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From issue: Voices from the New Generation (Winter 2010)

AQ Upfront

Other must-read articles in the Winter issue.

In this issue:

The Andean Arms Race

Naomi Mapstone

Weapons buying stokes regional tensions.

Hugo Chávez has a flair for getting under the skin of his opponents, whether he is goading King Juan Carlos of Spain into an exasperated request to “shut up,” or branding then-U.S. President George W. Bush “the devil” during a speech to the UN General Assembly. But the Venezuelan president went beyond his customarily florid rhetoric in November when he used Alo Presidente, his weekly chat show, to announce the deployment of 15,000 troops to the Colombian border to counter what he claimed was the threat of a possible attack by U.S. forces seeking control of the country’s vast oil reserves.

Chávez’ move might have been dismissed as little more than an attempt to distract the electorate from his country’s unhappy trinity of food, water and energy shortages. But it put the spotlight on the disturbing escalation in defense spending across Latin America, in what some analysts, and at least one president, are calling a regional arms race.

The odds that Venezuela’s troop deployment could lead to an armed clash have been increased by the rate at which Venezuela and neighboring countries have been building their arsenals, according to Román Ortiz of Grupo Triarius, a Colombian security consultancy. Venezuela’s recent purchases of Sukhoi combat aircraft and Smerch multiple rocket launchers, for example, have given it a new capacity to strike deep into Colombian territory. That in turn makes it tempting for Venezuelan military commanders to compensate for a relative weakness of ground forces by escalating much more rapidly “to the level of conflict where they are more powerful and stronger” in the event of a crisis, Ortiz says.

Anna Gilmour, senior Americas analyst at Jane’s Country Risk, says Chávez’ November announcement was the kind of “grand gesture” the president enjoys making, and “it would make little economic or military sense for him to spark a war with Colombia.” But, she added in an interview, the deployment of troops on the border in a tense atmosphere raises the “potential for a …border incident to spark off some clash which would then serve to increase rhetoric on both sides of the border and raise tensions yet further.”

The troop deployment marked a new low in deteriorating relations between Colombia and Venezuela. Chávez’ move was triggered by Colombia’s decision to grant U.S. troops broad access to its bases for anti-narcotics operations. “Let’s not waste a day on our main aim: to prepare for war and to help the people prepare for war, because it is everyone’s responsibility,” the leader of the self-styled Bolivarian revolution told viewers. The best way to avoid war, he argued—not for the first time—was to prepare for it.

All the same, the pattern of recent arms purchases by both countries raises the possibility, however remote, that the current diplomatic and trade war—inflamed by border incidents, such as Venezuela’s decision to blow up three bridges in late 2009—could actually turn into a real war.

In recent years, Venezuela has purchased more than $5 billion in Russian weaponry, including 100 T-72 and T-90 main battle tanks, 24 Su-30MK2V fighter aircraft, nine Mi-17 transport helicopters, five Mi-35M attack helicopters, and 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles.

Colombia, already a high spender because of its 45-year war with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), spent $12.25 billion, or 5.65 percent of GDP, on defense in 2008, according to Jane’s Country Risk. Among big-ticket purchases, it has upgraded its Israeli-made Kfir combat aircraft and bought 15 Black Hawk helicopters, five Mi-17s, four Nodriza-class river patrol vessels, 131 patrol boats, and 25 Brazilian-made counter-insurgency/counternarcotics Super Tucano aircraft.

The increased appetite for military spending is worryingly evident across the region. Total Latin American expenditure soared 36 percent between 2003 and 2008, from $29 billion to $39.6 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Centre (see table 1 in the print issue).

The region’s big defense spenders as a proportion of GDP are Colombia, Chile and Brazil, according to  figures provided by Jane’s Country Risk (see table 2 in the print issue).

Brazil, in negotiations to purchase 36 French-made Rafale fighter jets at an estimated cost of more than $7 billion, spent $24.6 billion on defense in 2008. With  revenues fattened by the 2007 discovery of some 8 billion barrels of oil offshore, Brazil announced in late 2008 a deal with France to build the region’s first nuclear-fueled submarine.

