I like Netflix’s show “Narcos” quite a lot. Many other viewers also like “Narcos”—so much so that it’s already been renewed for at least another season. For its three seasons so far, the Netflix drama has depicted the cocaine trade in Colombia from Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel to this season’s Cali Cartel. Yet as much as I enjoy watching “Narcos,” the problem is that people see the “Narcos” depiction of Colombia and take it to be the only reality of the country.
As a Colombian American, I grapple with the history of drugs in Colombia. I realize that in a country that has extreme poverty that often seems inescapable, making money from the drug trade appears to be many people’s only option. However, the Colombian people don’t excuse the cartels for the violence and suffering that they have inflicted upon us and others. What “Narcos” portrays and deals with, though sometimes fictionalized and dramatized, is a real part of Colombian history. It’s just not the only Colombian history. Colombia is so much more than a “cocaine capital.” It has arguably the world’s best coffee beans, the beautiful music known as salsa, soccer, and creative geniuses like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Except that’s not the Colombia that excites and sells.
Audiences devour the drug-ravaged Colombia, which shows Colombians at their absolute worst, and only at their absolute worst. It’s extremely important that Colombians never forget the history of cocaine that has hurt and still is hurting the country, and having shows and movies about Colombian cocaine isn’t the problem. The problem is that we only ever have international megahits about Colombian cocaine. Colombians know the beauty and wonder that is our country and its people, but not everybody gets to see the good parts of Colombia.
When people’s only exposure to Colombia and its history is through shows like “Narcos,” they come to think of Colombians as only poor people who traffic cocaine. They love to watch Colombia’s pain, and then refuse to help and look down on Colombians. Oftentimes when I tell people I’m Colombian, I get jokes about cocaine and Pablo Escobar, the only Colombian that many people can name off the top of their heads. His name is so well-known because the U.S. entertainment industry has grabbed a hold of him. Whether its Wu-Tang Clan, Fabolous, Nas, or Gucci Mane (and the list goes on), entertainers love dropping Pablo Escobar’s name.
Dropping Pablo Escobar’s name everywhere hurts Colombians more than it helps. I admit that I’m guilty of listening to and liking songs where Escobar is idolized, but I have come to realize how Escobar has become synonymous with all Colombians. Sure, Pablo built many things for the people of Medellin when the Colombian government didn’t, but that doesn’t even begin to make up for the suffering he’s inflicted on the Colombian people. Airplane attacks, cartel wars, countless deaths, and days and nights of endless terror on the streets while he was alive. Suddenly, Pablo Escobar doesn’t seem so great anymore.
The problem is that many people don’t know the deeper truth of Escobar’s effect on Colombia and how he lost the support of the masses with his excessive violence and terror. What’s worse is that people don’t know how badly Colombians want to get out from the shadow of Escobar and move on as a country. But the international world of entertainment is having problems letting go.
I know that watching the violence and craziness is entertaining, but believing that all there is in Colombia is violence and cocaine craziness disrespects the entire country and its people. The fundamental problem about the view of Colombia as only being a cocaine capital is its lack of respect. There’s an inherent condescension towards Colombia, maybe because we’re Latino or maybe because we’re not particularly wealthy. Whatever it is, there’s just an air that Colombians are just less than. People are so quick to buy into the idea that everybody in Colombia is poor and is a drug trafficker.
While there is intense poverty in Colombia, it is an increasingly socioeconomically diverse country, and most people aren’t involved in the drug trade. Colombia has produced brilliant people like Gabriel Garcia Marquez—and yet he’s never the first person that jumps to mind when one thinks of Colombia. Until people begin to view Colombians with more respect and pay due homage to those who are the true Colombian talents, Colombia will never be able to truly leave behind its darkest hours and move on in the world.
So go ahead, watch “Narcos” and like it, but remember that the Colombia portrayed is not the only Colombia that exists.
Kim Arango ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Visual and Environmental Studies Concentrator in Eliot House.