Text: Stanley Ting
Published on 28th April ,2017
He loves his family. He builds schools and stadiums. He sponsors football clubs, which will constitute the Colombia National Football Team and compete in the World Cup. He used to distribute money to the poor. He garnered extensive public support in his bid for senator. He seems to have all the qualities of a good person.
What if I tell you he sells cocaine? He also assassinates police officers, business counterparts and whistle-blowers. What is even worse is that he set off a car bomb into the city center, after which the blast turned the area into an inferno. He had to go to jail. However, the “prison” was built to his specifications and is protected by mercenaries. He is the King of Cocaine, maybe better phrased as the “King” of Colombia. He is Pablo Escobar.
The Netflix original series Narcos documents the life of the Colombian drug lord (played by Wagner Moura). Ranked seventh in the 1989 Forbes billionaire league table, Escobar is one of the wealthiest criminal in history. According to his biography on ColombiaLink.com, at the climax of his career, his Medellin Cartel supplied an estimated 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States, yielding him an income of US$60 billion a day, or an equivalent of US$21.9 billion a year. Narcos tells the parallel stories between Escobar and Drug Enforcement Administration agents Steve Murphy (played by Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (played by Pedro Pascal). The series is based on the real lives of the drug kingpin and the two DEA agents with real documented clips and quotes.
Escobar might be a pure evil, a terrorist in the eyes of most common people. Yet, the Netflix’s production team does not seem to agree much with these stereotypical depictions. The episodes not only show his cruelty, but also his humanity. The major reason of his committing crimes is revealed – to create a better Colombia for his fellow countrymen suffering from poverty. Therefore, he never refrained from giving to the poor and his subordinates. He even attempted to run for senator and president in the hopes of changing the corrupt political system. Tracking and arresting Escobar took the American and Colombian governments so much effort and time because poor people in Colombia keep helping their “hero” to hide and flee. The story stops in 1993, the year in which the drug dealer was shot to death in a firefight with a Colombian surveillance team.
Narcos inspires me to view humanity as multi-dimensional. Cocaine can be found in flowers. There is not such a good-or-bad person, but a good-and-bad one. In the case of Escobar, he was undoubtedly bad because the drugs he trafficked damaged the health and productivity of people in America and Colombia. By challenging the power of the rulers and enforcers, he also posed a threat to laws and safety. However, from the perspective of Escobar, his beneficiaries in Colombia and his clients in America, his goal and contribution were honorable.
Good and bad are only relative concepts for different stakeholders. People have always live in double standards. Arguably, in the late Qing period, Britain also exported opium to China to settle the trade deficit. While British traders claimed that opium was wholesome or even life-prolonging to Chinese consumers, Escobar likewise stated that “I am a decent man who exports flowers.” Britain ended up winning the Opium Wars and acquiring Hong Kong and other trading posts, but Escobar faced totally different consequences.
Looking at this chapter of history between Colombia and the United State, I see its parallel with modern international conflicts, especially the controversy over nuclear weapons. There is no question about the harms of dangerous drugs and nuclear weapons. They should be banned from application. But the question to ponder is why countries do not forsake their own nuclear weapons, but only prevent others from testing, producing and possessing them after they were proliferated? The recent diplomatic tensions between North Korea and the United States can be the last straw to break the camel’s back. If a war really happens, how will this historical event be written? How can historical accounts do justice to both sides?
I suspect the answer would be simply “might makes right.” Drugs and weapons are only means to other ends – so that human beings can satisfy their selfishness and obsession for power.