Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Dillema of Memory

Tourists in front of the Edificio Monaco. (Photo: El Tiempo)
If Medellin Mayor Federico Gutiérrez follows thru with plans to demolish drug king Pablo Escobar's old apartment building, he'll have eliminated a symbol of Medellin's times of terror - but also a warning about what should not be repeated.

The Edificio Monaco, an uninteresting white block in Medellin's exclusive El Poblado neighborhood,
U.S. rapper Whalid Kalifa stands in
front of the Edificio Monaco.
came to represent Escobar's power over the city - and to be the target of attacks by Escobar's enemies, who bombed it in 1988 with 80 kilos of dynamite. (Escobar was not at home at the time.) Today, it stands abandoned.

Like Escobar's tomb, his Napoles estate and his old mansion, the Monaco building is now a stop on the city's Escobar tours - an uncomfortable situation for Medellin's leaders, who fear the narcos are being glamorized, and would like to have the city's terrible past forgotten and replaced with a brilliant future.

But the authorities are waging a futile fight against human nature. Sadly, crime, violence and depravity sell big. Few of the people on our tours have heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize for literature by writing beatifully about Colombia. But virtually everybody's heard of Escobar, who unleashed terror on Colombia and beyond. And that won't change.
The Justice Palace in Bogotá, where the
M19 guerrillas, financed by Escobar, attacked in 1985.
All across the world, blood, guts, crime and violence sells. Visit Transylvania, and they'll offer you a vampire tour; In Chicago, they'll tell you about Al Capone; In London, the Tower; In the Caribbean, pirates; And in Berlin, the Nazis.

A tall stone wall surrounds the one-time estate of
'El Mexicano', an associate of Escobar. The north Bogotá
property was just purchased by the Chinese Embassy.
And Colombia simply cannot eliminate the reminders of the narco violence. Not as long as it has a Justice Palace where the Escobar-financed M19 guerrillas attacked in 1985. Or cemeteries, which hold the remains of Escobar and his many victims.

The best that Medellin's leaders can hope for is that Escobar and his ilk are seen as the criminals they were, instead of some sorts of glamorized action figures, or comic book anti-heroes, as has happened to the pirates and Genghis Khan.

In that sense, the mayor's proposal to raze the Monaco building and replace it with a memorial for Escobar's victims makes a lot of sense.

Understandably, Medellin authorities protested several months ago when American rapper Wiz Khalifa placed flowers on Escobar's tomb and posted the photos on the Internet. And they protested again when Medellin city employees posed for photos with 'Popeye', one of Escobar's assassins, who was released from prison about a year ago.

Plaques commemorate the 'Holocaust of the Justice Palace,'
in which more than 100 people were killed.
Colombian authorities also need to remember the saying about those who forget history being condemned to repeat it. And that seems to be happening already. Colombia's coca leaf and cocaine production have boomed in recent years, perhaps to levels surpassing the Escobar years. Thankfully for Colombia, the drug boom has not brought back the violence of the '80s and '90s. But, as long as drugs are illegal, meaning that violent outlaw groups earn millions by trafficking them, the threat of wholesale violence will remain.
A memorial in the spot where politician
Jorge Eliecer Gaitán was assassinated in 1948,
triggering the Bogotazo riots.

The best lesson we can learn from the stories of Pablo Escobar and Al Capone and others who became wealthy and violent by trafficking illegal substances is that as long as drugs are outlawed, violent outlaws will get rich trafficking them.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: