“At a certain point, I had so much money that I lost count,” Pablo Escobar once told his son of his cocaine riches.
Born in Medellín in 1977, Juan Pablo Escobar lived one of the most extraordinary childhoods imaginable. (You can see some photos from his upbringing here.) Constantly under the protection of what he describes as his father’s “delinquent army,” he was on first-name terms with many of Colombia’s most notorious criminals. His father, the ultimate drug lord and head of the all-powerful Medellín Cartel, always kept his family close, even when it meant housing them in one of his luxurious hideouts.
Of course, the family was dripping with money—Escobar Sr. reportedly had a known net wealth of $30 billion by the early ‘90s. By the time Juan Pablo was 11 years old, he owned a collection of 30 high-speed motorcycles.
Pablo Escobar was tracked down by cops and killed on December 2, 1993. According to some reports, it was a phone call he made to his son that finally gave him away. Juan Pablo, then aged 16, reportedly told one Colombian radio station that he would take revenge.
In the aftermath, as the Medellín Cartel collapsed, Juan Pablo fled with his mother and sister to Mozambique, then settled in Argentina. He still lives in Buenos Aires today, where he adopted the name Sebastián Marroquín and became an architect.
Initially reluctant to be publicly associated with his father, Juan Pablo has in recent years showed more willingness to grapple with his family’s past. The 2009 documentary Sins of My Father followed him as he traveled to a dozen countries and apologized to the sons of some of his father’s victims.
Then in 2014, he published a book. Pablo Escobar My Father is an international bestseller in Spanish—the English version is being released in the United States on August 30, to coincide with the new season of Narcos on Netflix.
Juan Pablo Escobar says he wants to put the record straight after years of listening to other people telling his father’s story. He certainly has a unique perspective from which to do so.
Seth Ferranti: To the world, Pablo Escobar is one thing; to you, he’s clearly something very different. Can you explain the conflict you must feel?
Juan Pablo Escobar: Pablo Escobar is my father, I feel a non-negotiable love for him. But that love never prevented me from recognizing the magnitude of his crimes. I’m not proud of his violence. He was a man who transgressed all the limits and rules of society.
But no one has really talked about him as a person. It’s all about the corruption that he facilitated with his organization. Everything else about him is ignored. My father was a man of extremes. I loved and hated him in equal proportions. He was loyal, intelligent, fun, simple, noble and affectionate with his family, but ruthless with his enemies. He was happy to help the poor and I grew up with human values. He was surely a man who showed mankind the paths not to travel.
I am not his judge. My role in life was to be part of his family. I am his son, not his executioner. In life, I reproached him for his crimes and asked him to end the violence numerous times. I asked, but in the end he was making his own law.
What was it like when you were a kid and everything was going on? Did you even realize the scale of what was happening?
None of us ever imagined all the destruction that would follow. The luxuries and power had us blind.
At that time, the drug business was not as demonized as it is today. Much of Colombian society was fascinated by making money in droves and associated with the illegal business of my father. Congressmen, judges, police, soldiers and even generals of the Republic—as well as groups of the extreme Left and Right—were related to the ideology of money provided to them by my dad.
These people were in my father’s office waiting to get in to talk to him about the next shipments of coca. There was so much corruption that my father could afford to mount the first insurance venture in the world of drug trafficking, as he guaranteed his personal fortune and 100 percent of his drug operations of the time.
But the corruption is never spoken of because the Colombian state and many other countries are very comfortable telling the version in which Pablo is the only bad guy.
What do you think of Narcos and all the other portrayals of your father? Accurate, or far from the truth?
These series are far from the truth. The worst is that they make the youth believe that the best thing that could happen in their lives is to become drug dealers. It’s a shame that these kind of stories are broadcasted.