HAVANA TIMES — The controversial telenovela Pablo Escobar, el patron del mal (Pablo Escobar: The Ringleader of Evil), produced by Colombia’s Caracol network, has everyone here hooked. Older people still recall the details of the 1980s in Colombia, where the name “Pablo Escobar” was the highlight of each news item that referred to that country.
Youngsters are learning the details of the life of this person who was the world’s biggest drug lord, nicknamed “the Cocaine Czar.” Through the drug trade he accumulated the largest fortune in his country and one of the biggest in the world, estimated at between $9 billion to $15 billion dollars at that time.
In 1989, Forbes magazine declared Escobar the seventh richest man in the world. Nevertheless further investigations have revealed that the sale of drugs brought him benefits of more than $25 billion at that time, putting him on the list of the 10 richest people in the history of humankind.
This dramatization of the Escobar legend, though almost all of the characters’ names have been changed, has been very accurate in the chronological order of events and in their exact reproduction, which are said by many to be true. This is indicated through the editing, where archival footage is mixed with the filming of the story.
I imagine that so as not to hurt feelings of people who survived Pablo — such as his family, lovers and friends — the names that were changed were of those involved with him, though the actual analogs are quite evident.
The name of his son, “Juan Pablo,” was changed for “Pablo Emilio”; likewise, that of his wife, “Maria Victoria,” was replaced with Maria Patricia.”
The alias of his brother in the series is “Peluche,” when in fact it was “Osito.” This same thing occurred with the names of his henchmen, like changing “Popeye” for “Marino.”
The names of the major bosses of the Medellin Cartel were also transformed. “El Mariachi” became “El Mexicano,” and the “Ochoa brothers” became the “Motoabrothers.”
This is a dramatic reproduction of an unforgettable period in Colombian history and of the leading roles played by Pablo Escobar Gaviria wearing his varying hats as a businessperson, a politician and a drug lord. But it also reveals him as a murderer and a terrorist, as opposed to being a loving and devoted father, son and husband.
According to Colombian authorities, this controversial character was linked to the murder of more than 10,000 people. He was someone who encouraged terrorism and hired killings in the neighborhoods of Medellin, Bogota, Cali and Cartagena as well as across most of the country. He became the world’s most wanted criminal in the early 90s.
He was an avowed supporter of the left (although he negotiated and made use of the services of right-wing paramilitary troops).
In the late 70s and the early 80s, behind the image of a philanthropist politician interested in the well-being of ordinary people, he financed the construction of many projects that benefitted the poor.
These included 50 soccer fields and a neighborhood of 400 homes for poor families. This latter — which was named “Medellin sin tugurios” (Medellin without slums) and was also referred to as “Barrio Pablo Escobar” (Pablo Escobar Neighborhood) — opened in May 1984.
All of these details, as well as his private life and eccentricities, are brilliantly brought to the screen by Canal Caracol.
Although they include a disclaimer saying that the series is inspired by the book La Parabola de Pablo (Pablo’s Parable), by Alonso Salazar, and that the series was recreated with a fictional script and characters, many people who are familiar or have studied the actual event believe the series is absolutely truthful.
This idea of fiction is ruled out when you have access to previous materials such as the books Mi hermano Pablo (My Brother Pablo), by Roberto Escobar (his brother); Amando a Pablo, odiando a Escobar (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar), by Virginia Vallejo (his lover); or films like Pablo: Angel o demonio (Pablo: Angel or Demon), Los archivos privados de Pablo Escobar (The Private Files of Pablo Escobar), Pablo Escobar: el terror de Colombia (Pablo Escobar, The Terror of Colombia), by the History Channel; and Pecados de mi padre (Sins of My Father), a 2009 Argentinian documentary about the life of Pablo Escobar, featuring interviews with his son Juan Pablo)
The weekly series is pirated from the Internet and sold in packets, which — together with shows, documentaries, films, television dramas and telenovelas — are circulated from person to person in Cuba to avoid national television programming.
This series would never have been seen in Cuba if it weren’t for these new capabilities. But those are the barriers that technology knocks down, which is why widespread Internet access is denied to us on the island.
Many Cubans — who feel a great affinity for anti-heroes (perhaps due to our being saturated with the image of heroes) — follow each episode attentively.
But what catches one’s attention most — in addition to seeing Cuban actors who are here frontline actors always in leading roles, playing secondary and episodic characters (of course, they’re paid three times more) — is that the dramatizations attempts to link the Medellin cartel to the Sandinistas.
When some of the routes to the US went through Nicaragua, this scandal was uncovered by a photo taken by an operative of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in which Escobar appears loading a small plane carrying cocaine with the help of members of the Nicaraguan government and an American pilot (who purportedly took the photo secretly).
Jhon Jairo “Popeye” Velasquez Vasquez, Pablo Escobar’s deputy and one of his principal killers, wrote his memoirs years later along with journalist Astrid Legarda in a book entitled El verdadero Pablo: sangre, traición y muerte (The Real Pablo: Blood, Betrayal and Death), which tells the history of the Medellin Cartel. In relation to this he says:
“The photos of Pablo Escobar, ‘El Mexicano’, Federico Vaughan and Nicaraguan functionaries loading cocaine onto a plane piloted by Barry Seal, were convincing in the putting together of the facts. Pablo Escobar paid the Sandinistas between US $500 and $1,000 per kilo of cocaine, depending on the size of the shipment. In addition, they received US $200 for the storage and guarding of each kilo of coca. What they didn’t see was their own political deaths were brewing along with the beginning of the end of the Sandinista Revolution.”
This shows the double standard that characterizes many governments. As is said in the soap-opera portrayal of Pablo, played impeccably by actor Andrew Parra: “…nobody likes cash more than the left…”
But other truths emerge in the series, though not much emphasis is placed on them. This is the alleged links between the famed drug lord and the Cuban government. The scenes in the dramatization paint Cuba as was one of the routes used by the Medellin Cartel to traffic coca onto US soil.
But many more details can be found in the statements by “Popeye.” He describes things as alarming as himself being the broker who maintained correspondence between Pablo Escobar and Fidel Castro and how he delivered a letter from his boss intended for the Comandante, to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and a personal friend of Fidel’s, for its delivery.
I invite our readers to follow the series or go to the websites containing information with respect to this subject. In this way you will find biographies of famous murderers, politicians or other people in history. In this way you will discover hidden truths.
And once again you will be convinced of the validity of this statement by the philosopher Herodotus: “Give all power to the most virtuous person that exists, and soon you’ll see their attitude change.”