Pablo’s Long Shadow


Edificio monaco


Remembering the fallen

In preparation for demolition, Medellín reminds tourists of the price paid

because of you someone I know was murdered

This, the Edefício Monaco, is all that remains of Pablo Escobar's brutal empire. I had no interest in him when I arrived. The kind people of Medellín want the world to forget about him. Until now I've been happy to oblige. But circumstances decided I need to understand; not just about the past, but about the decision Medellín made to move forward. Moving into Edefício Santa María only a block and a half from his headquarters forced me to confront the reality of those years.

When I learned that the Edeficio Monaco is to be demolished early 2019, I took the short walk to the now-dilapidated stronghold.  It's one thing to hear his name mentioned on the news in my Seattle living room or to watch that Netflix show (I stopped after one episode). It's quite another to stand at the actual epicenter of so much suffering. Death radiated outward from there.

In Medellín, they bore the brunt of it. In the US we think of the devastated American neighborhoods; of the epidemic of addiction and violence; of the ravaged swaths of both inner cities and small towns. But distant Medellín was ground zero. I'm told that every single person in Medellín over age 30 knows someone murdered because of him. Kidnapping, rape, and murder were commonplace. Judges, police officers, journalists, and politicians were assassinated. Across the city, parents desperately scraped together money to send their children away overseas. Neighborhoods like La Sierra went to war with the adjacent barrios for control of the flow of money and merchandise.

We in the United States rightly place the blame on Escobar for that reign of terror. But we cannot ignore our own role. So many in the USA played in the same game; in many ways for the same team. And not just gangsters in poor inner-city neighborhoods or hardcore addicts. Not at all. In ways large and small, mainstream Americans blithely funded the murder of tens of thousands.

Every “recreational” purchase of cocaine in the USA was paid for in Colombian blood. That party weekend in Los Angeles or Miami led to a teenager's throat cut in La Sierra; a judge hammered with bullets in Bogotá; a teenage daughter kidnapped and raped in Medellín. Wall Street stock brokers played, as did Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes, journalists, artists, politicians, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. High school students--both rich and poor--took part. And also college students from tech schools all the way to the Ivy League. Millions of ordinary people now in professional careers and with happy children played.

As did many of our most fervent and articulate voices for social justice. People who are looked on today as advocates for the underprivileged and downtrodden have admitted to playing.

How many mothers in far-off Colombia mourned the death of a child as a direct result of that exciting weekend in New York?  That little party at a friend's house? So many believed that it was just an innocent fun way back when; a victimless activity.

Choices have consequences, sometimes heart-wrenching to learn. The funding of depredation is one of them. No doubt there are those who are horrified to think at how lightly they made the choice to finance the violence by having a “little party.”

Every person in Medellín can justifiably point to each of these Americans and say “because of you someone I know was murdered.” As I interact with these kind and generous folk, it grieves me to think about what they suffered as a direct result of American indulgence. They have every reason to carry anger and resentment. And there is no shortage of people who would profit if they did.

But…they don't. They've put it behind them; forgiven; moved on. They choose to think about the present and future instead of dwelling on the past. And so Medellín sparkles with warmth and life.