A cathartic experience

A cathartic experience

Death is said to have an element of finality. Not if the one gone is among the world’s wealthiest, most powerful and violent criminals. Pablo Escobar, drug lord and leader of the Medellin cartel, was gunned down by Columbian police on December 2, 1993. For his family —his wife, son and daughter — Escobar’s death did not mark the end of their suffering.

From an already bleak existence they were thrown into a maelstrom of events including forced negotiation with his enemies, a settlement coordinated with the Colombian government, legally changed identities and search for a country to migrate to. Twenty-five years after his death, the drug lord’s wife, Victoria Eugenia Henao, has chosen to tell her story of suffering and conflicts in her book, Mrs Escobar – My Life with Pablo. And she says it with great candour.

The book opens with the dank and sorrowful life in hiding of Victoria, her children and her son’s girlfriend in the months leading to the gunning down of the world’s most notorious criminal. They were forced into a hideout — blue house in El Poblado, an area of Medellin — with Escobar’s enemies all around it. If they had to leave the hideout they had to wear scarves and dark sunglasses. Prospects of survival appeared dim. At one point, they try escaping to Germany but are intercepted on Frankfurt airport’s runway and interrogated for several hours before being deported back to Columbia. 

With Pablo gone, Victoria has to find ways to stay alive. She recounts the events that followed his death including negotiating with various people, among them the leaders of the Medellin and Cali cartels. During the course of these arduous negotiations, she had to relinquish several properties, huge amounts of money, valuables, planes, helicopters and dozens of vehicles including high-performance motorcycles, motorboats and jet skis. “I handed over many properties, they were nowhere near enough to cover the astonishing sum of 120 million dollars that the capos were demanding,’’ she writes.

Victoria met Pablo when she was all of 12 years old and he was 23. Too young to comprehend, Victoria was swept into a fast life of wealth and power. Shortly thereafter she was pushed into a life of secrecy, raids, manhunts and death threats. She devotes a chapter entirely to the women in Pablo’s lives. While carrying out research for her book, several details of Pablo’s dalliances with hundreds of women, continued to shock her as late as 2017 when she was collecting information for this book. She remained unaware of the extent of her husband’s womanising and also the details of his source of wealth. She constantly asks herself why she chose to stick on with Pablo despite his deep-rooted involvement in drug trafficking— he controlled as much as 80 percent of the world’s drug trade — hundreds of killings and affairs with numerous women.

“Talking about my husband’s affairs for the first time is especially painful for me because it undermines my status as a wife, my dignity, my self-esteem and my self-respect,’’ she says in her book. She then goes on to unravel Pablo’s foray into politics. Pablo’s political life took off in February 1982. He was warned not to enter politics. 

Meanwhile, she goes on a long journey exploring the world of art, visiting galleries, travelling overseas to buy paintings and sculptures. Art, she says held a central place in her daily life prompting her to create a world that would minimise the suffering caused by Pablo’s lies, his activities and his disappearances.
Following Pablo’s death, life for Victoria and her children was very difficult. It was made tougher by all the lies spread in the media about them. “Pablo left us only horror and war as an inheritance. Nothing else. The Columbian government seized almost all of the assets we had, and the rest went to my husband’s enemies as spoils of war,’’ this statement from Victoria pretty much sums up her life post Pablo’s death.

Victoria’s need to reach out and tell her story as Pablo’s suffering wife and mother of two children was primarily aimed at imploring society to see them as human beings and let them live a quiet life.

“I only pray that my grandson does not suffer the consequences of this new trial by fire and that Pablo’s ghost leaves us in peace at last,’’ she says.



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