Once, quite some years ago, well, to be exact, in 1993, my gardener turned up for work as usual, but without his trademark cheerful early morning greeting from the courtyard. “I wonder what’s wrong with Andrew this morning,” enquired my wife, “you’d better go and see him,” she suggested; so off I toddled.
As I stepped out of the house, Andrew’s face broke into the broadest of grins, “I knew dem fellas not kill you,” he proclaimed and threw his arms around my neck.
After much gesticulation, I gathered that Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug dealer had been gunned down by police while trying to escape. But before I go any further, let me, for the sake of those who have never heard of Escobar, let me explain:
If you go to the city of Medellin today, you will find that the memory of Pablo Escobar is still very much alive. At the height of his power, he was said to be the seventh richest man in the world; his Medellin drugs cartel was thought to be behind up to 80% of all the cocaine shipped to the United States.
His cartel not only trafficked drugs, it terrorised Colombia in the 1980s and early 1990s, bribing, kidnapping or killing all those who stood in its way. Such was his ruthlessness he is widely held responsible for some 4,000 deaths. Others say the real number is closer to 5,000.
And yet, in Medellin, some people still affectionately refer to Escobar as Pablito; stores carry T-shirts and wristwatches emblazoned with his face as well as books and DVDs telling his story. The Colombian TV network Caracol even released a 63-episode series called Escobar: The Boss of Evil. A huge hit, the series has already been sold to 66 countries, including North Korea. Pirated copies of the series are immensely popular in Medellin’s markets. Escobar’s grave is tended by relatives and admirers. Escobar’s son, who lives in Argentina, has launched a clothing range with images of his father. He says he does not sell the garments in Colombia out of respect for his father’s victims.
Many feel that Escobar’s popularity encourages young people to become criminals to make money fast and lift their families out of poverty. Others see him as a hero, as someone who was able to do the things that no one else was able to do. He even built a neighbourhood, the Barrio Pablo Escobar that sits atop one of the many hills surrounding Medellin’s city centre—one of the many “gifts” Escobar gave to the city’s inhabitants to secure their loyalty. Barrio Pablo Escobar has even become a popular stop for tourists, with several companies in town offering Escobar-themed tours. Pablo Escobar is part of Colombia’s history.
So where did I come in? Well, recent events have given me a clue. It seems that Saint Lucia’s thirst for sensationalism had come into play. The story was that the supposedly rich guy up on the hill was really a Colombian drug baron—who apparently commuted between Cap Estate and Medellin at supersonic speeds in the dead of night to conduct his murderous ventures. This ‘truth’ was further supported by the fact that I had no obvious means of support, had no job, and no stable of girls to earn my living for me. I had to be in drugs. And to top it all, a fatal flaw: I was generous with my money, helping school kids supporting charities, giving scholarships—all the bad things that only really bad people do to curry favor and purchase popularity. I was obviously up to no good. My gardener, quite naturally, was distraught when he heard on the radio and saw ‘my’ photo on the televised news along with the sensational revelation that I had been gunned down in Medellin, some 1,124 miles away from my home.
You see, as soon as anyone gets killed in St Lucia, the first assumption is that he—or she— is involved in drugs. Yes, I suppose there is a certain resemblance between my rather round face, bits of beard, generally scruffy appearance and unruly hair, and Pablito’s visage at his most benevolent, but I live in Saint Lucia, for goodness’ sake, not in Colombia, an inconvenient fact that seemed not to disturb the rumor mongers.
Anyway, much to Andrew’s relief, I was still alive, though I suspect he had rather enjoyed his few hours of vicarious notoriety as one who knew intimately of ‘Pablito’s’ movements, vanishing tricks, inexplicable absences and apparent lack of employment.
Of course, the difference is that Pablito’s memory lives on in Colombia, while in Saint Lucia I, who never dabbled in criminality, will quickly be forgotten. And they say that virtue is its own reward! Ah, well: Such is life.