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The secret life of the son of the world's most notorious drug lord

  1. chillinwill
    'Sins of My Father': The secret life of the son of the world's most notorious drug lord

    Few things are more prickly and complicated than the relationship between sons and fathers. Just ask Michael Douglas, who spent many troubled years trying to carve out any kind of satisfying kinship with Kirk Douglas, his emotionally distant father. Many political observers believe that part of the impetus for George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq came from a deep-seated desire to set himself apart from the kind of failures that marked his father's, George H.W. Bush's, one-term presidency.

    But when it comes to difficult fathers, few men have endured the kind of emotional burden carried by Sebastian Marroquin, the son of the notorious Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar, whose illicit empire was so vast that he was once estimated to be worth around $25 billion, his cartel controlling the majority of the global cocaine trade. Now living in Argentina where he has established a new identity (he fled Columbia after his father was gunned down by authorities in 1993), Marroquin is the subject of "Sins of My Father," a fascinating documentary that premieres Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City. (The film will air this year on HBO.)

    A host of Hollywood filmmakers has long been fascinated by the Escobar saga, with several projects, in particular "Killing Pablo," having been close to a greenlight for years. (A fictional movie project about Esobar was the focus of a prominent subplot in the third season of "Entourage.") But what Argentinian filmmaker Nicolas Entel does with the Escobar legend is very different. Though we see the murder and mayhem of Escobar through archival footage, Entel focuses on the life of his son Marroquin and his attempts to come to grips with all of the hideous karmic wreckage inflicted by his malevolent father. It is really a story about a more universal subject -- the difficulty of reconciliation in a world where the desire for revenge, especially in countries racked by ethnic and religious strife, is almost an everyday occurrence.

    It was already something of an amazing feat for Entel, who divides his time between Buenos Aires and Brooklyn, where he has a company that produces commercials and music videos, to get Marroquin to agree to speak on camera. Even 15 years after his father's death, Marroquin, now an architect in Buenos Aires, has shied away from the media spotlight. In fact, he still uses the kind of security precautions worthy of a minor mob figure, never, for example, allowing taxis to pick him up at his house to ensure that as few people as possible know where he lives.

    He had never been back to Columbia, which remains outraged over his father's legacy of violence and bloodshed. As we see in the film, when a few brave 1980s-era politicians spoke out against Escobar -- notably a crusading minister of justice named Rodrigo Lara Bonilla and a fiery presidential candidate named Luis Carlos Galan -- they were brutally murdered by Escobar's cronies to protect him from prosecution.

    So Entel decided to broaden his story. He went to Columbia, where he not only interviewed the sons of the murdered politicians but somehow persuaded them to meet with Marroquin for the first time since his father's death. "I was a crazy idea," he admits. "It would almost be like having the idea to get Hitler's son together with the sons of some of his father's concentration camp victims." The results of the meetings are startlingly poignant, But what fascinated me the most was how a largely unknown filmmaker managed to pull off such a dramatic, emotionally loaded rapprochement, especially considering that the three sons of Galan are now well-known political figures in Argentina themselves.

    As Entel acknowledges, the process wasn't easy. How did he do it? Keep reading:

    It turns out, the easiest part was finding Marroquin, whose cover had been blown in 2001 when his accountant attempted to blackmail him and his mother, Escobar's widow. The extortion attempt briefly made news, but Marroquin had remained silent, turning down dozens upon dozens of media offers to tell his story. However, Entel had a quirky connection -- Marroquin's wife had been a student of the filmmaker's mother, a sociology professor in Buenos Aires.

    "When we first met, I did something very Argentine -- I sat down and had lots of long conversations with Sebastian over coffee," Entel told me the other day. "He'd turned everyone else down, but maybe because of all the research I had done, maybe because we're about the same age, he felt that I was someone who wanted to tell his story, not just exploit him as a way to tell his father's story. It wasn't simple. He even made me write an essay saying why I wanted to do this film."

    The early interviews weren't entirely successful. Marroquin found it hard to open up about his feelings. He was adamantly opposed to returning to Columbia, but Entel persuaded him to travel to Ecuador, where Entel could film him literally looking across the border at his homeland. "I felt that if I could get him that close to his country, it might trigger some reaction inside him and open him up," says Entel. "I have to admit that my secret hope all along was to get him to go back to Columbia."

    In 2006, after he'd completed a series of interviews with Marroquin, Entel went to Bogota where he met with the sons of the political figures murdered by Escobar. The reactions of the sons were very different. Rodrigo Lara Jr. was, as Entel puts it, "immediately curious -- he was fascinated by the whole idea of the movie." The sons of Galan were far more skeptical. "They were much more cautious and prudent," says Entel.

    Entel went out on the campaign trail with the Galan brothers, following them from town to town, in part to assuage their doubts about his intentions. He was so wary of spooking them that he didn't even ask for them to sign a formal release until after he'd finished shooting and was in the editing process, a highly unusual strategy for a documentarian. "I moved very slowly, using what we in Spanish would call turtle steps," he says. "I knew it would take time for them to warm up to the idea."

