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As Someone Who Grew Up In Colombia This Is Why It’s Really Difficult To Watch ‘Narcos’

It’s Fall again, and while New York City might still feel like Labor Day hasn’t happened yet, a new Fall staple has definitely sunk in, People asking me if I’ve seen “Narcos” yet.

My reaction:

Credit: Harry Potter / Universal


Yes, Narcos is a very popular show. It is, however, a show that is difficult to watch as a person born in Colombia a few years before Pablo Escobar’s death. The problem is, that while it’s a good show – a show that’s important for Colombians (particularly millennials) to watch and understand – it is, at the same time, a show aimed at a global audience that will never understand it the way Colombians do.

Why is “Narcos” Important?

I was born in 1991. Two years before Pablo Escobar died (spoiler alert!) on a rooftop in Medellín. I lived in Colombia for most of my life, until I moved to the United States in 2013. In the 21 years I lived there, the way I was thought to talk about Pablo was simple: Just say he was a bad man who did many bad things, but those things don’t happen anymore. Oh, and make sure this is what you tell Americans, tourists and anyone that you meet abroad.

This is the mindset most people my age and social background were raised with. Colombian millennials speak of Pablo as wizards spoke of Voldemort in 1997. We heard the murmur of “the dark days”, the days of Pablo. When politicians were murdered, planes were blown up, and rebels took the Palacio de Justicia. These are things that adults speak of under their breath. Things that happened, but to us, seem to have happened in another place. In another country. In another world. This is because we are told to forget about our past. To ignore the painful truth and focus on how well things are going nowadays.

Credit: USAtoday.com

Why watching “Narcos” became a cathartic experience?

I was mad! I was mad at my parents and teachers for hiding the truth. History books don’t talk about it, and unless you take a college class in drug trade or recent Colombian history, you as a Colombian will not know what happened. It’s like we have taken a giant eraser and tried to sloppily fade everything that happened from 1977 to 1993. Yet, Narcos feels authentic. In the opening five minutes, we’re shown an aerial shot of my hometown and my second favorite city in the world (NYC edges this one): Bogotá.

Credit: Narcos. Netflix

Despite the early criticism of the show casting foreign Latinxs, the show features some of the most talented Colombian actors in a generation, such as Juan Pablo Raba, Manolo Cardona, Cristina Umaña and Martina García. Even lesser known Colombian actors, like radio host-turned-actor Mauricio Cujar. The Colombians are by far the standout performers on the show, but we can’t forget Brazilian actor, Wagner Moura whose performance as Pablo Escobar is electrifying! The scenes between Moura and Raba as Pablo Escobar and his cousin Gustavo Gaviria are, by far, the best scenes in the show.

Credit: Narcos / Netflix

So Why is “Narcos” Harmful?

As much good as the show does for Colombia’s film and TV industry, and as good as it is for my generation to understand our past, I understand why “Narcos” is harmful.

Picture this: You break up with your abusive ex and takes you 10 years to get over that person. Everyone disapproved of your decisions when you were together. Now, you’re finally getting yourself back together, you’ve found new hobbies, you’ve become more positive… overall your much better! Then all of a sudden, a friend starts showing you pictures of your ex and telling everyone how great he was, which makes everyone remember how big of a mess you were. They assume you’re still in that sloppy phase even though you’ve made a ton of personal growth. You could tell them how much better you’re doing now, but they’d rather just hear about it from that person who won’t shut up about your evil ex. In this scenario, you’re Colombia, Pablo Escobar is your evil ex, and Netflix and “Narcos” is that friend who can’t shut up about Pablo. Leaving you feeling basically like this:

Credit: The Hunchback of Notredame. Disney.


Colombia doing well is great for Colombia, but bad for Hollywood. It’s just not a great story. No one wants to hear about biodiversity or the Peace Process that will end the longest armed conflict in the Americas, because that doesn’t fit the narrative they are selling to the United States. A narrative of barbaric brown people and white saviors. A narrative where Latin America remains a barbaric and underdeveloped region. And more importantly, a narrative where drugs are our problem. Where the “demand” part of “supply and demand” doesn’t count.

“Narcos,” and most American TV dramas in general, can be summed up in this one Game of Thrones scene:

Credit: Game of Thrones / HBO

The White Savior Syndrome, in which a white person is being heralded as a god by thousands of brown people. Particularly in drug shows, white heroes tend to fend off the brown monsters that are the drug dealers. Breaking Bad, which has often been called the best show in the history of TV is the number one offender. Narcos attempts to appease Latinx viewers by giving us nuggets of “woke-ness.” There are scenes where they show the debauchery and hypocrisy of American drug consumers and scenes where they show the true stories of the CIA partnering up and funding murderers in Colombia in their fight against Pablo. A fight guided more by results than the desire of a peaceful Colombia. However, these scenes are treated as afterthoughts. 

This is where the show becomes a double-edged sword. It tells a story Colombians need to know to face the past and improve our future. But it also reinforces the Colombian stereotype in the minds of those outsiders. Suddenly, Americans are more likely to ask me when was the last time there was a car bomb in Colombia, rather than ask how many Colombian lives were lost for a gram of Colombian cocaine. Narcos tells the story of modern-day Colombia which American audiences are ignoring as they rather focus on just the Hollywood stuff. And who can blame them? The Hollywood stuff is fun. It’s such a compelling story.

Credit: Hollywood Sign.org


Despite all this, I stand by my belief that Narcos is an important show for Colombia, and I will continue to watch it and encourage as many Colombians to watch it, too. I will also try to tell my American friends to read between the lines when they watch it.

