Of all the many drug-lords in Colombia, none was more successful than Pablo Escobar, a particularly vicious and ruthless cocaine-grower and trafficker who ran the Medillin cartel (Medillin is Colombia's second city) and controlled about 80% of the country's exports to the United States, until he was killed in 1993. Colombia is also the land of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; it was Marquez who invented magical realism; and it is only within the realm of magical realism that our particular way of remembering a man like Escobar can be remotely plausible. And yet it is so. Travel to Medillin today, and you can take the "Escobar Tour", a pilgrimage around the shrines of this supposed latter-day Robin Hood, the tenth richest man in the world at one point, a man whom the citizens of Medillin continue to revere for his charitable work and his love of soccer, quite forgetting the popeyed brutality of his murder of literally thousands of his fellow-citizens.
While Escobar was running Medillin, most of southern Colombia was in the hands of the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or People’s Army), another thinly disguised "political" army in the image of Bolivar and Buendia. The FARC began negotiating for peace in 2012, but you still don’t travel by car into the countryside south of Bogota for fear of kidnapping. The UK government’s travel advisory in 2012 stated: “there is a high threat from terrorism, with continued, indiscriminate attacks targeting government buildings, public transport, public spaces, and other areas frequented by foreigners.” I made that journey in 2014 and it was probably no more dangerous than the threat of joyriders on the M25 late on a Saturday evening, though the talks have not yet produced any results, beyond a certain amount of handing-in of rifles.
Marks For: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fernando Botero
Marks Against: Pablo Escobar
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