Chile spent $4.95 billion on defense in 2008, close to 3 percent of GDP. In recent years, it has purchased 118 Leopard 2 tanks from Germany, 18 used F-16 aircraft from Holland, 10 F-16 warplanes from Lockheed Martin, and eight frigates from Holland and Britain. The purchases have prompted concern from Peru and Bolivia. Last year, Bolivia opened a $100 million line of credit to buy arms from Russia, and Ecuador signed a $22 million agreement with Russia for two Mi-17 transport helicopters.

Tabaré Vázquez, Uruguay’s president until March 1, was sufficiently moved by this surge in regional military spending to warn of an arms race. “It is a reality,” he declared last September in Washington DC.

U.S. officials and independent analysts are not so sure. They prefer to talk in terms of a large-scale “rearmament,” in which most of the region’s countries are seeking to redress the flat defense spending that followed the end of the Cold War. The commodities spike that sent oil to $140 a barrel before the onset of the global financial crisis provided the cash.

Brazil and Chile have been at pains to reassure neighbors about their purchases. “Chile and Brazil are very open about their arms purchases and very keen to make it plain that they are maintaining their aircraft or replacing obsolete equipment,” notes Jane’s Anna Gilmour. She observes that Chile is also moving to dismantle its copper reserve law, which for 25 years has dictated that the state copper company, Codelco, transfer 10 percent of its revenues to the armed forces to procure weapons.

Peru, skittish over Chilean war games on its border, the revival of a maritime border dispute and the unveiling of an alleged Chilean spy within the Peruvian armed forces, has not been won over by these assurances. Peruvian President Alan García called on the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR) to reduce yearly national military budgets by 3 percent and cut spending on new armaments by 15 percent in the next five years. García has also appealed to the United Nations and the Organization of American States to help stop “excessive military spending” in the region.

The plan received a lukewarm reception, and in early December an unabashed García entered the fray, announcing Peru was close to finalizing deals to replace Soviet-era T-55 tanks with MBT-2000 tanks from China and buying Super Tucano fighter planes from Brazil. The president refused to offer more detail on the purchases. The country’s previous expenditure includes $136 million on maintenance for its aging Mirage fighter planes and $50 million for the purchase of helicopters to help fight narcotics traffickers.

Defending the purchase, García sang the same tune as the presidents he was questioning: “[The T-55s] needed upgrading, and it was decided to decommission them.”

Peru’s longstanding tensions with Chile are no more than a footnote in the rearmament debate. Spats are likely to continue intermittently, but the two countries have strong trade ties, share a free-market philosophy and seem unlikely to allow differences to escalate beyond words.

Colombia’s ongoing row with Venezuela is the real focus—along a shared frontier frequented by FARC fighters, contraband and narcotics smugglers and rightwing paramilitaries, a wider, regional ideological split is being played out. The border is a powder keg, and increasing the military capacity of both countries makes an explosion much more likely.

The conservative U.S. ally, sandwiched between the leftwing administrations of Chávez in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, clearly sees Venezuela as its main obstacle in conquering the FARC.

Colombia disclosed this year that three AT-4 rocket launchers bearing Venezuelan army serial numbers had been retrieved from a FARC camp. Citing documentation from Saab Bofors Dynamics, the Swedish manufacturer of the weapons, that shows the rocket launchers had been sold to Venezuela, casts doubt on Venezuela’s denial that it had links with the FARC.

Chávez then recalled his ambassador to Colombia, suggesting this was a “grand manipulation.”

Officially, the Colombians have been careful to avoid direct accusations. President Álvaro Uribe, in an October 2009 interview with the Financial Times, refused to be drawn on whether he believed Chávez was trying to destabilize his government, saying “I cannot say anything because I have to be very prudent.”

Nevertheless, well-placed sources within the Uribe administration have no compunction in making such a charge off the record: “Venezuela has become the main FARC sanctuary, and it’s not just an issue of tolerance, but of active support,” said one official in an interview with the author. “The biggest strategic obstacle to closing the problem down in Colombia is Venezuela. Because all of the FARC units will only demobilize when they realize there is nowhere else to go.”

Of particular concern to Colombia is the threat of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles falling into FARC hands.

“If Manpads [Man-portable air-defense systems] were introduced in a significant way to the FARC, it would have a serious impact on their ability to use their lift capabilities effectively in Colombia,” said a person close to the U.S. government.

