Krimfestivalen Dispatches #6: Juan Pablo Escobar

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Three words I never thought I’d be typing on this blog: Juan Pablo Escobar. In among all the crime fiction authors here in Oslo for Krimfestivalen, there has been one exception to the rule: the son of one of the most notorious criminals the world has ever seen. Juan Pablo is here in Norway to promote his book Pablo Escobar: My Father and he has been a big draw – last night he commanded the stage alongside other big names at the Osly Nye Centralteatret, and today he formed a one-man guest panel. (It should also be noted that the likes of Anne Holt, Arne Dahl and half an hour of crime-based improvisational comedy were also part of the theatre program.) The session was packed. There seems to be a real interest in the man and his life, and you could hardly move –  it was easily the most attended session here at Krimfestivalen. But it felt strange to me: the Colombian drug wars of the 1980s and Pablo Escobar’s empire feel like a world away from Norway, and Escobar Jnr was someone I was genuinely not expecting to encounter. No matter, it was fascinating stuff and the crowd was rapt so I’ve combined the two sessions and tried to summarise them both.

The subject both moderators were keen to probe was that of his feelings towards his father. JP – I’ll cal him that from now on in – said that even though he was aware of his father’s supreme ruthlessness and criminal career, he had unconditional love for him. My job was to be his son, he said, not his judge.

He then went through when he knew what his father really was. He was seven years old and they had had to escape north to Panama and seek refuge at General Noriega’s house (as you do) because he had just taken out the minister for justice (as you did). While they were watching the news stories on television about the killing, Pablo Escobar turned to his young son and told him that he had been responsible for the killing and that he was a bandit. Young JP still wasn’t quite sure what this meant, but he now knew his dad was a baddad.

He went onto say that daily life at the Escobars, although full of love, was fraught with danger – they were constantly on the move because of revenge threats from rival gangs and capture from the US agencies who were on their tail. JP also said that the more powerful and rich his father got, the poorer they lived. (He didn’t expand on this, but I found that point interesting.)

Conversation then turned to his relationship with the Netflix series Narcos, which has become a huge global success. JP explained that during production he had offered the programme makers full access to his father’s archives, which included photographs and letters. They programme makers turned him down and went ahead to produce, JP says, the ‘US establishment’s version of events and not the real truth’. Indeed, JP has written a magazine article listing 27 mistakes the series made in series two. When asked if he had written something for series one, he told the moderator that there wasn’t enough pages to do so.

And so the conversation continued, JP giving more insight into the life of the son of a gangster. He believes vehemently that prohibition of drugs and the war on drugs is the reason why his father was allowed to rise from poverty to gangster superstardom; JP now espouses a peace on drugs approach rather than a war on drugs approach.

After five years of witness protection and anonymity, JP went back to Colombia and made a life for himself outside of crime. He’s now an architect and author, believing he has a responsibility to not only tell his father’s story as a cautionary tale, but also a responsibility to expose the kind of corruption that help his father gain power.

Fascinating stuff indeed.

So that’s from me from Krimfestivalen and beautiful Oslo. It has been a well-organised and varied festival (there aren’t many crime fiction festivals that boast kids activities, the son of a Colombian drug lord and improvisational comedy as part of its program), and it’s been fun to be here.

Normal service resumes tomorrow.

 

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