My Father, the Drug Lord: Pablo Escobar's Son

  • Share
  • Read Later
International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam

Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar with his son Juan Pablo

While on the phone with his son 16 years ago, Pablo Escobar stayed on the line just long enough for Colombian police to trace the call. Minutes later, the world's most violent and notorious drug lord was gunned down on a Medellín rooftop. Fearing for their lives, Escobar's wife, son and daughter sought safety in exile, but most nations shut their doors. After stopovers in Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, South Africa and Mozambique — a whirlwind on par with the deposed Shah of Iran's desperate 1979 world tour — the widow and her children finally entered Argentina as tourists on Christmas Eve 1994. They've lived relatively quiet lives in Buenos Aires ever since.

But the son on the phone on that fatal day is breaking his silence. Now an architect and industrial designer, Juan Pablo Escobar, 32, has changed his legal name to Sebastián Marroquín to avoid scrutiny and notoriety. He is, nevertheless, emerging as the central character in a documentary about his father's brutal legacy, Los Pecados de mi Padre (The Sins of My Father). The film shows Marroquín returning to Colombia to renounce Escobar's violent legacy and apologize to the families of some of the victims. "I wanted to do something positive that would help Colombian society," Marroquín told TIME in a telephone interview. "I wanted to show the errors of getting involved in drug trafficking."

Some observers wonder about the value of an apology from the son of the perpetrator of the crimes and not the criminal himself. But the film's Argentine director, Nicolás Entel, says the point is to promote reconciliation in Escobar's homeland. "Colombia is a nation in which cycles of violence can continue from generation to generation," he says. "If you do something to me, my family members will look for your family members ... So [the film] has the value of saying, 'It stops here. We are not going to inherit our parents' hatred.' "

Among the documentary's highlights are emotional meetings between Marroquín and the son of one of his father's most famous victims: Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara, who was killed in 1984. Lara's son, also named Rodrigo Lara, is a Colombian senator. He was just 8 years old when he helped bodyguards bring his bullet-riddled father to the hospital. Still bitter about the assassination, he was skeptical about Marroquín. But after receiving a gracious letter from drug lord's son, he met Marroquín in a Buenos Aires suburb and the two ended up embracing.

In the film, which premieres this month in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata, Marroquín also meets with the three sons of Luis Carlos Galán, a charismatic presidential candidate whose public denouncements of Escobar prompted the kingpin to order his death in 1989. Marroquín says the meeting with the Galáns was more nerve-racking than the time when he, as a teenager in Medellín, was summoned by pistol-packing leaders of a rival cartel. (At the time, he made out his will beforehand.) "I felt 10 times more afraid, even though I knew that no one was going to hurt me physically," he said, "because I felt an enormous responsibility [to the Galán family.]"

At first, Carlos Fernando Galán, the slain politician's youngest son, wondered if his father would approve of the meeting. But he kept reminding himself that no one chooses their parents. "My father always told us that the first victims of the drug traffickers are themselves and their families. And that's something I found when I met Sebastián Marroquín. He was a victim, and he suffered a lot because of that. And I thought my father would say that this is the right thing to do."

Los Pecados de mi Padre also delivers a poignant message from Marroquín to Colombian youths, some of whom still view his father as a romantic, Robin Hood–like figure and remain tempted by the wealth and power of a new generation of drug lords. "Marroquín knows his father was an evil man, and he doesn't want to be like his father," Lara says. "Coming from the son of the most important and violent drug trafficker ever ... He says, 'Hey, I'm the son of Pablo Escobar. Don't be like my father.' That's an important message for the Colombian people."

Marroquín, who has the same thick face and wide girth of his father, describes Escobar as a doting parent. But as the manhunt for the drug lord intensified in the late 1980s, the family was forced underground and Marroquín saw his father only sporadically. Still, Escobar encouraged his children to lead their own lives. "My father did everything to keep us separated from his business," Marroquín says. "If I wanted to be a doctor, he said he would give me the best hospital. If I wanted to be a hairdresser, he said he would give me the finest salon in the whole city."

After his father's death, Marroquín suffered from depression. Landing in impoverished, war-ravaged Mozambique as his family sought refuge, he contemplated suicide as he considered how far his clan had fallen. The family's troubles continued in Buenos Aires. Escobar's widow, now known as Maria Isabel Santos, started a real estate business, but her accountant learned her true identity and tried to blackmail her, Marroquín says. His mother reported the extortion attempt but was forced to reveal her ties to Escobar. Startled Argentine authorities abruptly detained Santos, who was held for 18 months on charges of money laundering while Marroquín spent 45 days behind bars. Escobar's daughter, who is now a 25-year-old university student, was also ostracized as nervous parents demanded that she be expelled from school.

After a seven-year legal battle, the charges were dropped against the family. Marroquín married his longtime Colombian girlfriend and now, along with an Ecuadorian partner, designs buildings in Buenos Aires. Still, his upbringing among fabulously wealthy criminals can show through in his blueprints. "He's a very good architect," say Entel, the filmmaker. "But sometimes you can see the way he grew up around Pablo Escobar reflected in his ideas. Because I would never think of designing furniture for inside a swimming pool."