The closure of the Pablo Escobar Museum in Medellín, Colombia, represents a serious blow to the narcoculture that has taken root in the city, where tourists see a perfect opportunity to reminisce about the life of the brutal Colombian capo beyond the fiction of novels, movies, and television series.
The Secretary of Security of Medellín, Andrés Tobón, explained that the decision was taken because the establishment did not meet with the necessary requirements to run this type of business, in addition to “promoting the life of one of the most vile bandits, among those who have done the most damage to Medellín.”
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In addition, the city imposed a fine of nearly USD $12,000 (COP 37 million).
How did the museum work?
The Pablo Escobar Museum, located in the exclusive area of Las Palmas, east of the city, offered its visitors the famous ‘narcotours’, both in Spanish and English, and brought to life the exploits of the Colombian drug kingpin for around USD $30 to $40. The price included a guided tour of the Monaco building and Montesacro Gardens (where the remains of Escobar are buried).
Although at first the museum served primarily European and North American visitors, Latin Americans from other countries in the region were increasingly visiting as well.
However, the museum had restricted access for Colombians, since most of them find the concept of the museum offensive. For this reason, the requirements to enter the site were strict.
The museum, owned by Roberto Escobar, known by the alias of ‘Osito’, the elder brother of the late Medellín Cartel chief, showed belongings of the late drug trafficker, as well as a collection of 90 historical photographs, personal items, the James Bond bike and the capo’s desk.
The museum even appears on the tourism website TripAdvisor with a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5, and has a “certificate of excellence.” According recent comments of visitors, the tour also incorporated an actor/guide, who played the role of Escobar as he guided tourists through the facilities.
Visitors could also find in the museum the famous “Se Busca” signs from the early 1990s, when the Colombian authorities were offering a reward of USD $10 million for information on the capo’s whereabouts.
There were also classic cars with bullet holes, a poncho used by Escobar, a photo gallery with images of the eccentric Hacienda Napoles, the famous photograph of Escobar and his son in front of the White House in Washington, a collection of shirts, and a farewell with an autograph from the host, Roberto Escobar.
Escobar still factors large both inside and outside of Medellín
The PanAm Post spoke with social worker Miroslav Pulgar about the problems of promoting this type of tourism, and the implications that it creates at a sociological level.
For Pulgar, apart from Roberto Escobar’s financial considerations, we must address the social conditions surrounding the criticism, and support, that the museum had received.
“The interesting thing is that there are those who advocate the use of the physical force of the state to shut down a business of this nature, and the media has had a frenzy with this intervention. The reason it’s so controversial is that it constitutes a ‘memory’ linked to a cultural trauma that has arisen from the profane experience Colombian society, from the disturbance of the moral order.”
He adds that the museum represents and encapsulates the evil of the Medellin Cartel, which causes great social unrest for Colombians. Many see income from the Escobar legacy as “blood money.”
“Cultural traumas are a type of trauma that societies suffer and that involve the collective construction of an identity around a series of terrifying events to which they were exposed. In these circumstances, the way of understanding oneself, of seeing oneself, involves a series of changes in the ways in which social facts are represented and affect the way of acting and interacting, feeling, and thinking of a society. That is, not only is it experiencing pain in a group, but it is also forming a sense of collective dissatisfaction with a series of painfully experienced events that serve as the basis for the articulation of identity.”
In that sense, he explained that the events experienced by Colombians with Pablo Escobar, which not only caused thousands of deaths, but also transformed the so-called “narcoculture” over a wide range of years, is part of that cultural trauma.
Escobar acts as a factual element responsible for the cultural trauma that underlies the way in which Colombians construct an identity that determines the sacred and the profane, what has to be sought out, and what has to be avoided.
Finally, he stressed that the museum may reopen its doors, but that that is not the core of the issue; rather it centers around the role of memory in cultural situations of trauma where it is not possible to use a set of past collective experiences to rationalize a set of future actions.
“In some way, a memory is created that evokes a cultural trauma and that awakens a series of strong emotions of social rejection. For the same reason, however insignificant the facts may seem, this type of initiative will always be open to questioning and criticism insofar as an attempt is made to revive a collective experience of evil.”