Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Food for Thought: Soccer, Drugs, and Society

Last night, I saw "30 for 30: The Tale of Two Escobars" and it may have been the most intriguing and captivating program I've seen in a long time. It was deep and had many layers to it. In light of the World Cup being the biggest topic in the world right now, I figured I needed to share with the world. That message is how a beloved drug lord and his love for soccer held a country together and how his demise and that of the soccer team allowed the country to fall into all out anarchy. Pablo Escobar (pictured), one of the baddest men to ever walk the Earth, became a Robin Hood figure and champion to the poor in his country. Unlike American druglords who give back to the community, he was not killing his own people as most of his business took place in the US and abroad; he controlled 80% of the world's drug trade at one point. Despite him being a druglord named the 7th richest man in the world by Forbes (valued over $25 billion), he built up low-income housing, hospitals, schools, churches, and most applicably, a world class soccer facility and team. Soccer was his love and he built their team into the 4th-ranked in the world, the South American champion (yeah, they beat powerhouses Brazil and Argentina by a combined 8-0) and a World Cup qualifier for the first time in a generation; the hopes of the country rode on the shoulders of Pablo's national soccer team and their also beloved captain Andres Escobar (pictured below, no relation). Pablo became above the law, he got extradition illegalized, got elected to public office, and more until regular enforcement couldn't do anything. After the national team qualified and started preparing for the 1994 World Cup in the USA, Pablo's enemies took matters into their own hands. They formed the PEPEs (translated to "People Prosecuted by Pablo Escobar"), basically when Pablo was on the run his opposing cartel went to everyone who worked for him and said "We want Pablo dead. Either join in and work for us, or die." After they blew up a few target buildings and started a few small riots, people started laying down instead of fighting the PEPEs. They decided they were gonna terrorize the whole country until they got him. Well, the Columbian National Police, in the pocket of the PEPEs, finally found and killed Pablo when some of his closest allies turned against him. However, the society fell into a state of pure anarchy, widespread violence everywhere. Without the Big Boss, everybody wanted to be their own boss and they didn't have rules like he did. Pablo at his height had so much pull that anyone who wanted to do something illegal had to ask his permission or pay the consequences, he strictly forbid kidnapping or killing of people who weren't involved in the criminal underworld. With him gone, random people were being killed and kidnapped all over the place, including the families and friends of the National soccer team. So this society, which had so much hope riding on the soccer team sabotaged their tournament as their minds were on everything back home and nowhere near soccer. One of the tournament favorites, they lost 2 games and didn't make it out of the first round. Andres Escobar, one of the best and most respected players, had an own goal again the US in rout to a loss. Upon returning to Colombia, Andres was heckled by PEPE underlings about the own goal in a bar and eventually murdered in the parking lot after the verbal dispute continued. The overall state of the violence in society and its effect on the players' families coupled the murder of Andres effectively tore the soccer team apart. Players vowed to only play over in Europe, others quit the sport entirely. Colombia deteriorated in every aspect afterwards and was in shambles for the next few years. As much blame as Pablo gets for Colombia's violent culture of this time period, his wrath was calculated and involved only those involved in the underworld. With him gone and the soccer team losing, it spread to everyone. There were over 7000 murders in one year (compare that with Chicago's one year high of 943 in 1992, highest in the US in decades), many were regular citizens and over 600 were cops. How telling is it that Pablo's firm criminal order, his overwhelming generosity to the poor, and the success of the National Team he built kept his community together at the time where it was a potential powder keg? And by taking Pablo out, they sabotaged Andres's soccer team and threw the country into a tail spin. Food for Thought...