Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Drug Sellers

Leo Siegfried Kopp was a Jewish-German immigrant who founded Bogotá's Bavaria Beer Company in 1889. Pablo Escobar was a cocaine king who became one of the world's richest men.

Escobar, dead on a Medellin rooftop.
What did these men have in common (besides being Colombian)? And what are they doing sharing a blog entry?

Well, both ran businesses which produced and sold addictive drugs: Kopp sold beer; Escobar, infamously, created a cocaine empire. And, both are remembered, among other things, for being generous to their workers.

Kopp helped his employees get potable water and other services in their Bogotá neighborhood, La Perseverancia.

Kopp's tomb and statue, decorated with believers' flowers.
For his part, Escobar was famous for having built whole neighborhoods for Medellin's poor, for electrifying poor parts of the city and for building homes and soccer fields. Residents of towns near his Hacienda Napoles ranch still recall how Escobar used to send a truck filled with Christmas gifts for local children.

The difference was in their other business methods: Whereas Escobar placed car bombs, tortured and kidnapped in order to sell his mind-altering substances, there's no record of Kopp killing anybody - deliberately, anyway.

Today, the memory of Escobar continues scarring Colombia's image, whereas Kopp is a popular saint - believers sometimes line up a dozen deep to ask for favors from the statue on his tomb in Bogotá's Central Cemetery.

What's the difference? Was Escobar inherently evil and Kopp good?

Certainly, a guy like Escobar, who started out in petty crime, probably looked for a source of fast, easy money. So, if the illegal cocaine trade hadn't existed he very possibly would have gotten into some other outlaw trade, such as arms smuggling or human trafficking. But, then he would have killed fewer people and caused less mayhem, since those industries were much smaller (and would have been smaller still in the absence of an illegal cocaine trade).

And what if cocaine had been legal and Escobar had trafficked it anyway? Very likely, he would not have been a kind and gentle businessman. But it's hard to imagine him having car bombed, kidnapped and tortured. After all, what other dealer in a legal, if damaging, product does?

It's just worth thinking about: Two Colombians, both marketers of addictive drugs. But one remembered as a saint, the other a monster. The main difference between them? One product was legal, the other illegal.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

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