Roberto Escobar has been a prize-winning cyclist, an accountant, a prisoner, a horse trainer and is currently pursuing an interest in virology, but he will always be most famous for being the brother of Pablo Escobar, who was once the head of the Medellin cartel and the first ever drug trafficker to feature in the Forbes rich list.
Roberto is a superstitious man and he is keen to talk about Pablo to dispel the “fantasies” that surround his life. Introducing himself, Roberto says “here we tell no lies” and gives a brief description of his younger brother as a calm man, someone who “never said a bad word” and who “was the same man when he died as he was as a kid playing with toys.”
The media tends to cast Pablo Escobar as an altogether different character, whether as Medellin’s drug overlord, the catalyst for the explosion of Colombian cocaine trafficking, or the country’s most wanted terrorist; responsible for years of civil unrest at home and an estimated 80% of the cocaine sent abroad.
According to Roberto, though, the books, the movies, and the press only serve to exaggerate the facts about his brother and contribute to his mythologization as the “World’s Greatest Outlaw.” He doesn’t like to read the biographies because, in his words, they “are all lies filled with things they imagine, things from the newspapers and things from the news.”
For Roberto the conflict between the state and the Medellin cartel broke out only after Monaco (one of Pablo’s houses in Medellin) was bombed, and Pablo’s response was therefore self defense. Although Roberto concedes that the violence should not have been used, he maintains it never changed his opinion of his brother, and Roberto points out that Pablo was never actually convicted of any crime. At the end of the day, Roberto says, “Pablo was always a good guy.”
The house Roberto currently inhabits with his family is the last place Pablo lived before his death. In the garage are three of Pablo’s old vehicles, each reflecting a different stage in the growth of his criminal network. The smallest is a Harley Davidson motorcycle with a hidden container below the seat, which was used to smuggle unrefined coca paste from Peru to Colombia on Pablo’s first ever drug run. Then comes a small blue Wartburg truck with a hollowed body used for the same route. And to mark the final expansion of Escobar’s cartel is a gleaming red Chevrolet pick-up truck, complete with bullet proof glass, reinforced doors, and gun flaps. According to Roberto, the latter is one of a fleet of several hundred, specially designed for Pablo Escobar and his men.
The house itself is understated, with none of the trappings of excess that Pablo became famous for. Situated in a respectable Medellin neighborhood, there is no room for hippopotamuses or the dinosaur models found at Pablo’s countryside estate “Hacienda Napoles.” In fact, the only evidence that this was once the residence of a billionaire cocaine trafficker are the “casetas” (small hidden compartments used to store money and emergency supplies) in the garden and a pull-away book shelf in the living room which conceals a small hide-away, just large enough for a man and provisions for a couple of days. But even though much of the glamour is gone, the poster-size pictures of Pablo around the house indicate that he lives on in his family’s memory.
This is also clear in the way Roberto talks about his brother, explaining that Pablo’s “only mistake” was his ambition to become president of Colombia. He claims that he never voted for his brother in his campaign to become a Colombian senator, despite believing that his politics were comparable to Nelson Mandela’s. According to Roberto, he tried to dissuade Pablo from entering into politics, fearing that he would be vilified for his links with drugs just as the UP (Union Patriotica) were vilified for their association with the FARC.
Even so, when asked what Pablo would be today if he were still alive, Roberto responds unequivocally that he would be president of the republic. Pablo died as a martyr, Roberto claims, listing four different ways in which his death on the rooftops of a Medellin neighborhood eerily mirrors the death of Jesus Christ.
“Firstly, Pablo died with a beard, and Jesus died with a beard. Secondly, both Pablo and Jesus died at 3PM in the afternoon,” Roberto explains, before adding that Pablo also died in a neighborhood called “Barrio Los Olivos” (Neighborhood of Olives), much like Jesus, who died on Mount Calvary where there were olive trees. And lastly, Roberto says, they were both killed above the ground: Pablo on a rooftop, and Jesus on the cross.
Roberto enjoys telling this kind of story, just as he enjoys telling you about his and his brother’s tricks and close escapes when they were on the run from the police. However, when pressed to talk about the victims of the cocaine trade, Roberto avoids the question, insisting that his family has also suffered because of the drugs trade.
“We too were victims” says Roberto, before explaining how he lost his vision when he opened a letter bomb in prison two weeks after Pablo was killed. He says that the drug trade cost him 99% of his friends and 75% of his family, as well as career training cyclists and selling bicycles. He also laments the castration of his prized horse “Terremoto,” depicted in a huge portrait in the dining room, by paramilitaries hunting his brother in the early 1990s.
This last grievance bears particular weight on Roberto because of the medical research he conducts on his horses in the hope of redefining the Escobar legacy. Although Roberto won’t be drawn on what his research entails (because of patenting issues, he says), perhaps the social conscience that he attributes to his brother will still find an outlet in a Roberto Escobar medical breakthrough.