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“The Most Alive Dead Man in Colombia” Open Access


Other title
Creating Distance and Deriving Meaning from a History of Drug-Related Violence
drug-related violence
Pablo Escobar
public memories
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Stephens, Laura M
Supervisor and department
Jaymie Patricia Heilman (History and Classics)
Examining committee member and department
Heilman, Jaymie P. (History and Classics)
Johnson, David (History and Classics)
Muir, James (History and Classics)
Department of History and Classics
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Arts
Degree level
This thesis considers the evolving role that public memories of Pablo Escobar have played in Colombian society since his death in 1993. By the mid 1990s, Escobar had become established in Colombia as the foremost emblem of the drug-related violence that ravaged the nation during the 80s and early 90s. Since then, overemphasizing the negative role that Escobar played in this violence has allowed Colombian commentators to explain and simplify the origins of drug-related violence in the nation, and distinguish this historical violence from contemporary Colombian realities. Through an examination of popular Colombian accounts of Escobar’s life, this thesis seeks to examine the ways that Colombians have publically made sense of memories of their traumatic past. One important way in which Colombians have explained this complex history is by exaggerating Escobar’s personal responsibility for drug-related violence in the country. In contemporary Colombian society Escobar is typically, and inaccurately, designated as the one true leader of the Medellín cartel, and as the most significant instigator of drug violence in the nation. A consequence of this process has been the need to moralize Escobar’s individual character in accounts of this history. Significantly, as Escobar’s perceived historical import has increased, this moralization has become increasingly reliant on depictions of Escobar’s class, gender identity, and sexuality, as these are important ways in which Colombians understand and identify morality and criminality. Popular accounts of drug-related violence in Colombia also rely heavily on certain widely understood social and cultural causes of this violence in order to explicate Escobar’s rise to power in Colombia. These causes include presumed cultures of violence, corruption, and poverty in the nation, as well as the role of imperialist US policy in provoking this violence. Presented as a means of explaining Escobar’s existence, these causes are used to simplify the reasons for drug-related violence in the country and distance the social and cultural factors held responsible for causing it from contemporary Colombian society.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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