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.”


Philippines warns of ‘unfriendly’ greeting for uninvited warships

Updated 55 min 59 sec ago

Philippines warns of ‘unfriendly’ greeting for uninvited warships

  • There have been multiple sightings of Chinese warships in Philippine territorial waters
  • The Philippines has lodged several diplomatic protests in recent weeks

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned of “unfriendly” treatment for foreign ships traveling in the country’s territorial waters without permission, in a rare swipe at China’s use of warships just a few miles off Manila’s coast.
Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, on Tuesday made the demand for transparency amid frustration by the Philippine military at multiple sightings this year of Chinese warships moving within the country’s 12 mile territorial sea, at various locations in the archipelago.
“All foreign vessels passing our territorial waters must notify and get clearance from the proper government authority well in advance of the actual passage,” Panelo said.
“Either we get a compliance in a friendly manner or we enforce it in an unfriendly manner,” he added.
Panelo did not refer to China by name, nor elaborate on what that enforcement might entail.
The Philippines has lodged several diplomatic protests in recent weeks over the activities of Chinese coast guard, navy and paramilitary fishing vessels in Philippine-controlled areas of the South China Sea and in its territorial waters.
The armed forces has released images and cited witness sightings between February and early August of Chinese warships off Palawan and Tawi Tawi islands, a pattern that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last week described as an “irritant.”
Duterte is facing heat at home for what critics say is his passive approach to Chinese provocations in exchange for a business relationship with Beijing that is not working out well for him, with promised investments slow in coming.
Though surveys consistently show Duterte enjoying a level of domestic approval never seen at this point in a presidency, the same polls show growing disdain for China over its conduct in the South China Sea, and reservations among some Filipinos over a massive influx of Chinese online gaming workers under Duterte.
Duterte will visit China from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2, his spokesman said. He has promised to discuss a South China Sea 2016 international arbitration victory over China with counterpart Xi Jinping.
Duterte has until now chosen not to push that ruling, which invalidated China’s claim of sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. Beijing did not participate in the court proceedings and rejected the ruling.
The South China Sea is a vital route for ships carrying more than $3 trillion in trade every year. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of it.