Sebastian Marroquin, born Juan Pablo Escobar, is the son of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and at one time was heir to the largest drug trafficking empire in history. He has been featured in one documentary, Sins of My Father (2009), and has written one book, “Pablo Escobar: My Father” which was published in 2014. He is an architect and engages in motivational talks to encourage peace and reconciliation.
Harvard Political Review: From watching Narcos, I always see that when you are together with your father and sister there always seems to be a moment in which you guys are interrupted by Escobar’s guards and sicarios (hitmen) and I wonder, did you ever have an uninterrupted moment or a one-on-one with your father?
Sebastian Marroquin: Well, I would say, and as I have said before, the series [Narcos] does not demonstrate real happenings but rather events that the screenwriters, in their own taste, believe depict the way we lived. In reality, my father always interrupted others to be with his family. My father’s priority was always the family. I would go to the office to visit my father and regardless of who he was meeting, he would drop everything to receive me in his office. In the series, the priorities that my father demonstrates are completely inverted and untrue.
HPR: From reading your book, I read that when you are only 7 years old you realize what your father truly did for a living. How does one react to that when one is 7 years old?
SM: I will answer that question but I also wanted to add something to the last question. Throughout the series, I appear younger and younger – I don’t know why that is particular to Netflix, to show the evolution of Pablo Escobar’s children in that manner.
When I was 7 years old and my father tells me “my profession is that of a bandido (a bandit) that is what I do” – these are the words he tells me after the assassination of the Minister of Justice ordered by my father himself in 1984 – it’s very difficult to react to that when you are only 7 years old because you don’t realize the significance of the word bandido. Sure, at that age you may have seen movies with guns and crime but by then I also knew something strange was happening in my family because it all changed drastically after the killing of Rodrigo Lara. Clearly, something I am grateful for today is that my father had the strength to recognize and tell me about his activities instead of selling me a fabricated story. I think that helped us build a relationship based on trust. I think it also helped him to talk about his activities, almost in a confessionary manner, when he talked to the press about the bombs he had placed, the people he had kidnapped, or other activities of that type. So, in a way, my father reached a certain degree of sincerity that I became to know and I would even say appreciate because I would have rather had my father treat me like this rather than as an idiot that would never have any idea about what was happening around us. No one prepares you at 7 years of age to have your father tell you he is a criminal – you are still a kid and you are thinking about playing and having fun, things that have little to do with reality. This forces you to grow and mature before due time.
HPR: I was reading your post “28 Things Narcos gets Wrong” and from what you are telling me I am interested in something. You write that when you would watch the news with your father, he would tell that he planted that bomb and then you write that you would “argue” about the event. How were those types of discussions?
SM: I argued constantly with my father because I never liked all the violence that he created. I was perhaps one of the few people that were not part of his group of yes-men because I was not a direct beneficiary of the violence that his actions generated. I did not like his actions because I did not think it was right to have bombs placed in a non-discriminatory fashion throughout the entire country. I would argue with my father about his violent attitude and I would tell him to stop his violent ways and to think about peace as an alternative, especially given the many problems he was having. However, he would reply almost immediately by telling me “you are forgetting that the first bomb that exploded in Colombia was an attempt against you, your sister, and your mother – I did not invent narcoterrorism, narcoterrorism was first used against my family.” Thus, it was very difficult to go farther than that in the arguments with my father because he would always have a story or a justification to tell you, which I never considered valid because there is not an excuse for violence. I think these discussions with my father even gave the label of pacifist, particularly with my father, and he mentions this when he turns himself in to prison at La Catedral when he dedicates his action to his 14-year-old pacifist son. I did not begin to talk about peace when my father died nor did I begin to criticize him at that point – I did this when I had him in front of me, I was one of his harshest criticizers and I never applauded his violence. Why? Because for every stone that he threw, he would get many thrown back at him and us, his family, because we were the most vulnerable. In these types of extreme situations, we learned about the consequences of violence and that is why we did not go down the same path.
HPR: Do you think your father ever had an opportunity, or a moment, in which you could have told him or he himself may have stopped his ways?
SM: Well, I think he wasted an incredibly opportunity which was when he stayed at the prison he made, La Catedral. It was the one chance that the government and the people of Colombia gave him to confess his illicit activities and to remain in one place with very favorable conditions. Sadly, he ended up throwing away the one opportunity he had. I naively thought, as a son and as many other Colombians, that he would take this opportunity to make amends with the country. Regrettably, to deactivate an entire cartel also proved to be a difficult task for my father and with all the enemies he had, even more. I am not saying this to serve as a justification for the things he did, but rather to demonstrate the context of his situation and the reason for his actions, for which only he is responsible for. I think it was very difficult for him to try to bring down the very criminal organization that he had created and by the time he wanted to stop, he was unable to.
HPR: On that note, do you think that once one has entered the drug trade, can one get out?
SM: I believe so. I am convinced that we all have the decision to act on a daily basis. I am a good man and I behave well on an everyday basis. It was not a decision of waking up one day and saying “I will be a good person today, problem solved”, no, it has to be an everyday thing. I think it’s a myth that one cannot leave any organization once you’ve entered one. I think one has to be aware that a change needs to be made to improve one’s life and then there will always be alternatives and choices that can lead you away from a life of violence. It’s important to learn from the past and people’s experiences, not only from my father’s as a drug dealer, but from others that have ended just the way he did. I am surprised that many people disregard the fact that the end for almost all drug dealers ends up being the cemetery or the jail cell, we do not know of any case where a drug dealer has “retired”.
