Would you buy the shirt of an infamous Colombian drug lord?

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Energy companies, don't 'cha know, aren't the only ones with a controversial product. The family of the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar is trying to cash in on his famous--make that infamous--name. It seems there's a market for Escobar branded clothing. Pablo Escobar ruthlessly ran the powerful Medellin drug cartel which smuggled tons of cocaine to the US. He and his henchmen were also responsible for thousands of deaths before Colombian security forces gunned Escobar down on a Medellin rooftop in 1993. That sordid history didn't stop his family, though, from trying recently to secure trademarks for Escobar's name, his image, and even his fingerprints. They were turned down. Maria Assaf is a Colombian-Canadian journalist covering the story for the National Post in Toronto. I spoke with her earlier today.

What's going on here, Maria? What kind of things are Escobar's family actually selling?

Maria Assaf:Well, what they're actually selling... Escobar's son, Sebastian Marroquin, which is his new name since he moved to Argentina, he's had an online shop since 2012. And he's been selling T-shirts, jeans, some T-shirts have the face of Pablo Escobar, some of them actually have his criminal record printed. And now he has... it looks like he's doing well, because he has shops in Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States, a bunch of places, just not Colombia. He says he doesn't do it there out of respect for the victims. But the clothes are produced in Colombia, 'cause there's really good quality there.

Werman:Wait a minute, he's not doing this out of respect for the victims, and yet he seems to be glorifying a man, his father, who was a cold-blooded killer. What's up with that?

Assaf:Well, it's very contradictory, because when I spoke to him he said he was doing this because he was trying to promote peace and he was trying to prevent people from repeating the mistakes that his father repeated. I don't know how this idea went around the world, but in Colombia, I can tell you that public opinion hates the idea, the officials who denied the request said that it went against constitutional principles such as freedom, life, and all this stuff.

Werman:So, Sebastian Marroquin, why does he not use the Escobar name?

Assaf:Well, I think it would be kind of obvious. Because if he used his name... I mean, that man is hated. In Colombia, he would have been lynched.

Werman:Maria, you're originally from Colombia. How does this seem to you?

Assaf:Well, to me it's crazy. It's comparable to... I mean, we choose the title to put online to the article "Like a Brand Named Hitler". I'm not comparing him to Hitler by any means, but this is what the official who was in charge of making the decision, that's what he said. He said, "It's like you went to Germany and start a brand called Hitler." What I would compare it with, it's like you went to the United States and tried to sell T-shirts with the face of Osama Bin Laden. I mean, people would hate it. People hate it. Everyone's really offended. The vast majority of Colombians hate him, I mean, he's...

Werman:What do you think would happen if I put on one of these Pablo Escobar T-shirts and walked down the streets of Bogota, what kind of reaction do you think I'd get?

Assaf:I think people would throw paint on you.

Werman:Really?

Assaf:Yeah, or maybe they wouldn't go as far, but yeah, nobody would find it tasteful. Nobody would find it funny or interesting, or... it would just be a negative reaction. I'm sure.

Werman:Journalist Maria Assaf at the National Post in Toronto. Thanks so much for your time.

Assaf:Thank you.

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