The Private Archives Of Pablo Escobar

Pablo Escobar Gaviria: king of the Medellin cocaine cartel and emperor of Colombia’s drug trade, who ruled from his own personal Xanadu in the Colombian hills or Pablo Escobar Gaviria: civic-minded social activist who cared deeply about his country’s poor? Colombian filmmaker Marc de Beaufort’s short and absurdly flattering wet kiss to history’s most powerful cocaine dealer is far closer to hagiography than responsibly objective biography, but it reflects an attitude, widespread among impoverished Colombians, that continues to celebrate Escobar as a populist folk hero years after his death.

Escobar was a savvy media manipulator who made sure there was a camera crew on hand when it came time to put on a positive public face, and much of this footage is on display in de Beaufort’s film. The “private archives” to which he claims to have gained access apparently consist of a few home movies shot at the Hacienda Napoles, Escobar’s own insanely lavish Neverland Ranch, which served as his base of operations. Escobar’s rise, from poor provincial grandson of a whiskey smuggler to cocaine importer-exporter powerful enough to shift the economy of a nation, is told primarily by family members, and each oral history should naturally be taken with a great deal of salt.

The facts of his life, however, are a matter of record: his brief stint at Universidad de Antioquia, where he founded the Welfare Council for poor students; his lifelong marriage to the 13-year-old sister of a friend, which endured despite Escobar’s notorious fondness for beauty queens; his 1977 arrest for drug dealing; and the construction of Napoles, built on land Escobar snatched away from the crumbling oligarchy he despised.

Just how he made all that money is never directly addressed, certainly not by his mother, Hermilda Gaviria, who thought “money laundering” was something you did down by the river; his brother, Roberto Escobar, who took charge of Escobar’s finances; or his cousin, Jaime Gaviria, who handled “PR.” Instead, the film focuses on “Pablito’s” commitment to his country’s poor at a time when few politicians concerned themselves with Medellin’s teeming slums. Escobar’s own entree into politics was stymied by those who found the notion of a drug trafficker making national policy decisions problematic and coincidentally, the bodies of those who dared to oppose him as he sought greater power begin to pile up.

The film, which ends with Escobar’s death after his escape from prison, tries to leave the impression of Escobar as a positive force whose dirty money actually saved Colombia’s economy while those of neighboring Latin American countries collapsed. The fact that Colombia is now even worse off than it was when Escobar was alive seems to support that claim, and there’s no one on hand to suggest that the country’s woes might to some degree be the result of Escobar’s reign and the vacuum created by his foundering drug empire.