    Finally, after Lara Jr. had met with Marroquin in Argentina, Entel persuaded Marroquin to return to Columbia for the first time in 15 years for a face-to-face meeting with the Galan brothers. The meeting was done in secret. As a precaution, Marroquin traveled in a bullet-proof car with two bodyguards, although as Entel wryly puts it, "By Columbian standards, that really isn't a lot of protection at all."

    (It's a telling commentary on U.S. immigration policy that it has proved to be easier for the son of a mass-murdering Columbian drug lord to travel to Columbia than it is for him to get into the United States. Marroquin has applied for a visa so he can appear with the film in Sundance, but according to Entel, "even though he's been back and forth to the U.S. Embassy several times, the State Department hasn't made a ruling yet. They seem to be trying to figure out -- what do we do with him?")

    It turns out that Columbia hasn't entirely embraced the idea of forgiveness, at least not when it comes to anything involving Escobar. "Sins of My Father" opened last week in Columbia, where it earned good reviews. But the old political establishment had its issues. "At first, everyone from the right to the left supported the gesture of reconciliation," says Entel. "But as we got close to the premiere, the Columbian establishment started attacking the movie, perhaps because Columbia still isn't ready to have a serious conversation about why Escobar's cartel had so much influence over so many powerful people from so many different political parties in the country."

    Entel sighs. "I guess the film made some people a little too uncomfortable." But for me, that's another sign that the film has done its job. Like so many provocative documentaries, "Sins of My Father" isn't just a tribute to the healing process but a cautionary tale about the horrific toll exacted by men in the thrall of greed and cruelty.

    January 18, 2010
    LA Times


  1. chillinwill
    The only son of Pablo Escobar is finally coming to terms with his father’s violent legacy
    Sebastián Marroquín finally feels free. As the only son of the most famous drug lord in history, he has spent the past 17 years hiding his identity — until now.

    After his father died in a hail of bullets in Medellín in 1993, the boy christened Juan Pablo fled Colombia with his mother and sister, changed his name to Sebastián Marroquín and eventually settled in Argentina, where he now makes an honest living as an architect. These days, he is a man troubled by the anguish his father caused to millions but one who is working hard to right the past. It has only been in recent months that he has started speaking publicly about the Escobar family’s violent, cocaine clouded legacy.

    “I feel as if I’ve been unleashed and now I can begin to enjoy life,” Marroquín says over decaffeinated coffee and croissants at a café near his apartment in Buenos Aires.

    The catalyst for his catharsis is My Father, Pablo Escobar, the gripping documentary that traces Marroquín’s journey of reconciliation with the sons of two of Escobar’s most famous victims. The film is already one of the most successful Spanish-language documentaries of all time and has enjoyed sold-out screenings at movie festivals such as Sundance and Amsterdam. It make its premiere on UK screens on More4’s True Stories at 10pm tonight.

    “The gift that the film has given me and my family is that the world now sees us with different eyes. Some of the prejudices against the Escobar family have finally disappeared,” says the 33-year-old, whose resemblance to his late father is striking: a beefy frame topped by a curly-haired head offset by puffy cheeks, a double chin and deep-set black eyes. All that is missing is the moustache.

    “To be a relative is not the same as being an accomplice. You can’t choose your relatives,” he says.

    Pablo Escobar gained notoriety in the 1980s as the planet’s most successful coke peddler, building a billion-dollar global cartel responsible for up to 80 per cent of the world’s cocaine market. As his power and net worth grew — Forbes ranked him as the world’s 7th richest man in 1989 — Escobar applied increasing deadly pressure on those who tried to topple his empire, namely government officials, journalists and rival dealers. Thousands died on his orders: torture, drive-by shootings and car bombs were his favourite methods of doling out death. Despite the gruesome tactics he employed in eliminating his enemies, Escobar remains a hero to many Colombians, a modern-day Robin Hood who showered millions on Medellín’s poor.

    All 90 minutes of the documentary are riveting. The film mixes never-seen-before home videos of the Escobar family with old TV news clips and fresh footage of Marroquín and his mother, now known as Maria Isabel Santos Caballero. Together they provide a chilling narrative of Colombia’s violence in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as a poignant account of a conflicted man whose entire existence was dictated by his father’s murderous ways.

    Since the premiere of the documentary in Argentina in November last year, Marroquín has been on a hectic promotional tour in Latin America and Europe. Naturally, he says, the most important stop so far has been Colombia, where the film was viewed as a watershed cultural event, and a homecoming of sorts for one of its most notorious sons. Thirty prints of the film were ordered, unprecedented for a documentary in Colombia, and although he was widely praised for his decision to ask the country’s forgiveness in the film, harsh criticism abounded when he visited in December. Marroquín says he was quickly reminded that his father’s vicious actions still provoke raw emotions in Colombians from all walks of life.

    “I hope all Colombian people understand the film and we can help to stop the violence once and for all. My only conviction is for this film to be a message of peace. Nothing more, nothing less,” he says.

