Pablo Escobar’s son on El Chapo and 'Forbes' – and 'Forbes' response
Last week, Michael Noer, Executive Editor for Special Projects at Forbes, took some time to speak with Univision News and explain how Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán ended up on Forbes' latest "World’s Most Powerful People" list.
“We believe Guzmán is a billionaire,” said Noer. “We look at the number of people they have power over. So here you’re not just talking about people here inside the cartel, you’re talking about both the Mexican and the U.S. governments, about all the drug users and geopolitics as he’s extending into Central America and Guatemala.”
Forbes, which, along with competitors such as Fortune, closely monitors the world’s wealth, has also reported that “the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has come to believe that Guzmán’s power now surpasses the influence and reach of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug lord who in the 1980s headed the Medellin Cartel.”
Conjecture about El Chapo's ever-growing power and wealth, combined with comparisons to Escobar and his inclusion on lists such as Forbes' "Most Powerful People," are combining to write a new Latin American folklore, for better or worse.
That’s why we decided to talk to Pablo Escobar’s son and ask him what he thought about the current rhetoric and perception surrounding El Chapo.
Juan Pablo Escobar Henao, who now lives under the assumed name Sebastián Marroquín, first chose to tell his story as Pablo Escobar’s son in the 2009 documentary, Sins of My Father. In 1995, he fled Colombia with his mother and sister, in search of asylum. He eventually became an architect, and is now very outspoken about his father’s life and "profession" – one that should not be repeated, he insists.
Marroquín told Univision News he now sees economic power – the one that media companies, such as Forbes and Fortune deal with – as “the least important kind of power of all.”
“I’m more interested in the ‘inner power,’” Marrroquín said, “that which lives within each one of us and which pushes us above the biggest obstacles.”
He was very straightforward about Forbes.
“Forbes is lying,” Marroquín said. “Forbes couldn’t have, can’t, nor will they ever, have the access to the accounting books of mobsters needed to calculate their alleged fortunes, not even close to the real figures (and not all mobsters keep accounting books, my father was one). This is more a marketing bluff aimed at selling print and entertaining those who believe in the magic of the written word, which, once a quote or news article is printed and published, ‘everybody’ believes it.”
Marroquín said he was forced to "some ten kidnapping attempts” that came as a result of Forbes’ estimate of his father’s wealth.
“One day, they just decided to include my father on that list and the only thing that did was to cause immeasurable damage to my family,” he said. “We have Forbes to thank for the extortive kidnapping of several relatives, all ‘thanks’ to the ‘news’ that my father ‘had’ 3 billion dollars. Had he ever been so wealthy, he would have destroyed all of Colombia. My father never met anyone from that pseudo-magazine.”
Following the comparison between El Chapo and Pablo Escobar, Forbes’ staffer Nathan Vardi quotes a source from the DEA in his report as saying, “Pablo’s business in Colombia was based on the exportation of cocaine. With Chapo, he not only has the importation of cocaine, but marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine, and he is exporting them not only to the U.S. but to Asia and Europe."
“Remember that those people at Forbes who come up with those ‘happy accounts’ never consider the expenditures that mobsters make to corrupt all kinds of people and institutions, which is key to achieving their goals (corruption is not cheap),” Marroquín said, “and they also never calculate the cost of the war that prohibition generates (no one kills for free, and even more, no one kills for small amounts of money), so they simply invent and choose to believe that mobsters just simply stick everything under their mattresses, as if drug dealing wouldn’t generate high expenses too. This is a business where one day you own everything, and the next day you owe your whole fortune to someone else.”
Univision News shared Marroquín’s remarks with Noer, who had a few comments of his own.
“Sr. Escobar,” Noer said, “Of course we don't have access to El Chapo's ‘accounting books.’ But neither do we have access to the accounting books of the hundreds of other billionaires on our list that run private businesses. We valued El Chapo the same way we value other private enterprises: By interviewing experts, government officials and academics who are well positioned to estimate the scale of El Chapo's business. When we first put Guzman on the billionaires list, we ran a story in the magazine explaining in some detail how we calculated his net worth.”
Noer also addressed Marroquín's statements regarding the role Forbes played in causing his family to be terrorized by kidnapping attempts over the years.
“As for Escobar blaming the magazine for the kidnapping attempts and other unpleasantness that his family suffered, that is just silly,” Noer said. “People attempted to kidnap him because he was Pablo Escobar's son, not because of something that we printed.”
Noer also stated that he would prefer not to include El Chapo on the list of the World's Most Powerful People, or on Forbes' ranking of the World's Billionaires, but, as he said, "my job is to report on the world as it is, not as I would like it to be.”
Many wonder if El Chapo is actually enjoying the $1 billion fortune that Forbes estimates him to have. If we base it off of Marroquín's experience, the likely answer would be no. In one of the most illuminating scenes of Sins of My Father, Marroquín is sitting on a beach explaining “we had millions of dollars in cash in the room, but we were starving.”
Univision News asked Marroquín about El Chapo.
“I don’t like to speak about third parties whom I haven’t met before,” Marroquín said. “I have nothing to add in a positive manner in that area. In any case, all I could say to El Chapo or regarding El Chapo is: Rent Sins of My Father, and analyze if it’s worth repeating that story.”