Thirty Years of Talking About Pablo Escobar

His most lasting legacy was to inject the virus of corruption into a more or less stable democracy, and even to forever disrupt the value system of Colombian society.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez in El Pais: Pablo Escobar, the most infamous drug trafficker in history, was shot dead on the rooftops of Medellín. He had escaped 16 months earlier from La Catedral, the prison Escobar built himself to his specifications in return for agreeing to submit to justice, and it was not the only irony when he had spent the last few years trying to subdue the country. During 16 months on the run, living in hiding and harassed by government forces, the DEA, and rival cartels, Escobar unleashed on my country’s civil society a campaign of desperate terrorism that marked our lives, the lives of my generation, as nothing else has.

A character in a novel of mine recalls a phrase attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte: “To understand a man, you have to understand the world that existed when he was 20 years old.” I think of my entire generation: the world of our 20s was the world of 1993, the world of bombs in shopping malls, of citizens turned into random and gratuitous military targets, and of windowpanes crossed with white ribbons, lest they become murderous shards when an explosion sent them through the air. It was the world of living in fear, the world in which we all knew a victim of narco-terrorist violence, or the family of a victim. The world in which the victim was in our families: yes, it was that world too. For those were the days when no one was safe. And that has always helped me to know my generation.

Escobar’s death marked the end of a decade of violence in Colombia…

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