HPR: What would you tell the children of other drug dealers, particularly those who live glamorous lifestyles and show it on social media?
SM: The only thing I would tell them would be to look at my life as an example and to learn from it. When one is that powerful and one think life will last like that forever, it is simply the most ephemeral thing. I don’t think these sons and daughters of drug dealers are contributing to a lasting peace nor to human values that add to our society. They’re delivering the message of riches and power that comes at the cost of people’s lives and health and they incentivize young people to follow this model.
Of course, I think this is something that Netflix does much better. If you analyze the enormous amounts of effort and attention that has been given to my father’s image due to Narcos, I am sure of one thing: if I did the same exact thing that Netflix does with my father’s image, I would be killed, do not doubt it for a second. The pictures I have been sent that display my father in places around the world such as the metro in Barcelona or downtown Los Angeles, I cannot understand the amount of publicity that has been given to my father in addition to the message that is spread because of this. If I were paying to display images of my father [like Netflix does] in the United States, I am sure I would face legal sanctions and I would even be killed for doing it. And Netflix receives applause instead of criticism for it.
HPR: Do you feel free today or do you feel that you are under your father’s shadow?
SM: I would tell you that I am a free man but only partially so relative to other people in society. Why do I say “partially free”? Because there is only one country in the world that denies me entrance because of who my father was and that is the United States. I am not allowed to enter American territory simply because I was born the son of Pablo Escobar and apparently that implies that I inherit my father’s crimes. Not that I want a visa now, I don’t care anymore, I have been to the United States before. But what I criticize is the message that the United States is sending to the youth of the world – to those of us who invite people to leave the ways of violence and the drug trade, we are not given a visa but those that sell drugs and weapons, yes. It’s a shame to see drug dealers enter and leave the United States as if nothing in addition to those that purchase weapons and firearms.
HPR: You often tell the story of when your father called you the day he was killed. Once you learn he has been killed, you tell the press that you would “avenge” your father and 10 minutes later, you take this back. What happened in those 10 minutes?
SM: I was talking to my father via phone from my hotel room when he said “I will call you right back” before he hung up. 10 minutes pass and the phone rings again. I thought it was him but it was a journalist telling me my father had died. I knew something was wrong that day, he made the mistakes he had never committed throughout the last 10 years as the most wanted man in the world in one day. He never used the phone, he only did the day he was killed. He always told me that the day he used the phone would be his last day, something I had very clear while I was talking to him. I reacted violently, the journalist did not tell me she was recording me, an underage kid, and I told her that I would “kill every single one of you sons of bitches”, forgive the words, but these were the exact words I told her. I was only 16 years old and I was still the son of the most wanted, dangerous and feared drug kingpin of all time. My whole life I had seen my father solve every problem he had through the use of violence. Those 10 minutes of reflection made me think about all those times I had argued with my father, all those times I had asked him to stop the violence. And when I started thinking about plans to avenge him, I realized I was only going to become someone worse than him, someone worse than the person I had so often criticized. I was going against my own principles. And yes, people tell me that it was a tremendous life decision in the span of 10 minutes but I just say, what else was there to think of? My whole life I saw how the violence my father created had come back to my family and I thought that I would only make things worse for my mother and my sister if I sought to avenge my father. I had to dare to take a path of peace.
HPR: How is the relationship between you and the rest of your family?
SM: My sister, my mother and I are great friends. We have always valued our immediate family immensely, something we learned from my father. Unfortunately, on my father’s side we have a nonexistent relationship. But my mother and sister and I live very closely, we remain in the same city and we see each other every day. We love our father’s image because the only thing we received from him was love and affection. We recognize that our father made incredible damage outside of the home but we ask for reciprocity because the only thing he ever gave us within the household was love. It’s very difficult to resort to hating [Pablo Escobar] when all he gave you his entire life was love and all the best he ever had.
HPR: Is returning to Colombia an option?
SM: I am in Colombia at the moment. But I know what you mean by returning, by staying and to be quite honest my country still shows that it can be intolerant especially with the victory of the NO in the last peace plebiscite last week. I really wonder what is happening to us as a country and as a society. Do we want a future where we are constantly at war with each other? That’s what Colombians voted for last week and it worries me a lot. We approved vengeance and violence and said no to peace and reconciliation. What we experience in Colombia is fratricide, we fight ourselves and it demonstrates the priority of hatred over peace and reconciliation. If people in Colombia despise the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), then I can understand how people would despise my image and my father’s persona. My father’s image amongst the poorest of people, those forgotten by the state, still remains a respected image. Whether we like it or not, my father was an important figure who filled a vacuum left by the state amongst the lower social classes. Yes, of course my father harmed and caused a lot of damage but both stories are true. He did things to help and destroy Colombia, both are true.
HPR: What would you think your father would say about what you’re doing now?
SM: He would be proud, he would hug me and he would be sitting front-row at all the events where I talk to the youth about not repeating [Pablo Escobar’s] story because I am a consequence of what he did and I have not changed my stance on violence since we talked about it.