Thursday, December 27, 2007
Pablo Escobar, Welcomes Tourism to Hacienda Napoles in Colombia
Hacienda Napoles: At Home With Pablo Escobar, The Narco-Traficker Who Lived In A Zoo
Since the death of Colombia’s notorious Pablo Escobar in 1993, his expansive estate neglected, had fallen into disrepair. Thirteen years later, Hacienda Napoloes, has been reopened as a theme park for tourism. It is complete with the hippos, zebras, and other animals which have called home since Escobar adopted them to share his hacienda.
Mr Martinez is the general manager of the Hacienda Napoles theme park, which opened December 26, in Puerto Triunfo, 100 miles east of Medellin, Colombia, said, ”The novelty of the theme park lies not in its African land mammals – whether alive or dead – but in that they, and the 3,700-acre ranch they live on, once belonged to the world's most feared narcotrafficker, Pablo Escobar.”
Pablo Escobar’s wealth was such that he could afford to construct hundreds of homes for the city's poor in Medellin, paving the way to a seat in congress in 1982. Dodging the law and doling out to the needy earned him a Robin Hood-like reputation.
Hacienda Napoles was Escobar's idea of Eden. He populated the lush green hills with elephants, giraffe, buffalo, camels and lions. A total of 700 farmhands stood to attention as their master played god. "El Patrón" as he was referred by many, boasted that it took more than 100 employees several weeks to train a flock of white birds to roost in the trees around his marble-floored mansion. As his private jets took off from the airstrip next to the house, Escobar impressed fellow politicians with rides on his hovercraft on one of the estate's 14 lakes.
Then came the bloody violent wars of the 1980s, when Escobar would offer a million pesos for the head of policeman. As many judges, politicians and journalists were given the choice of plomo o plata? – a lead bullet or a silver pay-off. It has been stated that, Escobar was responsible for the murder of the justice minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla and a string of other political assassinations. Not content with bullets, Escobar turned to bombs, blowing up the headquarters of the secret police in an attack that left almost 70 people dead.
His arrest in 1991 and subsequent escape from a luxury prison built to his own specifications made world headlines. Finally, on December 2nd 1993, an elite police, with assistance from U.S. Delta Force Unit, gunned down the head of the Medellin cartel, moments after he had phoned his son.
The lions, elephants and giraffe are long gone, donated to zoos across the continent – but not so the hippos. Floating aimlessly in one of the lakes, much as their chubby patron might have done, are at least a dozen of the huge mammals. Their bad-tempered reputation seems to have kept any would-be captors at bay. Better yet, the fertile acres of Napoles have had a prolific effect on the animals. Although Escobar originally only imported four, according to locals there are now at least 18 roaming about.
Perched over the hippo lake are several homes built for ranch workers. They now house displaced families – refugees from Colombia's ongoing civil war between guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army.
A resident, Maria Eucaris Posada and her five children were given a home on the ranch after her eldest son was murdered. Five other families live in houses spread across the estate.
With an initial investment of $10m (£5m), the park's operators are expecting 400,000 visitors a year. "We're a long way from actually finishing," Mr Martinez admits. "But the idea is that people can use their entrance tickets to keep coming back for the first six months and watch the progress."
Doesn't it worry him that he'll be making money thanks to the celebrity of a mass murderer? "We don't plan to eulogize the memory of Escobar in any way," Mr Martinez insists. "We're just going to tell people that this was his home." He claims that the park will provide much-needed jobs for the area and an income for the municipality. "This is the first property seized from a major criminal in Colombia that is being put to use," he explains.
A paintbrush has already been taken to Escobar's collection of life-size dinosaurs. On a hillside, a triceratops is locked in battle with a clawing adversary, while two tyrannosaurus hatchlings emerge from under their parent's massive legs. Not far off, a solitary brontosaurus stretches its snake-like neck. The park's operators plan to place speakers near the prehistoric beasts, so that visitors can appreciate the kind of grunts they might have made.
The 500-seat bullring built to entertain family and friends has been refurbished and renamed The Coliseum and will host local celebrities and festivities.
In a garage nearby, the charred remains of Escobar's classic car collection, along with dust-covered amphibious vehicles. Long before the rust got hold of them, the priceless Porches suffered the wrath of their owner's arch rival, the Cali cartel. After the bombing of his Medellin home in 1988, Escobar moved what was left of his cars to the Hacienda Napoles.
Apart from the hippos, the park has two zebras, an ocelot, a margay, an ostrich and several buffalo. The animals come from a regional environmental agency and were seized from law-breaking owners. Butterfly and reptile houses are in the planning, as well as an aquarium. The puma and the spectacled bear are expected to arrive today.
Turning a naro-traficker's Nirvana into a family outing seems symbolic of the transformation Colombia has undergone in the past few years.
As a result, the highways and major cities of Colombia are a lot safer than in recent decades, stimulating tourism. As has happened in Medellin, which is now a vibrant and modern city.
"This is a completely different country than it was a few years ago," Mr Martinez says. "Without the improved security situation this kind of investment would be unthinkable." Tourism, not terrorism is what Colombia hopes to be known for from now on.
Pablo Esocbar's Hacienda Napoles Finca is located four hours from Medellin in the town of Doradal.