In 1993, after more than a decade of domination over the Colombian drug trade, Pablo Escobar was shot and killed off by National Police in Medellín. Nearly 20 years later, his eldest son is continuing the capitalist tradition, but not in the way that some might think.
Sebastian Marroquin, who was born Juan Pablo Escobar Henao, but changed his name to avoid any mass association, has created a line of designer T-shirts that depict the image of his infamous father. The shirts are the latest fashion craze to hit the Mexican states, which ironically happen to be in the middle of one of the biggest drug wars in its history.
Embellished with pictures of the former head of the Medellín Cartel’s student ID card, driver's license and other images, the shirts sell for anywhere between $65 and $95 -- a small fortune in a country where about half of the population lives in poverty.
"We're not trying to make an apology for drug trafficking, to glamorize it in the way that the media does," the 39-year-old Marroquin told Reuters.
But while some might consider the business venture to be a way for the Escobar’s son to capitalize off a legacy that left so many innocent people in peril, they might be surprised to find that the shirts do carry positive, thought-provoking messages.
For example, one of the shirts bearing Escobar's student card reads: "What's your future looking like?" Meanwhile, a design emblazoned with his driver's license warns: "Nice pace, but wrong way."
According to the Chicago Tribune, the shirts went on sale last year in Mexico and are selling well in stores in Culiacan, the capital of western Sinaloa state. The location is home of Mexico's current most-wanted drug trafficker, Sinaloa cartel chief, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman.
The clothing is also being pushed in Guadalajara’s western Jalisco state. The location has long been a refuge for drug traffickers and has since been plagued by Mexico's raging drug violence. About 60,000 lives have been lost in the past six years.
Despite the messages written on the shirts, analysts tell some media outlets that the increasingly popular of the Escobar Henao clothing line simply reinforces an already widespread fascination with the symbols of drug cartel culture such as marijuana leaves and AK-47s among youth in Mexico.
"I see it as a strong symbolic product," Vicente Sanchez, a researcher at Mexico's Colegio de la Frontera Norte, told the Chicago Tribune. "The state ... has to have a better grasp of things directed at young people, as that's the way that these anti-values gain ground," he added.
In response to the criticism of him allegedly cashing in on Escobar’s legacy, Marroquin, who has stores in Austria, Guatemala and the United States as well as Mexico, says that he isn’t the only one out there making money off his father. In an interview with Reuters, via Skype, he points to books on Escobar's exploits and even a Colombian television soap opera, "Pablo Escobar: The Boss of Evil" that aired this year.
"Those who set out to criticize me are the same who have profited from the story, life and name of Pablo Escobar," Marroquin said.
Despite the success of the clothing line in Mexico and other markets, the 39-year-old has said he held off opening stores in Colombia out of respect for drug trafficking victims there. Marroquin also insists that the business of handling his father’s legacy has not been all fun and games. In fact, he describes it more as an inconvenience that has followed his family ever since his father's widely publicized death.
"In 1994, we left Colombia ... but because of our surname, we couldn't get a passport anywhere in the world ... for the crime of having Escobar DNA," says Marroquin, who lives in Argentina. "We have lived liked criminals without being them."
My name is Carey Vanderborg and I'm a journalist working in New York City. I love food, travel, craft beer, live music and writing about all of the above.