Beyond "Narcos": Pablo Escobar, Colombia, and Narco-Tourism with Dr. Patrick Naef

Beyond "Narcos": Pablo Escobar, Colombia, and Narco-Tourism with Dr. Patrick Naef


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In this seminar, after describing Colombia’s narco-related past, we will examine the important changes the country has undergone in the last two decades. We will focus on Medellin, to discuss the impact the booming tourism industry has had on Colombia's second city.

Despite promising prospects for peace that emerged in 2016, Colombia is still one of the world’s main producers of cocaine and remains a key symbol of the narco-business. While the country has opened up to international tourism and foreign investment over the last decade, its image is still predominantly one of violence and drugs. Beyond this dark reality, recent cultural productions, such as Netflix's famous show "Narcos", have significantly contributed to reinforcing the portrayal of Colombia as a darkly exotic place.

We’ll begin by learning how Medellin was particularly affected by the war that began more than fifty years ago. It is still haunted by the memory of its infamous cartel and its boss, Pablo Escobar. In the last decade, narco-tours have been offered to tourists, including sites associated with Escobar's heritage. These include his grave or some of his former residences, one of which has been transformed into an informal museum by his brother, Roberto Escobar, who was the bookkeeper for the Medellin cartel.

We will also look at the way Medellin's violence has been integrated into the growing tourism sector in some of its popular neighborhoods. We’ll discuss the emerging street (and political) art in the Comuna 13, illegal armed groups integration into the tourism sector, and the growing drug market targeting foreign tourists. Hence, this seminar will demonstrate how tourism actors and street-artists paradoxically empowered the illegal armed groups they had started off by criticizing.

Led by Dr. Patrick Naef, an anthropologist conducting research on urban violence and collective memory, this interactive seminar will shed light on the conflicting representations of the past that a burgeoning tourism sector may generate in a country still struggling to build peace. Participants will come away with an increased understanding of the troubled relationship between tourism, drugs, and violence.

As a trained anthropologist, Patrick Naef is looking at collective memory and violence, the transformation of cities, and the critical approaches to ‘resilience’. He has explored these topics principally in Colombia, the United States, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia. Patrick Naef obtained a PhD at the University of Geneva in 2014 and conducted postdoctoral research at UC-Berkeley from 2014 to 2016. He is now a senior researcher at the University of Geneva.

Not suitable for children under age 13 (sensitive content).

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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