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

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.”

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

President Rodrigo Duterte, political leaders and officials flash the peace sign following Friday’s oath-taking ceremony in Manila. (AP)
Updated 22 February 2019

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

  • It is a very difficult and challenging process, says MILF spokesman

MANILA: Some of the fiercest Muslim rebel commanders in the southern Philippines were sworn in Friday as administrators of a new Muslim autonomous region in a delicate milestone to settle one of Asia’s longest-raging rebellions.

President Rodrigo Duterte led a ceremony to name Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim and some of his top commanders as among 80 administrators of a transition government for the five-province region called Bangsamoro.

About 12,000 combatants with thousands of firearms are to be demobilized starting this year under the peace deal.  Thousands of other guerrillas would disarm if agreements under the deal would be followed, including providing the insurgents with livelihood to help them return to normal life.

“We would like to see an end of the violence,” Duterte said. 

“After all, we go to war and shoot each other counting our victories not by the progress or development of the place but by the dead bodies that were strewn around during the violent years.”

About 150,000 people have died in the conflict over several decades and stunted development in the resource-rich region. 

Duterte promised adequate resources, a daunting problem in the past.

The Philippine and Western governments and the guerrillas see an effective Muslim autonomy as an antidote to nearly half a century of secessionist violence, which Daesh could exploit to gain a foothold.

“The dream that we have fought for is now happening and there’s no more reason for us to carry our guns and continue the war,” rebel forces spokesman Von Al-Haq said in an interview ahead of the ceremony.

Several commanders long wanted for deadly attacks were given safety passes to be able to travel to Manila and join the ceremony, including Abdullah Macapaar, who uses the nom de guerre Commander Bravo, Al-Haq said. 

Known for his fiery rhetoric while wearing his camouflage uniform and brandishing his assault rifle and grenades, Macapaar will be one of the 41 regional administrators from the rebel front.

Duterte will pick his representatives to fill the rest of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which will also act as a regional Parliament with Murad as the chief minister until regular officials are elected in 2022.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal that has largely been seen as a failure, will also be given seats in the autonomous government.

Disgruntled fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front broke off and formed new armed groups, including the notorious Abu Sayyaf, which turned to terrorism and banditry after losing its commanders early in battle. 

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organization and has been suspected of staging a suspected Jan. 27 suicide bombing that killed 23 mostly churchgoers in a Roman Catholic cathedral on southern Jolo island.

“We have already seen the pitfalls,” Al-Haq said, acknowledging that the violence would not stop overnight because of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups, some linked to Daesh. 

“It’s a very difficult and challenging process.”