Pablo Escobar was a man but he became a legend, and Hollywood helped make that happen in more ways than one.
Not only was Los Angeles one of the biggest U.S. regional markets for cocaine in the 80’s when Escobar reigned supreme, the Hollywood pop-cultural-memory-complex has been pumping out Pablo Escobar films steadily since the turn of the century. Cliff Curtis played Escobar in the 2001 film focusing on one of Pablo’s business associates, George Jung. He’s being played by Benicio Del Toro in a new film that’s opened in the U.K. John Leguizamo will play Pablo in a new film adaptation scheduled for release in 2017, entitled El Patron. There was also a popular telenovela by that name in Colombia in 2012 that ran for 112 episodes (check out the first episode below). Now, Pablo Escobar is being played by Wagner Moura in the critically acclaimed Netflix series Narcos.
In fact, if you want to learn about the history of cocaine distribution in the Americas now would be a good time to invest in Netflix. There’s a documentary by Pablo Escobar’s son, called The Sins of My Father. There’s also an excellent documentary about Freeway Ricky Ross called Freeway: Crack In The System by Marc Levin. Kill The Messenger, which is a fabulous adaptation of the story of Gary Webb — the man who broke the story that the CIA shipped crack into U.S. ghettos in order to continue funding the Contras — is available to rent as a disc, and is available for streaming via Amazon. I highly recommend it, though I recommend Gary Webb’s book, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, even more highly. There is no solid evidence (as far as I know) that the trafficking by the Contras and their agents within the United States was under the management of Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel, but the testimony of Barry Seal strongly suggests that the cocaine moved as part of this operation originated from Colombia, from the Medellín, and ultimately from Pablo Escobar himself.
With a net worth of $30 billion to $50 billion at the height of his power, Pablo Escobar was not only the richest drug dealer of all time, he was one of the wealthiest individuals who has ever lived. His personal wealth was in shouting distance of Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Jacob Astor–individuals belonging to the top 1% of the top 1%. The legacy his enterprises left behind–the War On Drugs–damaged Colombia as much or more than it damaged the United States. But large populations within both countries were devastated by the consequences of the commerce which generated Pable Escobar’s fortune.
In recent years, the United Nations Office On Drugs & Crime have noted a 50 percent reduction in cocaine use among citizens of the United States despite the fact that the street price of the product has fallen considerably even as its purity has risen in the years since the Medellín Cartel’s heyday when Pablo Escobar was running the show. That means that as many as a million fewer U.S. citizens are using cocaine this year versus the year 2000. But, when you consider that the U.S. has spent over $800 billion fighting the war on drugs in that time, and incarcerated over five million people during that time period in order to achieve a modest decrease in consumption, you have to wonder whether or not it’s been worth it.
[Photo by Thierry Ehrmann/Flickr CC by 2.0]