slated to be demolished in February, in a public implosion complete with stands for viewers to watch.
“The Monaco has become an anti-symbol, in a place where some people are outspoken defenders of crime and terrorism,” says Manuel Villa, the city hall secretary who will perform the official countdown to the detonation.
“We don’t want any more children saying they want to be Pablo Escobar when they grow up.”
The mansion, a top tourist attraction in Medellin’s upscale El Poblado neighborhood, will be replaced by a public park dedicated to the thousands of people killed in Colombia by “narcoterrorism” — the no-holds-barred war the cartels waged on each other and the state in the 1980s and ‘90s.
The park will cost an estimated $2.5 million. Renovating and reinforcing the crumbling mansion would have cost $11 million, according to the city.
“It will be painful” to tear it down, says Villa, “but it’s the only way we can heal our wounds.”

Colombian society remains deeply divided over the legacy of Escobar and other drug barons.
Angela Zuluaga is one of those who wants to wipe out the country’s lingering “narco culture.”
She was an unborn baby in her mother’s womb when Escobar hitmen assassinated her father, a judge, for issuing an arrest warrant against their boss. Her mother was wounded in the October 1986 attack.
“Creating a space to remember the victims means having a space where we attempt to symbolically compensate those of us who have suffered from the scourge of narcoterrorism,” she says.
According to Medellin officials, Colombia’s drug violence killed 46,612 people from 1983 to 1994.

On the other side of this cultural divide, Luz Maria Escobar is changing the tombstone at her brother’s grave ahead of the anniversary of his death, as a crowd of tourists looks on.
Tearfully, she reads the new inscription: “Beyond the legend you symbolize today, few know the true essence of your life.”
Moved, a young woman from Puerto Rico asks if she can give her a hug.
Luz Maria acknowledges her brother made mistakes, but opposes the city’s plan to get rid of his home.
“Tearing down the Monaco isn’t going to demolish Pablo’s history,” she says.

Escobar is remembered as the “Colombian Robin Hood” in the neighborhood that bears his name, where he donated 443 houses to formerly homeless people who lived and scavenged at the local dump.
“I see him like a second God,” says one resident, Maria Eugenia Castano, 44, as she lights a candle at an altar that bears Escobar’s photograph.
“To me, God is first, and then him.”
At the nearby El Patron beauty salon, which sells, along with haircuts, a plethora of merchandise stamped with Escobar’s image, stylist Yamile Zapata sums up the contradictions of the late cocaine king’s memory.
“Pablo will confuse you,” she says.
“If you want to look at the good side, he was very good. If you want to look at the bad, he was very bad.”


Sri Lanka's Muslims fearful of backlash after church attacks

Updated 16 min 27 sec ago
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Sri Lanka's Muslims fearful of backlash after church attacks

  • Intelligence officers ignored warnings, says Islamic body
  • There have been reports of attacks on Muslim homes and businesses

COLOMBO: The people of Dharga Town, Sri Lanka, are familiar with violence and loss. In 2014, anti-Muslim riots killed four, injured dozens and left behind a trail of torched homes and businesses.
Now, almost a week after deadly terror attacks devastated the tropical island, the Muslims in Dharga Town are afraid following Daesh’s claim for the bombings.
“At the end of the day, we have to think about what they (the terrorists) are going to get from this. What have they gained? They’ve lost everything,” 38-year-old businessman M. Imthias told Arab News outside Meera Masjid. “We’ve already been through this, and we know the pain, fear, and emotions they (the Catholics) are going through.”
The Daesh claim, issued through the group’s AMAQ news agency, was made after Sri Lanka said two domestic extremist groups with suspected links to foreign militants were thought to be behind the attacks at three churches and four hotels. More than 350 people were killed and around 500 were wounded in the Easter Sunday violence.
Muslims in Dharga Town fear that efforts to rebuild after the 2014 violence are in vain. Anti-Muslim sentiments are emerging and are fueled by remarks from government officials, such as Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena saying the bombings were retaliation for last month’s New Zealand mosque bloodshed.
There have been reports of attacks on Muslim-owned shops, homes, and a mosque in Sri Lanka. There have also been renewed calls to ban the burqa, citing security reasons and Islamist extremism.
But there is also anger toward the National Thawheed Jamath (NTJ), the group initially identified as being responsible for the attacks. Dharga Town residents told Arab News they believed the perpetrators carried out the attacks for personal reasons, not religious ones, as Islam forbids suicide.
The mood in the town is sombre. Shutters are drawn across windows and stores, including supermarkets, are closed. Men gather in small groups along the road, and the area has an increased military presence. People say perpetrators of the assault should face the death penalty.
Around 20 people in Dharga Town belong to the Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaath (SLTJ), a faction unpopular with the wider Muslim community. Six SLTJ members were arrested on Tuesday afternoon. The mosque — a shack-like structure — did not open for prayers afterwards. Dharga Town residents opposed the SLTJ establishing a community in the area because of their orthodox ways.
“They wanted to build a mosque, but we didn’t allow it. In the end, they built that place with the iron sheets, and conduct their prayers there,” a village elder, who did not wish to be identified, told Arab News. “If they come for prayers, or engage with us in anything, they always try to push their beliefs on us. What they call Islam is completely different from what we practice.”
The NTJ was ostracized by the All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulema (ACJU), Sri Lanka’s highest body of Islamic scholars. The organization relayed its suspicions about the NTJ to authorities.
“On Jan. 3, we visited intelligence officers and handed over files with all the details of the perpetrators urging them to take necessary action to stop the NTJ. This was completely ignored,” an ACJU scholar said.
The situation in Sri Lanka remains tense, with nightly curfews and reports of bomb threats. There is also confusion after the Defense Ministry said the NTJ was not behind the attacks, leaving the public afraid about the possibility of another splinter group.
But there are calls for calm, too.
“There is no such anger among us,” Sister Manuja, who survived the St. Sebastian Church bombing, told Arab News. The Catholic community would not seek vengeance, she added. “We are very quiet, very simple people.”