The Colombians have also raised suspicions about AK-47 ammunition with Russian factory markings that they say they have recovered from the FARC—although the ammunition cannot be traced by individual serial markings, they point out that Venezuela bought 100,000 Kalashnikovs plus ammunition from Russia.

In September, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton singled out Venezuela’s purchases as a possible threat to regional stability. “We have expressed concern about the number of Venezuelan arms purchases,” she said. “They outpace all other countries in South America and certainly raise questions as to whether there is going to be an arms race in the region.”

While Brazil, Chile and Colombia are clearly outspending Venezuela, both Gilmour and Ortiz see differences between the arms purchases made by Venezuela and Colombia.

“Colombia’s purchases are very much oriented toward counter-insurgency and force modernization, while Venezuela is buying new kit and replacing swathes of outdated equipment,” says Gilmour. “In the past four or five years, Mr. Chávez has very cleverly made sure that arms purchases are distributed between the forces. He’s acutely aware, having been a coup leader himself and having suffered a coup …that they could potentially turn against him.”

For his part, Ortiz groups Colombia with Mexico as countries that are significantly

increasing spending to cope with the internal threat posed by the narcotics trade, as opposed to a perceived outside threat. “That’s very important because it is not the same for regional stability to spend $2 billion in long-range-strike aircraft than it is to spend the same $2 billion for instance on helicopters,” he argues.

Will these escalating tensions deteriorate into outright war? There are good reasons to conclude that they won’t. Colombia and Venezuela are each other’s second biggest trading partners, and while Chávez’ efforts to halt Colombian imports in protest to the U.S. troop decision have been damaging, they have also been hampered by domestic constraints. Venezuela's foreign exchange authority, for instance, must approve all import-export transactions, hampering Colombian exporters' ability to get paid for their goods.

“In both countries, even the rhetoric has been defensive. A lot of this is just for domestic consumption,” says Adam Isacson of the Washington Center for International Policy. “Chávez is manipulating this with his own opposition in mind. He’s about 12 months away from actually facing a legislative branch that has a check on his power. He is nowhere near the height of his popularity …and he’s facing water shortages, food shortages and a crime problem. This has been a great distraction that the U.S. really handed to him on a silver platter.”

The greatest immediate danger appears to be a border skirmish that develops into a running battle for several days—a face-saving exercise by the military that could nevertheless result in the loss of many lives.

Despite Chávez’ troop deployment, he has shown a willingness to play the diplomatic card—with some success. Arguing that the 10-year Colombia-U.S. troop-base deal effectively turned Colombia into a potential launching pad for an invasion of his country, Chávez managed to enlist a broader group of nations to denounce the deal. Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Chile’s Michelle Bachelet joined Ecuador and Bolivia to raise concerns about a heightened U.S. military presence in the region.

Regional cooperation remains patchy and easy prey to strong nationalistic and ideological differences, however. Uribe, isolated and facing a skeptical UNASUR, threatened to break with the group at the height of the controversy over the U.S. troop-basing agreement, accusing it of becoming a forum for the radical left.

He has appealed instead to the United Nations Security Council and the Organization of American States, and in December, at the Ibero-American Summit in Portugal, to Dominican President Leonel Fernández.

Fernández agreed to act as mediator between Venezuela and Colombia, saying his country has close ties with both left and right.

Meanwhile, Brazil, the obvious contender to take a leading role, appears to be more interested in the Middle East peace process than in its neighbors’ squabbles.

President Lula did announce in December that he and Mr. García had agreed to promote a Peace, Security and Cooperation Protocol to ensure transparency in purchases and a commitment to arms reduction.

Such efforts at multilateral discussion could be an encouraging sign, but the challenge is to establish regular means of oversight and trust to oversee new agreements. Latin America’s rearmament may have increased the possibility that the increasing number of cross-border quarrels, fueled by ideological differences, could turn into military conflicts, particularly in the case of Colombia and Venezuela. But for now, they are likely to remain at the level of diplomatic maneuvering. Ultimately, defusing those tensions will be less about reducing nations’ defense expenditures than about finding an effective forum for brokering disputes and a common will to address the poverty and inequality that blight nations at both ends of the political spectrum.

Gay in the Americas

Mitchell A. Seligson and Daniel E. Moreno Morales

Negative attitudes toward homosexuals in politics persist—even among the young.

