The City of Eternal Spring.
When I first toss out the name Medellín to people the most consistent answer I get is “oh sounds wonderful where’s that?” This isn’t unexpected, but the fact is that Medellín actually has a few quick triggers that many people might remember. If you’re a pop culture buff you’ll know that it was the failed movie Entourage‘s main character Vinny Chase starred in about Pablo Escobar. If famous drug dealers are more your point of reference, you’ll remember that Pablo Escobar’s infamous cocaine trafficking group was dubbed the “Medellín Cartel.” Either way, you can probably see a trend here.
Colombia is famous in the United States for cocaine and people associated with cocaine. Beyond that you’ll be lucky to find someone that knows the name of the capitol, much less anything about one of the longest running civil wars in world history. Medellín further embodies that image, being the birthplace (and maybe resting place????) of ‘old Pablo and subsequently the former center of his activity. You can take tours of his old mansions, walk around the small town where he grew up, look at the buildings he tried to blow up with car bombs and the buildings he created with drug money, check out the graves of former hit men, and hear stories about the folk hero/villain he became. In any case, there’s no getting around the fact that Escobar will most likely forever be part of Medellín’s legacy. However, this shouldn’t have to forever tarnish the city.
There are a plenitude of books that have been written on Pablo Escobar so I really won’t bother pretending I have more to say then even part of one of them. I know relatively little about the man and frankly am not currently interested in picking up one of these literary homages. On the other hand, It is always interesting to hear what the people whisper about him to this day, anecdotes whispered under their breath so that passers by won’t look at them with scorn upon hearing that they’re referencing the “Capo.” This is precisely what happened when I was speaking with one of my students, an older woman probably in her mid-50’s and probably from money who began to tell me about the friends she had back in the 80’s that all seemed to end up married to then divorced from Pablo’s friends, associates etc. As she said, “Back then we knew it was strange, but it was normal and we just didn’t care.”
So yes, Colombia is where cocaine and Pablo Escobar come from. Yes, he was a real person who walked down the street and practically tossed money into the air. Yes, he is Colombia’s most famous historical figure.
Also yes, Medellín is one of the most modern, safe and beautiful cities in Latin America. Most simply don’t hear about that part.