    Escobar was a ruthless, some say, psychotic, killer. For Marroquín, he was a loving father who doted on his children. Marroquín recalls sharing many tender moments with him, especially at the family’s sprawling Hacienda Nápoles estate, where Escobar created a world-class zoo stocked with exotic animals. There were also dozens of speedboats, jet-skis and motorcycles, which Marroquín learnt how to handle at an early age.

    “I knew how to drive by the time I was 5 and how to shoot a gun at the age of 7. I took self-defence classes too, to be prepared for any situation,” he says.

    Before Escobar’s outlaw status prevented him from leaving Colombia, the family travelled abroad often, staying at posh hotels in Venice and glitzy high rises on Miami Beach. Disney World was a favourite, too, although Escobar was terrified of rollercoasters. One of Marroquín’s fondest memories was a visit to Washington DC where father and son posed for a photo in front of the White House, and where Escobar used a fake ID to get inside the FBI Museum. “I remember my father got a big chuckle out of being able to sneak inside there,” he says.

    Marroquín and his mother came to London in 1988 and saw all the local sights, none of which particularly impressed him at the time. “I was only 11, so I wasn’t that interested in seeing Big Ben,” he says. “I remember thinking that London was too cold for anyone to live in. But I hope to visit again.”

    Marroquín was a well-travelled child, with every toy in the world, but his luxurious lifestyle was also unbearably lonely at times. Most Colombians were terrified of Escobar, which made it tough for young Marroquín to make friends. His closest confidants were his bodyguards. “I had 30 motorbikes, but I couldn’t go outside to ride them. How’s that for irony,” he says. “Now that I don’t have any of those luxuries, I feel like a millionaire, because I have my freedom.”

    In the film we see images of the Escobars temporarily retreating to Panama and Nicaragua, and unsuccessfully seeking asylum in the US and Germany in 1993. Later, we hear the chilling intercepted phone conversation between father and son that tipped off US and Colombian intelligence officers to Escobar’s whereabouts. Rather than surrender, he stormed from his safehouse with guns blazing and was killed by a barrage of police bullets.

    When he heard of his father’s death, 16-year-old Marroquín lashed out on local radio, vowing to avenge it. He quickly recanted his remarks and asked that his family finally be allowed to live in peace. The family then spent two difficult and dangerous years trying to avoid prison and death, travelling throughout South America and Africa looking for a home before finally being accepted in Argentina.

    “I didn’t think I would live to be 17,” he says. “Now, reflecting on it, I feel that since the day my father died until today, every hour that I live is a bonus.”

    Dozens of film-makers had approached Marroquín about telling his life story. He declined, thinking they would only glorify and exploit his father’s image, something that he was loath to do. Although he loved he father, Marroquín has repeatedly denounced him and the drug trade. He has spent the past 15 years trying to live a quiet life in Argentina. In 1999, his past caught up with him, when he and his mother were jailed in Buenos Aires on money-laundering allegations brought by an spurned former lover of Maria Isabel’s. The charges were eventually dropped, but not before Marroquín had spent 45 days in prison, and his mother 20 months. It’s an experience that still annoys him. “We were kept in jail for small and false charges because we were Colombians. And because we were family members of Pablo Escobar. It was a disgrace,” he says.

    It wasn’t until he met Nicolas Entel, the film-maker, in 2005 that he first considered breaking his silence. The young Argentinian director suggested a novel approach: bringing Marroquín together with the sons of the former Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla and the former Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, both killed on orders from Escobar after confronting him.

    “I was proposing to tell the story from the point of view of the sons, and Sebastián liked that,” Entel, 34, says. “What motivated me was that Marroquín, me and the sons of Lara and Galán are all around the same age. I felt we would find a way to connect because of our similar cultures, values and experiences,” he says.

    The film slowly builds to its theme, juxtaposing interviews with Marroquín and Lara speaking stoically about their dead fathers. The two most riveting scenes occur when Marroquín meets Lara and then Galán’s three sons, all four of whom have chosen to carry on their fathers’ legacies and enter politics. Meeting secretly on an island in the Río de la Plata in Argentina, Marroquín and Lara sit on a bench and have a frank but cordial talk. Marroquín notes that they are “both orphans.” Lara thanks him for his “heartfelt” letter of apology. “We are both good and peaceful men. Let’s move forward,” Lara says as they embrace.

    The meeting with Galán’s three sons is raw. Returning to Colombia for the first time in 15 years, Marroquín nervously asks for their forgiveness. The Galán brothers express their gratitude, but ultimately say they cannot forgive him for sins he did not commit. Marroquín recalls thinking they would sit down and have a coffee and chat before recording.

    “Nicolas wouldn’t allow it. He insisted that we show from the very first moments of our meeting exactly as it was"

    Brian Byrnes
    May 11, 2010
    Times Online
  2. HabitualCriminal
    Swim cant wait to see this tonight!! :)
  3. EyesOfTheWorld
    Pablo Escobar was a horribly violent, nasty son of a bitch, but you have to wonder if he would have done any of that if his product was allowed to be sold legitimately, and people weren't spending their time trying to kill or imprison him.................of course, when he did go to jail he got to build his own palatial "prison" and keep right on moving blow. SWIM'd like to see that kind of sentencing here.
    Definitely want to see the movie.
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