Tolerance for minority rights is the hallmark of liberal democracies. Indeed, without such tolerance, democracy is fatally flawed. Creating an atmosphere of tolerance for minorities is one of the key challenges in constructing and deepening democracy in our hemisphere.

The shameful treatment of African Americans in the United States, for example, persisted for decades after the Civil War, and only began to improve in the middle of the twentieth century— finally declining in the twenty-first century to levels that made the election of an African American president conceivable and then possible. A similar process has occurred hemisphere-wide with increasing tolerance toward the full participation of women in professions and in politics, a process that is still ongoing.

But what of other islands of intolerance? Specifically, the rights of gays, a group that has been the target of hostility for centuries around the world, including in well-established democracies. Gay rights are especially problematic in much of Latin America. It is often assumed that this is because of the persistence of the culture of machismo, but another factor accounting for intolerance for the right of gay people is the overall low level of education in Latin America and the Caribbean compared to North America. Education has consistently been found by scholars to be the most important factor associated with a more tolerant society.

Measuring levels of political tolerance requires the use of valid and reliable instruments. Scientifically designed public opinion surveys are without question the best tool for measuring tolerance when one is trying to compare levels across countries. The AmericasBarometer, a series of biennial hemisphere-wide surveys organized by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) consortium at Vanderbilt University, provides ideal data for assessing the political tolerance of citizens. The 2008 survey covered 23 countries and draws from samples that are representative of the national voting-age population. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the samples range from 1,500 to 3,000 respondents in face-to-face interviews. The total number of interviews conducted was 40,567.

There are many ways to measure tolerance. We focus here on the acceptance of homosexuals’ rights to participate as candidates in elections. The wording of the question is: “How strongly do you approve or disapprove of homosexuals being permitted to run for public office?” Accepting an individual’s right to run for public office is a crucial aspect of tolerance: by accepting this right, a person is implicitly accepting that even someone whose sexual preference is disliked has the right to govern, indeed to rule.

The question was asked using a one to 10 response scale. Responses 7 and higher represent “high tolerance;” responses ranging from 4 through 6 represent “medium tolerance;” and responses 3 and lower represent “low tolerance.” Table 1 (available in the print issue) shows the percentage of people exhibiting high tolerance towards homosexuals’ rights to participate in politics in 23 countries in the Americas.

The country with the highest percentage of highly tolerant people is Canada, where about three-fourths of the population expresses high tolerance toward the rights of gays to participate in politics. Argentina, Uruguay and the U.S. follow, with proportions of highly tolerant people in a statistical dead heat.1

However, less than half the population in all the other countries is highly tolerant of the political rights of gays. About 45 percent of Brazilians display high levels of tolerance, while in Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, those who express tolerance towards homosexuals represent between 30 and 40 percent of the population. Panama, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic share a fourth tier, with percentages ranging from 20 percent to 30 percent. The numbers are especially low in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guyana, where less than a fifth of the population shows high levels of tolerance. Caribbean nations exhibit the lowest levels of tolerance, with Jamaica and Haiti having only one in every twenty citizens with high levels of tolerance.

This ranking of countries according to their levels of tolerance resembles the ranking of the same countries by their levels of development. According to the Human Development Index developed by the United Nations Program for Development, Canada occupies first place in the region, while Haiti consistently places at the bottom. The Human Development Index combines economic factors with education and life expectancy, providing a more integral vision of development than those based on purely economic factors, such as GNP.

More developed countries have higher national values of tolerance, while poorer nations tend to have intolerant societies. Tolerance is closely related to levels of development, and, conversely, to existing levels of poverty.

Tolerance: A Matter of Education

For decades, research by political scientists has shown the powerful effect that education has on tolerance.2 More educated people tend to be more tolerant, more willing to accept difference. This is what we find in most countries considered here: independent of their levels of wealth, gender, age, religious preferences, and place of residence, people with higher levels of education are more likely to recognize and accept the political rights of a minority such as homosexuals. As Table 2 (available in the print issue) illustrates, the effect of education on tolerance is positive and very strong (the table presents the percentage of people with high tolerance across different levels of education in the pooled 23-country dataset).

