Rapper Wiz Khalifa arrived in the Colombian city of Medellin last week to perform and then took a side trip to the grave of Pablo Escobar, Colombia’s most notorious drug lord, posting a photo of flowers and a joint next to the tombstone.
Commenters on the photo expressed anger that Khalifa’s post and another he posted in front of an apartment building where Escobar lived the glorified life of a drug kingpin, whose cartel was the top supplier of cocaine to the US in the 1980s.
“Imagine being a direct victim of Pablo Escobar and a famous person comes to show his respects to the person who hurt you more than anyone in the world?” wrote one commenter. Another likened it to visiting the grave of Osama bin Laden.
Some 4,000 murders have been attributed to Escobar and his Medellin drug cartel during his reign.
“He should offer an apology to this city,” Medellin’s mayor, Federico Gutiérrez, told reporters. Gutiérrez called Khalifa a “scoundrel” and said he should have instead brought flowers to the victims of the violence that Medellin had suffered because of Escobar.
Others defended Khalifa’s freedom of speech and said there were other ways Escobar’s memory was glorified, pointing to the Netflix series Narcos about Escobar’s career as a vicious cocaine chief.
Colombia has worked hard to improve its unsavory reputation as a cocaine supplier and the site of a more than five-decade civil war that only really ended last year. In 2007, it ran a tourism campaign with the slogan “The only risk is wanting to stay” to attract travelers.
It has worked. Relative stability has made Colombia popular among foreign visitors. But Medellin still has a tricky relationship with Escobar’s ghost.
Tour operators are still happy to tell the tale of Escobar. Many have done a brisk business taking tourists on Pablo Escobar-themed tours, which include a trip to his grave. For some, Escobar is more saint than devil: the man who built some of Medellin’s poorest residents houses in exchange for their loyalty. Some tours include a stop to a neighborhood called Barrio Pablo Escobar, where some supporters remain.
Escobar’s ranch outside of Medellin was converted into a theme park.
In any case, Khalifa, who was just a small child when Escobar was killed, is hardly the first rapper to pay tribute to the fallen drug lord. Gucci Mane in 2013 sang “Pablo” that also salutes Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Kanye West called his last album The Life of Pablo and asked “Which one?” on the cover.