Pablo Escobar's Son Renounces His Father's Sins


It is a common family drama - a son rejects everything his father stands for and strikes out on his own. But in this case, the father is the late Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. The son became an architect, but his last name got in the way of business. Today he is a motivational speaker who denounces drug cartels. Reporter John Otis has this story.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).


JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: The son of Pablo Escobar, now known as Sebastian Marroquin, gets a warm welcome from the crowd in the Mexican city of Aguascalientes. Here and elsewhere in Latin America, he tells surreal stories of being raised by the founder of the Medellin cocaine cartel. During the 1980s and early '90s Escobar exploded car bombs, killed policemen and blew up an airliner. He was responsible for the deaths of some 3,000 Colombians. He also became a billionaire.


SEBASTIAN MARROQUIN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Now 39, his son describes the family's mansions, sports cars, helicopters and airplanes. Marroquin, whose birth name is Juan Pablo Escobar, says, "we had every type of luxury you could imagine." But they were impossible to enjoy because the Escobars were constantly on the run. Marroquin recalls going hungry even though one of their hideouts was overflowing with $3 million in cash.


MARROQUIN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "I asked myself, what's the point of having so much money if you can't even go out to the corner grocery to buy bread?" he says.

In 1993, Pablo Escobar was killed by Colombian police. A distraught Marroquin, who was only 16, decided to forge his own path. After receiving new identities from the Colombian government, Marroquin, along with his girlfriend, mother and sister, moved to Argentina. Accustomed to bodyguards and servants, Marroquin was suddenly on his own.

MARROQUIN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: He tells me, "I was afraid to go into McDonalds and order a burger. I'd always been isolated. I lived in a bubble."

In Buenos Aires, Marroquin studied architecture. He wanted to put up buildings after watching his father knock them down with car bombs. But when clients learned his true identity work dried up, so Marroquin began giving conferences on what he's learned from his family's violent legacy. He also sought out Escobar's victims.

JORGE LARA: When my father was killed, I was 6. I was going to be 7.

OTIS: Jorge Lara is the son of Rodrigo Lara, a Colombian justice minister who was one of Escobar's fiercest critics. Escobar's hitmen killed Rodrigo Lara in 1984.

LARA: The bodyguards took the body of my father and ran away to the hospital. So we had some images that are impacted in our minds, you know?

OTIS: After Marroquin apologized to Lara the two became friends.

LARA: For him it's very difficult, the stigma. People tell me sometimes, how can you talk to that guy? But he's traveling around. He's putting the face. He's not hiding. So he's a very brave guy but who's got a very difficult life.

OTIS: Marroquin tells his story in his autobiography, "Pablo Escobar: My Father," which has just been published in the U.S. After his performances, fans line up to get their copies signed. In the book and in his talks, Marroquin tells young people to avoid the lure of drug gangs. To remove their power, he urges public officials to legalize cocaine. And he asks forgiveness for the sins of his father.

Marroquin's contrition comes as Columbia braces for a process of national reconciliation. Later this month, the government and Marxist rebels will sign a historic peace treaty to end a half-century-old guerrilla war. That conflict has killed more than 200,000 people. But not all Colombians are in a forgiving mood.


INES SARMIENTO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: During the question-and-answer period at Marroquin's talk, a Colombian woman says her father was kidnapped during the height of Colombia's drug war. The woman, Ines Sarmiento, adds that due to Escobar's violence, Colombians abroad are often viewed as criminals.


SARMIENTO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: As Marroquin listens, Sarmiento declares, "I suffered from the things that your father did." For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Copyright © 2016 NPR.