More than half of all people with university education show high levels of tolerance of the rights of homosexuals in politics. In sharp contrast, the equivalent proportion for those individuals with only primary education is less than half of those having a university degree. Researchers largely agree that education exposes individuals to different ways of life, forcing people to consider their own way of life as relative and therefore leads them to empathize with those unlike themselves.3

Tolerance: Among Young People

Most of us look to the young as our great hope for the future. We assume that much of the impetus for future advances in democratic consolidation will emerge from youth.

In light of those expectations, we consult the AmericasBarometer database to ask: how do young people compare to the rest of the population in terms of tolerance toward the rights of gays? Once factors such as levels of education, area of residence, gender, and religious preferences are taken into account, younger people in Latin America tend to be, on average, more socially tolerant than their older counterparts. If we rank the Latin American countries by the levels of tolerance among those under 35 years, we find the same picture as when the entire population is considered. While in general we find higher level of tolerance among youth, in many countries the difference is not statistically significant. The difference in tolerance linked to age is statistically significant only in eight South American countries: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and, in one Central American nation, Costa Rica. In other words, there seems to exist a generational change in attitudes related to sexual minorities in South America but not in Central America.4 What we found is that younger people are more tolerant, independent of other individual characteristics, only in the countries mentioned above.

This is certainly a disappointing finding. We had hoped to find universally higher acceptance of gays among the young; but, to our disappointment, this not what our research shows.

When we dig deeper into the data we find another factor that plays an important role in helping to determine tolerance toward gays among the young: religious preference. Across the region, and particularly among people under 35 years of age, religious preference helps explain levels of tolerance for homosexuals’ political rights to a significant extent, even after respondents’ level of education is taken into account. We find that individuals who define themselves as Protestants, Evangelicals, Latter Day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses (grouped as non-Catholic-Christians) are significantly less tolerant than are Catholics and than people who have a non-Christian religion or who have no religion at all. Table 3 (available in the print issue) illustrates those differences.

The percentage of highly tolerant individuals among those who have no religion or who identify themselves as belonging to a non-Christian religious denomination is almost twice the proportion as that among non-Catholic Christians. These results remain virtually unchanged when controlling for other factors that could possibly affect the level of tolerance (as already mentioned, education but also gender, political ideology, area of residence, and country of residence). The magnitude of the differences suggests that it is safe to conclude that, in Latin America, non-Catholic Christians are less tolerant of the political rights of gays than are other religious groups irrespective of their level of education, sex, ideology, area of residence, and even nationality.

Evangelical denominations have been growing in many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, usually converting people from Catholic or mainline Protestant backgrounds. This expansion has likely resulted in the dissemination among the newly converted of values that could be deemed as socially conservative, which might explain differences we find in tolerance. Many of these religious groups are very outspoken in their rejection of homosexuality and other lifestyle practices that are deemed sinful. Of course, it may be possible that those who have gravitated toward evangelical religions were already predisposed against gay rights, thus leaving mainstream Catholics as a more tolerant religious grouping in the region.

It is worth stressing that these differences in tolerance seem to be confined to social issues. When we consider other forms of measuring tolerance, such as those that measure criticism of the political system (rather than homosexuality), religious preferences do not seem to play any role in determining levels of tolerance.

Gender also seems to have an effect on levels of tolerance toward homosexuals’ participation in politics. When the population of those younger than 35 is considered as a group, females are more tolerant toward the political rights of homosexuals than their male counterparts. This finding contradicts the specialized literature on tolerance, which has often found women to be less tolerant than men. However, when countries are treated separately, this difference is statistically significant only in Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Uruguay, although there is a lower level of certainty for the latter two countries.5

Finally, there is also a statistically significant difference between youths who live in urban areas and individuals the same age living in rural areas. We find that rural residents are less tolerant of gay political rights than are their urban counterparts. We suspect that this finding is a function of the fact that life in cities usually exposes individuals to a more diverse group of people than does life in rural areas, where social homogeneity tends to be high. This difference, however, only holds constant in El Salvador, Peru and Venezuela after other factors are controlled for.

When we consider the region as a whole, this article provides sobering evidence for those who have hopes that the youth of Latin America will bring a deepening of democracy to the region. While we did find some evidence of greater tolerance for gay rights among the young, tolerance averages are low even in this group, and a majority of young people shows high levels of tolerance in fewer than a quarter of the countries.

