Es­co­bar’s widow apol­o­gises for dam­age done to Colom­bia

The Dominion Post - - World -

The widow of Pablo Es­co­bar fell madly in love as a pre-teen with the man who would rise to be a ruth­less drug lord, but she says she felt raped when at age 14 he forced her to have a clan­des­tine abor­tion, and over time came to view him as a cruel psy­chopath.

The rev­e­la­tion comes in a mem­oir, My Life and My Prison With Pablo Es­co­bar, in which Maria He­nao for the first time opens up about her life along­side one of the world’s most ruth­less crim­i­nals, por­tray­ing her­self more as a vic­tim of the bound­less vi­o­lence of the Medellin car­tel boss than as an ac­com­plice to his law­break­ing.

In the book’s epi­logue, ti­tled ‘‘The se­cret I’ve held for years,’’ He­nao de­scribes be­ing taken by Es­co­bar to a ram­shackle clinic and ly­ing down on a stretcher while an el­derly woman in­serted sev­eral plas­tic tubes into her womb. She says she didn’t know she was preg­nant and was told it was just a means of preg­nancy pre­ven­tion. Over sev­eral days she en­dured bleed­ing and in­tense pain as a preg­nancy was aborted. With time, and much ther­apy, she says she came to view the ex­pe­ri­ence as a ‘‘vi­o­la­tion.’’

She writes that she had been ‘‘paral­ysed’’ with fear the first time Es­co­bar was in­ti­mate with her. ‘‘I wasn’t ready. I did not have the nec­es­sary tools to un­der­stand what this in­ti­mate and in­tense con­tact meant,’’ she says.

Talk­ing of the abor­tion, some­thing she had kept even from her chil­dren un­til now, she says, ‘‘I had to con­nect with my his­tory and im­merse my­self in the depths of my soul, to find the courage to re­veal the sad se­cret that I have har­boured for 44 years.’’

He­nao says she de­cided to break her long si­lence and write the 523-page book with the hope that younger gen­er­a­tions of Colom­bians would see how much blood has been spilled in Colom­bia as a re­sult of its co­caine busi­ness.

But it is also a page-turner that pro­vides an in­ti­mate look at Es­co­bar’s fast evo­lu­tion from a small-time grave rob­ber to one of the world’s most wanted fugi­tives.

He­nao says she met Es­co­bar when she was 12. She came from an up­stand­ing, tra­di­tional fam­ily in the En­vi­gado district near Medellin and dis­obeyed her par­ents by fall­ing in love with Es­co­bar, the son of a poor watch­man who rode around their neigh­bour­hood in a flashy Vespa mo­tor­cy­cle and was 11 years her se­nior.

Dur­ing a courtship that led to mar­riage when He­nao was 15, Es­co­bar show­ered her with gifts like a yel­low bi­cy­cle and ser­e­nades of ro­man­tic bal­lads. ‘‘He made me feel like a fairy princess and I was con­vinced he was my Prince Charm­ing,’’ she writes.

But from the start there were long, un­ex­plained ab­sences and he fre­quently flirted with other women. As Es­co­bar be­gan to amass a for­tune, he also be­came ma­nip­u­la­tive and para­noid, she says.

He­nao in­sists she was largely kept in the dark about de­tails of his crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties and says she es­caped from the ‘‘in­ferno’’ of liv­ing along­side Es­co­bar by cre­at­ing an al­ter­na­tive world de­voted to their two chil­dren and col­lect­ing ex­pen­sive art­works by the likes of Dali and Rodin.

Af­ter the Medellin car­tel’s 1984 as­sas­si­na­tion of Jus­tice Min­is­ter Ro­drigo Lara, Es­co­bar went into hid­ing and waged a bloody war with the state that in­cluded killing a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and blow­ing up a com­mer­cial jet­liner. Over much of the next decade, un­til Es­co­bar died dur­ing a 1993 rooftop shootout with po­lice, the fam­ily’s con­tact with the king­pin con­sisted of short vis­its to safe houses where He­nao and her chil­dren ar­rived blind­folded and were es­corted by Es­co­bar’s army of as­sas­sins.

In an in­ter­view with Colom­bia’s W Ra­dio be­fore the No­vem­ber 15 pub­li­ca­tion of the book, He­nao started off by apol­o­gis­ing to Colom­bians for what she said was the enor­mous dam­age her hus­band caused the na­tion.

Re­fer­ring to him through­out the in­ter­view as ‘‘Pablo Es­co­bar,’’ she said she felt a mix of pain, pro­found em­bar­rass­ment and dis­ap­point­ment with the man who had been the love of her life.

‘‘I chose to bear all of this pain to pro­tect my chil­dren,’’ she said.

Af­ter Es­co­bar was killed, He­nao be­gan a fren­zied search for asy­lum, fear­ing that his many en­e­mies would ex­tract re­venge and kill her chil­dren. Af­ter be­ing turned down by sev­eral coun­tries they set­tled in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina, and changed their names.

There, an at­tempt to lead a rel­a­tively nor­mal life was in­ter­rupted when they were ar­rested in 1999 for money laun­der­ing. They were charged again this year for al­legedly help­ing a Colom­bian drug traf­ficker hide money through real es­tate and a cafe known for its tango per­for­mances. He­nao de­nied any wrong­do­ing and said once again that she and her chil­dren were be­ing un­fairly tar­geted be­cause of their for­mer last name.

In 2009, Es­co­bar’s son, who now goes by the name Se­bas­tian Mar­ro­quin, starred in a doc­u­men­tary in which he seeks to atone for his fa­ther’s sins by meet­ing with the or­phaned sons of Lara and an­other prom­i­nent vic­tim of his fa­ther’s car­tel.

The film left Colom­bians trans­fixed and spurred a more dis­pas­sion­ate look at Es­co­bar’s role in the 1980s and 1990s drug wars.

But with the pro­lif­er­a­tion of books, the hit Net­flix Nar­cos series, and tours of Es­co­bar’s for­mer haunts in Medellin, some worry that the capo is be­ing glo­ri­fied by younger Colom­bians who didn’t live through the blood­bath.

And even a quar­ter cen­tury af­ter his death, not ev­ery­one is will­ing to for­give. Writ­ing re­cently in the news­pa­per El Tiempo, pop­u­lar colum­nist Maria Is­abel Rueda said that He­nao’s book ‘‘isn’t the ex­cuse of a vic­tim, but of a shame­less senora who knew per­fectly well that she and her fam­ily swam in rivers of gold pre­ceded by a flood of deaths’’.

–AP

AP

In this un­dated file photo, the late Pablo Es­co­bar, for­mer boss of the Medellin drug car­tel, and his wife Maria He­nao at­tend a soc­cer match in Bo­gota, Colom­bia. Es­co­bar’s widow says in a new book she felt raped when at age 14 he forced her to have an abor­tion, and over time came to view him as a cruel psy­chopath.

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