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Colombia demolishes Pablo Escobar fortress

February 22, 2019

Colombian authorities are trying to change the image around the "cocaine king." The city of Medellin plans to replace the building with a park dedicated to the victims of narcotics trafficking.

The Monaco building, in Medellin
Image: picture-alliance/A. Pantoja

Pablo Escobar's fortified home — a brutalist eight-story concrete block in one of Medellin's plushest neighborhoods — was demolished on Friday as part of an effort to change the way the drug kingpin's story is told.

The stronghold, known as the Monaco building, was razed to the ground with explosives in a show for a crowd of around 1,600 people including some families of Escobar victims.

Plans are in place to turn the property into a commemorative space to remember victims of the drug trade who were killed during the 1980s and 1990s in a bloody war with authorities.

The move is part of an initiative to put the darker side Medellin's violent past into the foreground, telling the stories of victims.

"It's not about erasing history but starting to tell it from the right side; that of the victims and the innocent heroes," Medellin's city hall tweeted.

Colombia President Ivan Duque flew to Medellin to visit the site, saying the demolition "signifies the defeat of the culture of illegality."

"It signifies that history won't be written from the perpetrator's perspective," he said before departing to the border town of Cucuta, where a benefit concert was being held to raise money for humanitarian aid for Venezuelans. 

With a proliferation of books, the hit Netflix series Narcos, and the tours of Escobar's old haunts in Medellin, some city residents worry that the drug lord's life is being glorified by a younger generation that didn't live through the violence.

Read more: Colombia's cocaine: Who will take charge now?

Escobar was, at one point according to Forbes magazine, one of the world's richest men. He was killed in a rooftop shootout with police in 1993.

Groups of tourists visited the Monaco building, constructed in the swish El Poblado district in the 1980s, on a daily basis. The building was bombed in 1988, by Escobar's underworld rivals, and he abandoned it not long afterward.

'Respect our pain'

The "cocaine king" is remembered by some in Colombia as something of a Robin Hood figure because of his charity work, and the distribution of part of his vast wealth to Medellin's poor.

However, according to officials, Colombia's drug violence killed 46,612 people from 1983 to 1994, with Escobar at the center of much of it. Since 2018, visitors to the building had been confronted by posters that inform them of the grim tally of deaths that included civilians, police, journalists, and judges.

"Respect our pain, honor our victims," reads one such poster.

Read more: Colombia closes 'illegal' Pablo Escobar narco museum

In a 2015 interview with DW, Escobar's son said his father was no hero.

The destruction of the Monaco building was not the first time part of the history of the Medellin drug cartel has been consigned to the past. At the end of January, a replica of the first plane that was used to smuggle a cargo of cocaine into the United States was removed from another of Escobar's former properties, Hacienda Napoles.

The 20-square-kilometer (7.7-square-mile) ranch, which included a zoo a private airport and a bullring, has also been made into a park.

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Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.