MEDELLÍN, Colombia — When the mayor of Medellín showed up, he was bearing a sledgehammer.
He stood with it in front of the former home of Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord whose cocaine empire once placed him on lists of the world’s richest and most wanted.
Escobar lived for years in the Monaco Building, a white, six-story edifice with a penthouse apartment on top and his family name still inscribed in fading letters on the exterior.
The building was bombed in 1988 by Escobar’s rivals, and not long afterward, he abandoned it. Weeds grew in cracks in the driveway. A satellite dish collected old leaves. And for a while, Medellín could ignore the now-empty Monaco.
Recently, however, attention to the building has returned, piqued by scores of international books, telenovelas and movies about Escobar.
Tourists now sidle up to the gate, snapping photos and posting them on Instagram. Tour guides stop by. A former cartel hit man-turned-YouTube-star appeared, offering DVDs recounting his exploits with Escobar and anecdotes from the day the building was attacked.
In April, fed up, the mayor intervened.
“This symbol, which is a symbol of illegality, of evil, will be brought to the ground,” said Federico Gutiérrez. The mayor vowed to topple the building by next year and to put a park remembering victims in its place.
How the Monaco Building went from relative obscurity, to global tourist draw, to one of the most publicized demolition projects in Colombia speaks to the uneasy relationship Medellín has with Escobar, the city’s most notorious son. Twenty-five years after he was killed in a police shootout on a Medellín rooftop, the city cannot forget him, no matter how much it might want his legend buried away.
The conflicting response to the building — municipal embarrassment or photo opportunity — is also a prime example of how Medellín still struggles over the Escobar narrative. Who gets to tell this history of the drug wars? Where is it told — in the streets or in museums? And who are the protagonists — the villains or the victims?
I came to live in this city eight months ago. But I first became familiar with Medellín as a child in the early 1990s. It was the height of Escobar’s terror campaigns to protect his multibillion-dollar drug business, and the grisly consequences were shown on the evening news in the United States. Decades later, I was drawn to cover how Medellín had managed to turn the page on its violent past.
The city has become a boomtown where international architects compete to build prestige projects and well-funded technology startups proliferate next to trendy restaurants. Colombia’s metro runs the length of the city; escalators thread the barrios that climb up the sides of the lush valley where the city sits.
Medellín’s residents, a famously proud clan known as paisas, are the first to tell you where their city has advanced to.
But they are the last to mention where it has advanced from — the depths of the cocaine era that brought not only the horror of Escobar but also the money that built its skyline, including the Monaco.
“Paisas say, ‘Dirty clothes should be washed at home,’” Juan Mosquera, a writer in Medellín, told me over lunch when we discussed why local residents avoid even mentioning the Monaco. “It was a mansion of horror. His family didn’t just live there; they killed and tortured people, and they planned the biggest blows toward the city.”
If the city wanted to keep its soiled laundry private, the popular Netflix series “Narcos,” whose first two seasons chronicled the rise and ruin of Escobar, exposed it to millions of global viewers.
Medellín resisted the show from the start. Film crews had trouble getting permission to work in the city, and just hearing the name of the series makes my neighbors bristle.
But the city itself was a key character in “Narcos,” and fans of the show come to Medellín in droves, seeking more stories of Escobar’s life. Must-see stops include Hacienda Nápoles, his ranch outside town; his grave; and La Catedral, the prison built to his specifications.
Daniel Vásquez, who heads public outreach at the Memory House Museum in Medellín, seemed exasperated when I asked why visitors are more interested in the life of the city’s top villain than in visiting this institution dedicated to the victims of the city’s armed conflicts over the past 50 years.
“Pablo Escobar has become the pop icon of this story,” Vásquez said. “The city saw no urgency to tell this part of history. It wasn’t a priority for the government until there was a problem, until suddenly you had narco-tours led by Popeye.”
“Popeye,” the alias of Jhon Jairo Velásquez, a hit man for Escobar, began hawking DVDs and hosting tours of the city after his release from prison in 2016. He also created a side business as a YouTube personality with a channel called “Repentant Popeye.”
In a city still smarting from Escobar’s wounds, the hit man seemed to be anything but sorry. In one video series, “Famous Tombs,” Velásquez goes to the graves of his victims, narrating how he murdered them.
“Here we have Carlos Mauro Hoyos. We kidnapped him in 1988,” says Velásquez, standing at the headstone of Colombia’s former attorney general, explaining how Hoyos was wounded in the leg when he was ambushed and later killed.
“It’s like if members of al-Qaida gave tours in New York about how they had planned 9/11,” said Luis Hernando Mejía, who represents the neighbors association that includes the Monaco, where Popeye would begin his tours.
Popeye was rearrested this May on charges that included extortion.
Héctor Abad, one of the country’s most popular novelists, told me on a visit to his apartment about his father’s killing by a paramilitary group the year before the Monaco was attacked. He said a girlfriend once showed him the scars across her back that came from an Escobar bombing.
And he offered his own home as evidence that no building in Medellín seemed untouched by past crimes. Shortly after he bought the apartment, he found a cache of gold ingots and counterfeit money hidden in a wall.
“You move a brick, and you find a skeleton,” Abad said.
He looked down the hill from his balcony toward where the Monaco — a “cursed building,” he said — sat awaiting the mayor’s wrecking ball. “If someone gave it to me, I would refuse.”
When I caught up with Gutiérrez, I asked the mayor, 43, about the day the Monaco was bombed.
“What did I feel? Fear,” he said. “Not just fear about what had happened but fear for what we are going to become.”
He paused for a moment.
“Why did I decide as the mayor to destroy the Monaco?” he asked himself.
To show that the city had been reborn, he said, and that the law had triumphed over chaos.
But more than anything, he said he wanted to demolish the Monaco because Medellín was sick of telling the same story of the same villain, over and over.
One of the last people I sought out to talk to about the Monaco was Escobar’s son, born Juan Pablo Escobar. He left Colombia after his father was killed, changed his name to Sebastián Marroquín and now works as an architect in Buenos Aires. Marroquín was the only person I could find who was there the day the building was bombed.
At first he said he wanted to talk. But then he stopped answering my emails.
I began to think of what it must have been like for a child to be the son of the country’s richest man, having all six floors of the Monaco for his family, yet with so many threats beyond its walls.
Eventually, I did hear back from Marroquín. I opened the email, thinking perhaps he’d agree to an interview. But he, too, seemed to have had enough of the subject.
“Thanks for your patience,” he wrote. “I’ve been on the road for more than a month. I think we should leave this one for some other time.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.