The Glorification of Dirty Money


Time and truth are the only two things that can heal unjust death. Colombia has a turbulent history; one that has been intertwined with internal warfare since the beginning of its birth as a nation. Our death cannot be grieved solely through the punishment of those responsible, even this would not be possible as our government would sit in the same jails it is meant to run. The blood of innocent people is stained on the hands of the state, the guerrillas, the paramilitary groups, and the narcos

The narcos are a unique death carrier; while the state and the guerrillas were enveloped by a primarily political war, the narcos exploited such instability for personal gain. Colombia was in its most vulnerable state, and people like Pablo Escobar and the Ochoa family used it as a money making opportunity. It was egotism in an incomparable form. 

Colombian LLBBIR student Sara Tobar said, “The guerrillas are a very sensitive part of Colombian history, but let’s highlight that the guerrillas started with a purpose of survival: The narcos start from pure avarice.”

Escobar is a synonym of increased violence, death, and fear within Colombia. A successful narco is not a figure worth glorifying in the least, yet this is what popular streaming service Netflix has opened the door to. What to many Colombians is somber history is now entertainment to outsiders. The shows Narcos and Griselda are a commodification of such pain. “People treat it [the shows] with a lot of normalcy without addressing all the aspects that come from violence, exploitation, all of the resources lost from it, from corruption, all of that… The narcos, in order to become narcos, had to kill, exploit, be corrupt, and do a lot of harm to Colombia,” Tobar said.

The same people who died because of Escobar are the ones who continue to have their stories taken advantage of. Just as Escobar made dirty money by taking advantage of his country’s situation, director of Narcos and Griselda Andrés Baiz currently does the same. To be Colombian and to direct such a project is a sort of greed that drags on the legacy of Escobar, Griselda Blanco, and others. It holds on to the mark in history which we are trying to heal from.

Colombia does not define itself by the actions of drug lords, it defines itself by its ability to persist despite such circumstances. We do come from war and conflict, but also from deep culture and connection. Colombia can be defined by its salsa and its cumbia, by its Caribbean and its Pacific, by its highlands and its deserts. Escobar and Blanco do not define my country. 

Objective truth is paramount when approaching history related to violence, and history which has its victims still healing. What should be stressed the most in discussions about the impact of drug trafficking is the violence on behalf of the guerrillas and the narcos towards civilians, in particular those living rurally. Coca plants had to be cultivated and grown beyond cities and beyond the effective reach of the military and state. As a result, Colombians living in rural areas had their lands invaded and taken from them in effect of drug trafficking efforts. 

The presence of the Medellín cartel and of Escobar cannot be erased from Colombian history, in fact they are something that is criticized avidly among Colombians. However, it is something that we would never glorify, and that is why the production of shows such as Narcos and Griselda exacerbates the looming impact of such figures. 

“The topic of the narcos and everything about the narcotráfico isn’t a taboo topic but it is a topic that we do not glorify and it is something that we have never benefited from. And, when series like these about narcos it evidently was not something that you could say was cool to see, instead it was just a sort of shock,” Tobar said, “It’s not something that we should be proud of.” 

Not to mention, these shows give a warped version of Colombian cartel history to their consumers. Colombians spend time delicately correcting the perception people have, but when mass streaming comes in it becomes difficult for those efforts to triumph. It is challenging to  build memoria and mourn respectfully under the shadow of narco culture. We have inherited an image of us which we did not participate in creating with anything but our death. 

“I feel like the Colombians who are benefiting from series on drug trafficking are Colombians who do not see more purpose in Colombia. The most highlight that they can see, the thing that they know will generate them more views are series on drug trafficking – on Pablo Escobar. And as a Colombian you go cleaning the image. I feel like we have been good at communicating to the world that things are not like this,” Tobar said, “And then Griselda comes out, and something from the past which we don’t want to be the thing that represents us comes and doubles down in these series,” she continued. 

As the world more persistently sees Colombians through a certain lens, Colombians themselves begin to focus on their hurt, exhaustion, the lack of trust between citizen and state, and even the lack of trust between citizen and citizen. “The feeling of belonging is slipping away. People are untrusting, the only impression they have of their country anymore is that there they kill, they steal, and so on,” Tobar said. 
It is important to readjust the narrative and to view shows such as Narcos and Griselda with a critical mentality. Media has a tendency to distort reality and it is vital to consume a diverse amount of sources in order to prevent ignorance around issues of this sort. Drug trafficking within Colombia and Latin America is not something that can be lightly left in the past; it continues to affect many countries and many Colombian lives. Do not emblematize our victimizers, emblematize our survivors, our talent, and our success. Colombia has always flourished and will never stop flourishing, it is only a matter of adjusting the camera’s view.

Featured image by El Tiempo

Eloise Dayrat
Eloise Dayrat
I am a first year LLBBIR student. I am Colombian and French, but grew up in the US. I am also lactose intolerant, but my breakfast is still yogurt every morning. Sometimes I order my coffee with oat milk in it to compensate. I love music and spend the entirety of my excessively long metro ride to IE discovering artists. I love to run – that is when I don’t have class at 8am. And, I like to write, particularly about politics, history, and social movements and relations.

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