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.”


South Sudan vaccinates health teams in Ebola epidemic

Updated 10 December 2018
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South Sudan vaccinates health teams in Ebola epidemic

  • The ministry of health’s vaccination campaign, with cooperation from the WHO, will target health care and frontline workers in the high-risk states of Juba, Yei, Yambio and Nimule

NAIROBI: South Sudan will vaccinate key health workers against Ebola close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, which faces a new epidemic, the World Health Organization said Monday.
The ministry of health’s vaccination campaign, with cooperation from the WHO, will target health care and frontline workers in the high-risk states of Juba, Yei, Yambio and Nimule, the UN agency said in a statement.
South Sudan is one of several countries bordering the vast DRC, where the new outbreak of the highly contagious viral disease had since August claimed 271 lives by December 6, according to Congolese Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga.
A total of 2,160 doses of the experimental vaccine rVSV-ZEBOV have been allocated to South Sudan for a program starting on December 19. This trial vaccine is not yet licensed but is considered safe and provided “under the compassionate-use guidelines in response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in DRC,” the WHO said.
Like neighboring Uganda, where similar measures have been taken for health personnel, South Sudan has declared a state of alert because of the risk that Ebola may be carried into its territory. At present, no cases have been reported, according the WHO.
The experimental vaccine first went on trial during the terrible epidemic of Ebola that ravaged parts of West Africa between the end of 2013 and 2016, at a cost of more than 11,300 lives. The disease spreads through contact with bodily fluids from other people or infected animals.
The vaccine was created by Canadian public health specialists at the National Microbiology Laboratory and is considered highly effective by the WHO, but it works only against the Ebola virus-Zaire strain, confirmed in the outbreak in the DRC.
South Sudan has been torn by civil war for five years in a conflict that has left nearly 400,000 dead. More than four million people — about a third of the population — have fled.
The main belligerents signed a peace accord in September, but the work of humanitarian organizations remains complicated and dangerous.
Participants in the vaccination program have been trained on rVSV-ZEBOV and undertaken a simulation exercise. Meanwhile, the Ebola preparedness contingency plan covers measures ranging from screening travelers, community engagement and provision for safe and dignified funerals, the WHO said.