The Reemergence of Pablo Escobar in American Popular Culture

April 26, 2016

With the late-summer release of Netflix’s new hit series, “Narcos,” which documents the rise of Pablo Escobar and his position as one of the most powerful men in Colombia, as well as one of the richest men in the world, the former drug lord has reemerged as a hot topic in American popular culture nearly 22 years after his death. This is not the first time, though, that Escobar’s life has been dramatized for either film or television. As recently as 2012, Caracol Televisión released a mini-series called “Escobar, El patrón del mal” (Escobar, the Boss of Evil) (IMDb), which was originally aired in Colombia but was sold to 66 other countries, including North Korea, according to the BBC (BBC). However, these programs should not necessarily be taken as historical truth, as quite often some pieces of the story are omitted.

Naturally, “Narcos,” “El patrón del mal,” and other programs depict the dark side of Pablo Escobar as the murderer, the drug lord, the manipulator, but also as a saint. While I am in no way condoning any of Escobar’s actions, there is a part of Colombia that views him as a hero, one who brought the poor from the streets and put a roof over their heads, particularly in a small Colombian neighborhood (BBC).

In a small neighborhood in Medellín, Colombia, there exists a town of 16,000 whose name is not acknowledged by their government. Barrio Pablo Escobar, a town named in honor of its primary benefactor and, to some of its residents, its savior, sits in the slopes on the outskirts of the city, akin to the Brazilian favelas. Decades after Escobar’s financial support, the people of Barrio Pablo Escobar welcome visitors with a mural painted by the neighborhood council president Wberny Zabala, which displays “Welcome to Barrio Pablo Escobar,” which he created in response to a Medellín mayor telling him that a name change would invite support from the government. “You don’t sell loyalty,” said Zabala, which is an attitude that the town’s residents share, as is evident by the support given to a Medellín art student (GQ). 

Esteban Zapata had brought into the neighborhood his own various representations of Pablo Escobar: nine-inch tall fiberglass figurines of Escobar adorned in various outfits that depict him as a politician, a commoner, a rapper, and more. “It seemed to me that the image of Pablo Escobar was in transition. My little strategy was to see how I can verify if the image of Pablo Escobar has the potential to be a saint,” said Zapata. Lo and behold, he was right. He offered the statuettes to older citizens and asked them to pick the one that “spoke to them,” and when he returned to the town after a week, he noted that his artwork was “occupying the same venerated space as baby Jesuses and virgin mothers.” To the citizens in this Medellín town, Pablo Escobar is a saint (GQ). 

While the people of Barrio Pablo Escobar revere their neighborhood’s namesake, the atrocities that unfolded because of him cannot be denied. When he was to be extradited to the United States, it was believed, though unproven, that Escobar had half of the Colombian Supreme Court murdered. He assassinated several Liberal Party presidential candidates, and placed a bomb on a plane in which he believed carried another candidate, César Gaviria. That bomb killed 110 people, though not Gaviria. With regard to the drug trade, it was estimated that Escobar was responsible for 70 to 80 percent of the cocaine that entered into the United States in the 1980’s (Crime Investigation). Programs like “Narcos” and “Escobar, El patrón del mal” may offer a glimpse at the life of Escobar, but those who suffered and died at his hand know the true horrors of which Don Pablo was capable. 


 References

1. “Escobar, El patrón del mal.” IMDb. 2012. Web. 30 Sep. 2015. Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2187850/

2. Wallace, Arturo. “Drug boss Pablo Escobar still divides Colombia.” BBC. 2 Dec. 2013. Web. 2 Oct. 2015. Available at:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-25183649

3. Katz, Jesse. “Pablo Escobar Will Never Die.” GQ. 25 Aug. 2015. Web. 30 Sep. 2015. Available at:  http://www.gq.com/story/pablo-escobar-legacy

4. “Pablo Escobar.” Crime and Investigation. 2015. Web. 2 Oct. 2015. Available at: http://www.crimeandinvestigation.co.uk/crime-files/pablo-escobar

About Author(s)

Asa Equels
Asa Equels is a junior undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh studying Hispanic Languages and Literatures, as well as pursuing a Certificate in Latin American Studies. He is a member of the university's Cross Country and Track and Field teams. After graduation, Asa plans on continuing his education in graduate school, and hopes to become a teacher/professor and cross country/track coach.