Pablo Escobar, the world's most famous drug smuggler, was finally found and killed by the Colombian police on 2 December 1993. Among journalists everywhere he was popular to the end. Most of the reports of his death invoked Robin Hood, and spoke of the mourning of the Medellín poor; and many local people did indeed turn out for his funeral. It was reported and photographed - cries of 'Pablo, Pablo', vengeance in the air, grieving sister dressed in black with elbows on coffin - so as to make Medellín appear as much as possible like some people's idea of Sicily. Most of the expressions of admiration for Escobar, however, should be attributed to a willingness to live up to the questioner's expectations, or to the Colombian habit of mamando gallo, or keeping one's end up by saying and doing disrespectful things. The funeral was obviously an occasion not to be missed. A good turnout was not necessarily evidence of grief, but of a readiness to keep in their place authorities who might otherwise think that they had achieved something for which they should be congratulated. Congratulating governments has not figured much in the local political culture, and the national government has not been particularly popular in Medellin in recent years.
LRB 6 January 1994 | PDF Download