These findings, taken as a whole, are troubling. Respect for minority rights is fundamental to the functioning of any consolidated democracy, yet in Latin America, tolerance for gays is far from ubiquitous. Among those with low levels of education and among non-Catholic Christians, it is abysmally low. While youth are somewhat more tolerant than older people in South America, the differences are small and non-existent in some countries, suggesting that based on age alone, intolerance toward gays is likely to persist in many countries in the region.

Yet our findings also show that education has an important impact on producing greater levels of tolerance. Assuming continued progress in expanding education in the region, the results of the analyses lead us to believe that tolerance should also increase over time. This finding then reinforces the importance of investing in education, not only to help advance the economic development of Latin America and the Caribbean, but as a means to help further consolidate democracy.

Capitalism Meets Common Property

David Barton Bray

Imagine a business with a 384-member board of directors that governs using organizational principles predating the rise of modern capitalism. Imagine as well that this business has a 20-member executive committee that includes the town mechanic and newspaper vendor, and whose monthly meetings can last three days. The business also changes its CEO and other officers every three years, regardless of whether they have done a good job.

Sound impractical? In fact, such an enterprise has transformed hundreds of poor Mexican Zapotec indigenous farmers into owners of a multi-million-dollar diversified forest industry. A sign posted at the entrance to the enterprise’s offices sums up its character succinctly: “In this community private property does not exist. The buying and selling of communal lands is prohibited.”

The Forest, Agriculture and Services Communal Enterprise of Ixtlán de Juarez, a forest community in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, an hour north of the city of Oaxaca, evolved from traditional forms of governance developed by the Zapotec ancestors of the people of Ixtlán that were later reinforced with agrarian governance structures mandated by the Mexican government.

The structures were designed to run community affairs, not businesses. Nevertheless, Ixtlán, along with many other forest communities in that region of Mexico, has successfully fused communal democratic traditions with the principles of competitive market enterprises to achieve economic equity. In the process, they have also acted as a strong force for conserving their region’s rich biodiversity.

The Zapotec villagers of Mexico, in short, have developed an innovative model of community capitalism that the rest of Latin America, and the world, might well emulate.

The model employs one of the few resources easily available to the poor: the social capital provided by deep community ties. The communal trust, experience and knowledge nurtured over generations create a novel institution that UC-Berkeley economist Camille Antinori has called the “community as entrepreneurial firm.” In the Zapotec case, the platform for the community enterprise was the body of laws created by the agrarian reforms of the Mexican Revolution, which created common property forests...

Sins of My Father

Nicolás and Lucas Entel

I decided to make “Sins of My Father” when I met Sebastián Marroquín, the only son of Pablo Escobar, in late 2005. Heavy set with unruly black hair, Sebastián bears a striking resemblance to his father and had been living in Argentina under a new identity for more than ten years, but few people knew about him, and no one knew his story.

Born Juan Pablo Escobar, Sebastián grew up amidst the horrible violence of his father’s Medellín cartel. Between 1984 and his death in 1993, Escobar ordered hundreds of people from all walks of life killed. Former President César Gaviria has described the violence surrounding Escobar as “the worst in Colombian history.”

Sebastián also endured the violence of his father’s enemies, including a group of paramilitaries calling themselves “People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar” or “Los PEPES.” Bankrolled by the rival Cali cartel and facilitated by Colombian security forces, Los PEPES killed dozens of Escobar’s associates.

Los PEPES forced Sebastián and his mother to seek the protection of the Colombian government. Thus, Sebastián’s safety depended on the very people who were at war with his father.

Sebastián was 16 when Colombian Special Forces killed Escobar. He had to choose between following in his father’s footsteps or breaking with the cycle of violence that had shaped his life to date. Sebastián chose the latter. Los PEPES agreed to lift a $4 million bounty on his head, and the Attorney General of Colombia, Gustavo de Greiff, provided new identities for him, his mother and his sister.

In return, Sebastián, his mother and his sister agreed to leave Colombia forever and sever their links to the family business.

After a brief stay in Mozambique, Sebastián and his family arrived in Argentina under their new identities. Their movements were so secret that then-President Carlos Menem was unaware of their arrival.

After 11 years of silence, Sebastián agreed to tell me the story of his life with his father. He warned me, however, that he would never set foot in Colombia. Sebastián feared what might happen if he did...

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