Pablo Escobar showed me 'the path not to take', son says

Bogota (AFP) - Juan Pablo Escobar Henao was just nine years old when he got his first lesson in drugs from his father, the infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

His dad told him he had tried every drug there was except heroin, and urged his young son never to use them -- or to follow in his footsteps.

"My father's not a person to be imitated. He showed us the path we must never take as a society because it's the path to self-destruction, the loss of values and a place where life ceases to have importance," the late kingpin's son told AFP in an interview for the launch of his book "Pablo Escobar: My Father."

Famous for his ruthless ambition, Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellin Cartel, amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune trafficking cocaine in the 1980s, then launched a bloody war against the Colombian government to avoid extradition to the United States.

Now 37, Escobar Henao decided to tell that story from his own perspective.

"I had the strange privilege of being Pablo Escobar's son. To me he was a great father. I have thousands of letters he wrote me giving me advice... encouraging me to get an education, be a good person, stay away from drugs," he said.

But even these stories of fatherly protectiveness contain threads of Escobar's trademark violence.

"My father even threatened to kill his employees if they so much as smoked a joint in front of me," he said.

Escobar Henao does not gloss over who his father was: a kidnapper, terrorist and killer, he acknowledged.

"I can't hide my head in the sand," he said.

Escobar Henao fled to Argentina with his mother and sister after his father's gory death in 1993, adopting the alias Sebastian Marroquin and eventually studying architecture.

He said he was proud he had avoided becoming "a deadlier version" of his father.

"I could have become Pablo Escobar 2.0, but I became an architect, a designer, a lecturer and now a writer," he said.

"I've had thousands of chances to get into illicit business. But I always said no to them because I learned my lesson about drug trafficking... a very good, very lucrative business that ends in destruction."

- Suicide and betrayal -

Escobar, once the world's seventh-richest man, has inspired books, films, soap operas and even a cartoon series. But his son says this is the first time his true story has been told.

Escobar Henao maintains his father was not killed by police in a rooftop gunfight in Medellin, as Colombian authorities claim, but rather committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

"I have no doubt" he planned his death, Escobar Henao said -- though he added he was publishing his version of the story because he had evidence to support it, not to show his father as "a hero or martyr."

In another claim likely to stoke controversy, Escobar Henao writes that authorities in Washington offered his family US residence if they would testify -- falsely, he says -- that jailed Peruvian ex-president Alberto Fujimori, the towering figure who kept an iron grip on Peru in the 1990s, was linked to his father.

"We decided we'd rather die with our dignity intact than get caught up in a criminal plot against a government that as far as we knew had no relation whatsoever with my father," he said.

His book also delves into Escobar's betrayal by his own family, including his brother Roberto, who became an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

As for his father's fortune, once estimated at $30 billion, he said nothing was left.

Escobar's enemies -- "including people who had once been his friends" -- claimed it as plunder after his death, he said.

But "I'm grateful that happened," he added. "We started over again."

Escobar Henao -- who asked forgiveness from the victims of his father's cartel in the 2009 documentary "Sins of my Father" -- said part of the proceeds from his book would be given to Colombian charity projects.

"It's not about trying to wash away guilt, but contributing to the well-being of the country from whatever place I can," he said.