Credit: Narcos / Netflix

READ: Pablo Escobar’s Brother Sent Netflix A ‘Friendly’ Letter Re: ‘Narcos’

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Once A Cartel Hub, Colombia’s Medellín Has Become A City Of The Future

Culture

Once A Cartel Hub, Colombia’s Medellín Has Become A City Of The Future

Medellín, Colombia was once home to one of the world’s most powerful cartels – Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. During the ’90s, drug gangs and guerrilla fighters controlled the city’s streets and few people ventured out the relative safety of their immediate neighborhoods.

That Medellín is a distant memory for many Paisas thanks to the fall of the cartels, but also to a distinct set of ideals and values that have shaped the city’s development over the last decade.

Medellín was named the world’s third city of the future and it’s leading in so many categories.

Medellín is nestled in a valley high in the Andes, and many of the city’s poorest residents live in comunas they built on the steep slopes. And although the city still struggles with high rates of poverty, city planners are working to bridge the divide between these poor communities with little access to public amenities and the core of Medellín.

The technology that helped save Medellín is not what you’d see in San Francisco, Boston or Singapore—fleets of driverless cars, big tech companies and artificial intelligence. It is about gathering data to make informed decisions on how to deploy technology where it has the most impact. 

Where most smart-city ­initiatives are of, by and, to a large extent, for the already tech-savvy and well-resourced segment of the population, Medellín’s transformation has for the most part been focused on people who have the least.

The city’s cable car system is one out of sci-fi novels.

Think of a gondola suspended under a cable, floating high off the ground as it hauls a cabin full of passengers up a long, steep mountain slope. To most people, the image would suggest ski resorts and pricey vacations. To the people who live in the poor mountainside communities once known as favelas at the edges of Medellín, the gondola system is a lifeline, and a powerful symbol of an extraordinary urban transformation led by technology and data.

“The genius of the Metrocable is that it actually serves the poor and integrates them into the city, gives them access to jobs and other opportunities,” says Julio Dávila, a Colombian urban planner at University College London. “Nobody had ever done that before.” As people of all classes started using the cars to visit “bad” neighborhoods, they became invested in their city’s fate, heralding a decade of some of the world’s most innovative urban planning

Designers have created safe spaces for all with parks and libraries.

The Metrocable succeeded in connecting Medellín’s poorest neighborhoods to the rest of the city – but where would they hang out? This lead to the construction of five libraries sprinkled throughout Medellín, all surrounded by beautiful greenery. These “library-parks” were among the first safe public spaces many neighborhoods had ever seen. 

The key ingredient of Medellín’s transformation, experts agree, is perspective: The city looked beyond technology as an end in itself. Instead, it found ways to integrate technological and social change into an overall improvement in daily life that was felt in all corners of the city—and especially where improvement was most needed. “Medellín’s vision of itself as a smart city broke from the usual paradigms of hyper-modernization and automation,” says Robert Ng Henao, an economist who heads a smart-city department at the University of Medellín.

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The Colombian City Where Body Parts Wash Up On The Shore So Often It’s Become Normal

Things That Matter

The Colombian City Where Body Parts Wash Up On The Shore So Often It’s Become Normal

Colombia has made incredible progress since the 1990’s when the country was a hotbed for international drug trafficking and guerrilla warfare. Today, modern bustling cities are home to shopping centers, museums, and hordes of international visitors.

However, despite the advancements, the country is still in a delicate peace deal with the main guerrilla oppossition – Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) – and there are many other paramilitary groups that still operate across the country, including in the main port city of Buenavista.

The city of Buenavista is seeing an uptick in body parts washing up along its shores.

In mid-January, an arm washed up on the city’s shore. It was quickly assumed, by local media reports, that the arm belonged to one of three local fisherman who had most likely been rounded up, killed, and dismembered. The arm had a tattoo on it, connecting it to one of the missing men, Armando Valencia.

And it wasn’t the first time this has happened. According to residents, body parts washing up on beaches is a tragically familiar occurrence. “There were some reports of body parts washing up at La Bocana [a nearby tourist spot]. A head, a leg, an arm,” said María Miyela Riascos, a social leader from Buenaventura, in a statement to VICE News. “Also, they found a man and a woman dismembered in the rural area of Bajo Calima.”

Violence has been rampant in Buenaventura for decades. The city has some of the highest rates of forced displacement and homicide in the country. But seldom has it been confronted by the levels of brutality experienced in the past year.

Criminal groups have long terrorized the city but things seem to be out of control.

So many different criminal groups have terrorized the slums of Colombia’s main Pacific port that residents rarely bother to learn the name of the latest clan in control. They simply call the warring gangs los malos or the bad guys.

Three people have been killed or disappeared daily, and conflict between organized crime has displaced as many as 6,000 people. Videos on Twitter show people fleeing their homes and young men and women patrolling with assault weapons. #SOSbuenaventura has been trending.

Community leaders see darker interests behind the violence, saying the areas where most crimes occur are the same where plans have been laid for a waterfront project, an airport and seaport terminals. “I see the violence as a means of pressure to get us off this area so they can build their projects,” Armando Valencia told The Guardian.

Criminals use “chop houses” to dismember their victims.

Colombian navy special forces on patrol among stilted waterfront shacks in Buenaventura
Credit: Fernando Vergara / Getty Images

The criminals recruit children, extort businesses, force people from their homes and dismember live victims, scattering their remains in the bay or surrounding jungle. Dozens of wooden huts balanced precariously on stilts over the bay have been abandoned by terrorized citizens and taken over by the gangs for use as casas de pique, or chop houses, where they torture and murder their victims.

The chop houses are the most gruesome consequence of a deeply flawed attempt to dismantle rightwing militias, which originally emerged to combat leftwing guerrillas in collusion with state security forces and drug traffickers.

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