Apologizing for a father's sins

BOGOTA, Colombia – When he heard the news that Pablo Escobar had been gunned down on a Medellin rooftop in 1993, the drug lord’s teenaged son, Juan Pablo, vowed to avenge his father’s death. “If it’s true,” he said, “I’ll kill all the sons of bitches.”

But rather than following in his father’s murderous footsteps in Colombia, Juan Pablo Escobar settled in Argentina. He married his longtime Colombian girlfriend and works as an architect. To avoid notoriety and harassment, he has changed his name to Sebastian Marroquin.

For years, Marroquin avoided the media. But now he’s emerged as the central character in a documentary about his father’s violent legacy: "Pecados de mi Padre," or "The Sins of my Father." In the film, Marroquin urges Colombian youths — some of whom still view Escobar as a romantic, Robin Hood-like figure — not to be tempted by the power and wealth of the current generation of cocaine kingpins.

The highlight of the documentary is when Marroquin apologizes to the sons of two of Pablo Escobar’s best-known victims: Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara, who was gunned down in 1984, and presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, assassinated by the drug lord’s hitmen five years later. The two politicians were targeted due to their fierce criticism of Colombia’s drug cartels.

"The Sins of My Father" premieres this month in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata. Marroquin recently spoke with GlobalPost about the film and about life with the world’s most notorious drug lord.

GlobalPost: Was Pablo Escobar a good father?

Sebastian Marroquin: I have no complaints about the way my father raised me. Thanks to him, I’m the person that I am. He instilled many values in me. He was a great dad. My father tried to keep things separated. He did everything he could to keep us isolated from his business and his decisions. Unfortunately, our lives were always mixed up with the surrounding violence.

How often did you see your father?

Our family life lasted until 1984 when, sadly, Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara was killed. I was only 7. From that moment, the family fell apart. My father went underground and we could never again be together in a normal setting. We were always running and it felt like I was a criminal, just like my father.

Did Pablo Escobar want you to take over the Medellin Cartel?

He always supported me and urged me to become the person I wanted to be. He said that if I wanted to be a doctor, he would give me the best hospital. If I decided to be a hairdresser, he would give me the best salon in the whole city. He never pressured me to join his organization or to follow in his footsteps.

When Pablo Escobar was killed, why did you vow revenge?

That was a very difficult episode. I had just hung up the phone after talking with my father. Three minutes later a TV reporter called and told me he was dead. I was just a 15-year-old kid who had grown up around the most cruel violence. I said some unfortunate things. But 10 minutes later I retracted what I said and made a public promise that if someday I could help promote peace in Colombia, I would do it.

Along with your mother and sister, you fled Colombia. Where did you go?

Not one country wanted to accept us. We traveled from Colombia to Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, South Africa. Finally we arrived in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. It was the only nation on the planet that extended us a hand. It was a very sad place … . We thought we would live there for 10 years but we stayed only four days … . We went to look for universities and there were none. The only place to study medicine was in a garage. It didn’t matter if you had lots of money. There was no food. The supermarkets were absolutely empty. There were no clothes, no supplies. It was a disaster. We thought we had problems but things in Mozambique were even worse. I got very depressed and contemplated suicide because I saw no escape from our troubles.

How did you end up in Argentina?

We had return tickets to South America and stopped over for a few days in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. But we didn’t like it there so we went to the counter and bought tickets for the first flight to Buenos Aires. We entered on tourist visas on Christmas Eve 1994. (Because of the family’s new legal identities) no one knew who we were.

Why did you agree to make "The Sins of My Father"?

Since the death of Escobar, our family has received more than 100 offers from filmmakers and book writers. I always rejected them because the only things I’ve seen done about Pablo Escobar have been very irresponsible and sometimes glorify his crimes. But (the film’s director Nicolas Entel) proposed that we tell this story from the point of view of the sons of the protagonists. I wanted to do something positive for Colombian society that would show the errors of getting involved in drug trafficking.

Tell me about your meetings with the sons of the men your father had killed: Rodrigo Lara and Luis Carlos Galan.

While making the film, I decided to write a letter to their families as part of the reconciliation process. Then, in a very lovely gesture Rodrigo Lara (the son of the slain justice minister of the same name) came to Buenos Aires. We met in a Buenos Aires suburb. It was very relaxed. We hugged each other and it was one of the most comforting embraces I’ve ever received in my life.

What good is an apology coming from the son of the criminal rather than from the criminal himself?

The crimes of a father can end up perpetuating the hatred and violence between families. I, Sebastian Marroquin, am taking responsibility for the acts of my father in respect for the victims who suffered from his violence.

No one chooses their parents so, in a way, you too are a victim of your father.

Our family has always been treated as if we were guilty. People wanted to seek revenge from us because they could not do so with my father. No one else in the family had anything to do with criminal activities yet we’ve suffered the consequences. But we’ve found the path of life through the search for forgiveness and reconciliation.