On the 20th anniversary of the death of Colombia’s most famous national figure, Pablo Escobar, his myth is more “alive” than ever, dividing the country’s public opinion and casting a light on the society’s struggle to deal with his legacy in an adequate way.
Escobar’s image in Colombia bears many faces: one is that of a man that brought terror and violence to the country in a way never seen before.
In the 1980s Escobar declared war on the Colombian state, bombing newspapers and airlines while paying hitmen to assassinate rivals, politicians or just anybody in his way – causing the death of thousands and contributing to Colombia’s international reputation of war and cocaine.
Another face of his image is that of a modern day “Robin Hood” who spent fortunes to help disadvantaged people, for example constructing houses in the poor neighborhood of Sin Tugurios in his native town of Medellin, where he is still observed as a saint.
Escobar also facilitated this Robin Hood image by always being one step ahead of the authorities, fleeing apparently perfect traps and set ups, challenging not only Colombia’s state but also the US government, becoming the number one enemy of the state.
While for some Escobar’s rise to power and the violence that he inflicted on the country’s population proves the failure of the state, allowing for a whole generation to be raised in fear.
For others, the bloody end of the criminal who was shot on a rooftop symbolized the state’s victory in the end, even though national and international security forces allied with rival drug traffickers and paramilitary groups to go bring Escobar down.
All these different faces and perceptions ad up to a myth of Escobar which is still haunting Colombian society up until today.
It is common to hear from Colombians how annoying it is to be confronted with foreigners’ prejudices about the country still only being related with Pablo Escobar, war and cocaine, especially in the case of Medellin from where he reigned over his drug empire.
Still, a popular activity of backpacker tourists in Colombia are the several Pablo Escobar tour offering trips to discover the most representative station of his life in Medellin and in one case a talk with Escobar’s brother Roberto.
While this of course satisfies a certain demand by the tourists, at the same time it contributes to Escobar’s myth and reinforces the same stereotypes that Colombians are confronted with abroad.
The most recent event that sparked the question of how to deal with Escobar’s legacy was the airing of popular TV show “Pablo Escobar: The Boss of Evil” which was broadcasted last year and broke national and international viewer records.
The public reaction to the most expensive Colombian TV show ever produced showed the deep fractions that run through the country’s society when it comes to the question of how to deal with the Escobar’s legacy – which is so closely linked to the country’s painful recent past.
Some expressed their opinion that the format was not adequate to show “the real story” of Escobar as claimed by the show’s producer and criticized the fact that the fictional drama would romanticize Escobar’s character, contributing to his Robin Hood myth.
In contrast to this, the producer of the show whose father was killed by Escobar said that the show intended to give room to the victims’ story shifting the media focus which otherwise would always be centered on the offenders, according to him.
Be that as it may, according to Google Trends, which measures the popularity of search terms on the search engine, the series tripled global attention for the late drug lord.
Public reactions also sparked the question of how much more attention should be paid to Escobar and when the time has come “move on.”
“I had to live through this and I don’t want that my children to have to watch it all again,” said a citizen of Medellin, when asked about her opinion about the TV series.
This means, that the question of how to deal with Escobar’s legacy in an adequate way also states the question for Colombian society of how to come to terms with its own recent violent past.
While this question remains yet to be answered, the myth of Escobar will continue to haunt Colombians for generations to come, like his ghost which is said to roam the streets of Sin Tugurios at night.