Pablo Escobar - Child of the cocaine cartels

Two Hollywood movies about drugs baron Pablo Escobar are planned. But a film in which his son sheds his anonymity to meet his father's victims has beaten them to the punch. Geoffrey Macnab meets the man who once vowed revenge on his dad's killers
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The Independent Culture

For years, we've been promised a big-budget movie about the Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar. Various rival Escobar projects have been racing to complete their financing. Edgar Ramirez, who co-starred in The Bourne Ultimatum, is in the frame to play Escobar in Killing Pablo, a very long-gestating project about how Escobar was hunted down by the US Army Special Forces and the Colombian army. Various other actors have also been linked with the role of notorious drugs boss, among them Javier Bardem. Meanwhile, Training Day director Antoine Fuqua has long been linked with a rival Escobar film that Oliver Stone is to produce.

It is not hard to imagine what these might be like: testosterone-driven action pics that will play up Escobar's reputation as the Robin Hood of Medellin; full of shoot-outs and explosions and bound to end with a juddering climax on the rooftops of Medellin, where Escobar was finally cornered and shot dead in December 1993.

But a film about Escobar has now been made that offers a very different perspective on the drugs baron than that we are ever likely to be given by Hollywood. Nicolas Entel's Sins of My Father (backed by Channel 4) tells Escobar's story from the perspective of his son, Juan Pablo (who changed his name to Sebastian Marroquin after Escobar's death).

This feature documentary, which is being given a major release in Colombia on 10 December, stands as a very grim warning to anyone who persists in seeing Escobar as a Colombian version of Brian De Palma's Scarface. The film tries to calculate the human cost of Escobar's misdeeds by looking at the devastation he wrought on his own family, and on the families of his victims.

Marroquin explains on camera just why he never wanted to become a drug dealer himself, and points out how squalid and self-defeating his father's life eventually became. "I was by my father's side hiding. We had millions of dollars of cash in the room but we were starving. The police were outside looking for him and we had run out of food. That's why I understood that drug money is completely useless if you can't even use it to buy a pound of rice. We could only use it to fuel the fireplace."

Escobar earned billions of dollars from the drugs business and his Medellin cartel is estimated to have controlled 80 per cent of the world's cocaine market. He was a populist figure who built football pitches for the poor. He was also ruthless, violent and very spiteful. In the 1980s, he joined the recently formed New Liberal Party and attempted to carve himself out a mainstream political career. However, when he was denounced as a drug smuggler and expelled from the party, he reacted in utterly vindictive fashion, arranging the assassinations of the party's leaders, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla and Luis Carlos Galan. In the documentary, Escobar's son comes face to face with the sons of Bonilla and Galan.

I meet Marroquin and the young Argentinian director Nicolas Entel in the lobby of a grey, anonymous hotel in the centre of Amsterdam. They have both been in town for the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (Idfa) screening of their film. What strikes me immediately about Marroquin is a strange, melancholy, quality. His father's past weighs very heavily on him. For years, he has been living in Buenos Aires under a new name. He works as an architect. When I ask him why, he says that he wants to do something constructive.

"Although I have received many offers to participate in films before, Nicolas was finally able to convince me because it was the first time that someone proposed to me to tell the [Escobar] story from the point of view of the sons, as opposed to just telling a gangster story," Marroquin confides, revealing why he agreed to participate in a documentary that is bound to blow his cover for good. He left Colombia when he was a teenager (he is now 32) and for many years, he has lived in anonymity in Argentina. Thanks to Sins of My Father the whole world will know that he is Escobar's son.

I show him a photograph of his father dressed in a white jumpsuit, sitting on a huge motorbike and looking like a moustachioed version of Elvis Presley. Wouldn't any kid want to have a father like that? The question discomfits Marroquin. What is very apparent is that he still feels an immense affection for his father in spite of his revulsion at his deeds.

"I feel love for my father," he says. "What you see in this photograph is Pablo Escobar, the public figure, the terrorist. I see my father. I have learned to separate. There is a very clear line between my father and the other person. I will always love my father in the same way you love your father."

Sins of My Father reveals details about Escobar that fictional movies about gangsters inevitably miss. We learn about the drug baron's obsession with playing Monopoly, and how he used to cheat even at that. We see pictures of him taking his son on a tourist trip to the White House. It is the banality of such images that is so moving and so incongruous.

The release of Sins of My Father in Colombia next week is bound to have a polarising effect. It hasn't been forgotten how Escobar held the government to ransom, and how many people died in the drug wars of the 1980s and early 1990s. Some have even alleged that Marroquin was involved in his father's criminal enterprises. However, Marroquin's gesture in asking for forgiveness from the children of his father's victims has been greeted warmly, and in some surprising quarters. One of the generals in the Colombian military wrote a letter describing Marroquin's efforts as "an opening for a path of forgiveness in Colombia."

Meanwhile, Eduardo Pizarro, brother of former M-19 guerilla movement leader and assassinated presidential candidate Carlos Pizarro, has also welcomed the film.

To the outsider, it may not be apparent why Marroquin should have to ask for forgiveness from his father's victims or to assume his father's guilt. But at the time of his father's death, he was caught on tape vowing that he would "kill all those sons of bitches who killed him".

Sixteen years later, he travelled in secret to Bogota to meet the sons of Luis Carlos Galan. The encounter makes for poignant and uncomfortable viewing. Marroquin sits on a black leather sofa, surrounded by Galan's sons and looking very awkward. The irony is that he is as much a victim as they are. His father is dead. He has had to live in exile under an assumed identity. "You are not Pablo Escobar," one of the sons tells him. But that doesn't stop him feeling that he is his father's representative.

"People don't see Sebastian. They see Pablo Escobar," Marroquin says to me of the way his own life continues to be defined by that of his father.

Sins of My Father may help reconciliation in Colombia. It may offer a far more nuanced and sensitive portrayal of a drug dealer and his family than will ever be found in a Hollywood movie. However, whether it will enable its subject to escape the shadow of Pablo Escobar is a different question altogether.

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