Pablo Escobar’s son was in Brussels, and gave me an interview. Meeting people and finding more about them is a great part of being a journalist.
Sometimes you meet the self-serving, sometimes those who have been so trained and managed that they really have little to say, or at least little of actual interest. There are occasions when we’ve not run an interview because, well if it’s hard for a journalist to keep awake, our readers are just going to turn the page.
Occasionally, we get to meet someone who is truly remarkable. If these people have anything in common it is that they became special by the choices they made in life, not the position they occupy, the power they have.
Sebastian Marroquin is one of them. As the son of Pablo Escobar, he was born into a world we find hard to imagine. For a start, how many of us had fathers who would buy a hippo, just because he wanted one.
How many of us can imagine living in the centre of so much violence? Living with a man who once described himself, "sometimes I am God, if I say a man dies, he dies that same day." No idle threat.
Then, there’s the money. According to his accountant, Escobar spent $2,500 a month, just on buying rubber bands to wrap the money coming in. Unable to use banks, he used warehouses to store billions.
Marroquin, a very intelligent and perceptive man, has also paid a heavy price for his father’s crimes. He went on the run at age 7, and was speaking to his father just before the police tracked down and shot the drug lord.
He has come through his turbulent youth with a sense of calm, being able to look without flinching at his fathers actions. He also has a more unconventional and uncomfortable tale. He describes his love for his father, how he was very loving towards his son. He is adamant that his father’s work for the very poor in Medellin wasn’t just a cynical ploy to boost support for his criminal activities, but was something he cared deeply about.
This gives us a more complex picture of the man who has been called the greatest criminal in history. It shows that, although a monster, he was also a man. It would be easy to write him off as a monster, but that is perhaps more convenient than the truth, which is few people are born monsters, most are made that way by events and their own psychological weaknesses.
Of course, at the heart of Escobar, there was hypocrisy on the same gargantuan scale as everything else about him. But, as Marroquin says, kill one and another will rise.
He also points out that Escobar couldn’t achieve the success he gained alone. The state was also complicit, he was aided and abetted by thousands of officials, politicians and others. But when Escobar made an offer of money or a bullet, who could refuse, especially when the bullet might also take out your family.
What is remarkable about Marroquin is that he can look honestly at himself and his family and see that the root problem was violence and has campaigned for reconciliation by meeting the victims of his father, or in many cases, their surviving relatives and publicly campaign against the drug trade and its violence.
Doing that when the cocaine trade has a $1 million contract on him is real courage.
Postscript: The interview is here