In the shame of the father
The son of Pablo Escobar tries to atone for the drug kingpin's sins and help Colombia heal
The past is all there, in a small closet, inside old, musty boxes: photo albums, one stacked upon the other, filled with pictures of the father, a man Forbes magazine once christened the world's seventh richest, with a personal fortune of at least $3 billion.
In several now-grainy shots, he poses next to his Renault race car in his native Colombia or is seen enjoying another hobby, flying light planes in Florida. Then there is the picture of the two of them -- a precocious boy and his father, trying to keep him still -- outside the White House during a vacation in the early 1980s. In family pictures, the father looks attentive, even affectionate with a boy still too young to know the whole horrendous truth.
That son is now a man confronting, quite publicly in a new 94-minute documentary, the violence and hate his father wrought on Colombia. It is no small thing. The father was Pablo Escobar, kingpin of the Medellin cocaine cartel, the man who helped make an industry of trafficking cocaine to the United States, then, in an all-out war with the state, nearly brought Colombia's government to its knees.
His father was a man of epic evil in an era of epic evil: He was the world's deadliest criminal, responsible for thousands of deaths. He put a bounty on the heads of police and got hundreds killed. He blew up an airliner, Colombia's intelligence headquarters and a Bogota newspaper. He ordered the assassinations of a presidential candidate and other prominent politicians. The entire fleet of taxi drivers in Medellin was his informant force at one point. Only fictional villains compare.
And his son, once Juan Pablo Escobar, is today Sebastian Marroquin, a name he randomly selected out of the Bogota phone book when he was on the run from his father's rivals. He is 32, married to a woman he has known since childhood and lives in a small apartment in a Buenos Aires high-rise, a bucolic view of the Rio de la Plata in the distance. He is a budding architect, already entrusted with carrying out designs for ambitious projects in the Argentine capital's most coveted districts.
He could have continued in the near-anonymity that has characterized his lifestyle since 1994, a year after Colombian police gunned down his father on a Medellin rooftop and Marroquin, then 17, fled Colombia with his mother and sister. But Marroquin, whose corpulence and coiled hair make him look astonishingly like his father, says he is a haunted man.
In three lengthy interviews in Argentina, Marroquin explained that he wanted to atone for his father's legacy, to do his part to bring peace to his still-conflicted homeland.
"I think you have to believe in something bigger than your own life, in something more noble," Marroquin said. "I do this convinced that I am doing it to contribute to a better future for my country, so new generations will know that it is a mistake to take the path of violence."
And when Argentine director Nicolas Entel approached him to go public with his story for the first time, to reach out to the families of his father's victims, he agreed.
Marroquin began by writing letters to the sons of two of Colombia's most prominent politicians, slain by Escobar's henchmen. Those assassinations -- Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla in 1984 and presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan in 1989, two crusading reformers -- had made Escobar such a threat to Colombia's stability that the United States authorized the use of Delta Force and the CIA to hunt him down.
"I've never been so scared to write a letter," Marroquin wrote to the sons last year. "How do I write to a family that was so hurt by my father . . . how can I ask for forgiveness, without offending?"
Those letters led to a dramatic meeting of the three sons and a documentary that has Colombia transfixed.