Pablo Escobar’s Old Estate Is Now a Weird, Jurassic Park-Themed Zoo

When Colombian National Police finally put a bullet through Pablo Escobar’s head in December 1993, he was running what was probably the most successful cocaine cartel of all time, worth some $25 billion. You can do pretty much anything you want with that kind of money, and Escobar did, building houses for the poor, getting himself elected to Colombia’s Congress, and running much of the northeastern city of Medellín as his own personal fiefdom.

In 1978 he bought up a vast tract of land outside the city and started building Hacienda Nápoles, the sort of sprawling complex that you’d expect the world’s richest drug dealer to inhabit, complete with its own array of wild animals. When he died, the land was ignored for a decade and fell into disrepair. The house was looted by locals who were convinced he’d stashed money or drugs in the walls, and the hippos turned feral.

Eventually, some bright spark hit upon the idea of reopening the estate as an adventure park. They kept the name, gave it a Jurassic Park-style makeover and reopened it to the public, creating the ultimate family-friendly tourist destination: a still pretty run-down complex with some dinosaur figurines, some hippos, and the enduring, unavoidable legacy of a man whose cartel were responsible for anywhere between 3,000 to 60,000 deaths.

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Colombian Trade Unionists Keep Getting Assassinated 
On the afternoon of Sunday, August 25, Huber Ballesteros was snatched by police and arrested as he ate his lunch in the Colombian capital of Bogota. Two days later he was charged with “rebellion” and “financing terrorism” at the Attorney General’s office, and denied bail. At the moment, he’s languishing in Colombia’s notoriously squalid prison, La Picota, without a trial date.
Ballesteros is one of Colombia’s most prominent social justice activists and a key personality in the country’s newest grassroots peacebuilding movement, the Patriotic March. Two weeks prior to his arrest he had helped organize nationwide strikes against the appropriation of rural peasants’ land by multinational corporations, but the Attorney General has strenuously denied the two had anything to do with each other.
Ballesteros is currently housed in a maximum-security wing, which means he’s cut off from daylight. He’s supposed to share his cell with just three other men, but if new prisoners turn up they just get packed in, with many ending up sleeping on the floor. Food rations are also dwindling—not that it makes a great deal of difference to Huber; he’s diabetic and the prison won’t cater to his diet. And the constant, pervasive smell of rotting meat does little to stimulate appetites, anyway.
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Colombian Trade Unionists Keep Getting Assassinated 

On the afternoon of Sunday, August 25, Huber Ballesteros was snatched by police and arrested as he ate his lunch in the Colombian capital of Bogota. Two days later he was charged with “rebellion” and “financing terrorism” at the Attorney General’s office, and denied bail. At the moment, he’s languishing in Colombia’s notoriously squalid prison, La Picota, without a trial date.

Ballesteros is one of Colombia’s most prominent social justice activists and a key personality in the country’s newest grassroots peacebuilding movement, the Patriotic March. Two weeks prior to his arrest he had helped organize nationwide strikes against the appropriation of rural peasants’ land by multinational corporations, but the Attorney General has strenuously denied the two had anything to do with each other.

Ballesteros is currently housed in a maximum-security wing, which means he’s cut off from daylight. He’s supposed to share his cell with just three other men, but if new prisoners turn up they just get packed in, with many ending up sleeping on the floor. Food rations are also dwindling—not that it makes a great deal of difference to Huber; he’s diabetic and the prison won’t cater to his diet. And the constant, pervasive smell of rotting meat does little to stimulate appetites, anyway.

Continue

I Was Kidnapped by a Colombian Guerilla Army
Journalists go deep. Sometimes they go so deep into a story they lose track of where the story ends and their private life begins. Correspondent Confidential is a series of illustrated documentary shorts narrated by award-winning journalists. Newspaper reporters, documentary filmmakers, radio producers, and journalists tell personal stories about the harrowing—and hilarious—experiences they’ve had on the job while reporting on some of the world’s most high-profile issues and events.
Reporter T. Christian Miller was based in Colombia during the height of the US government’s war on drugs. As the US began to pour money into fighting the cocaine trade in Colombia, it inevitably spilled over into fighting the rebel groups that controlled—and “taxed”—the areas where coca plants were grown. When Miller went into the jungle to report on a government helicopter that was shot down during a mission to spray coca plants, he and his assistant were kidnapped by the FARC, a left-wing guerrilla army.
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I Was Kidnapped by a Colombian Guerilla Army

Journalists go deep. Sometimes they go so deep into a story they lose track of where the story ends and their private life begins. Correspondent Confidential is a series of illustrated documentary shorts narrated by award-winning journalists. Newspaper reporters, documentary filmmakers, radio producers, and journalists tell personal stories about the harrowing—and hilarious—experiences they’ve had on the job while reporting on some of the world’s most high-profile issues and events.

Reporter T. Christian Miller was based in Colombia during the height of the US government’s war on drugs. As the US began to pour money into fighting the cocaine trade in Colombia, it inevitably spilled over into fighting the rebel groups that controlled—and “taxed”—the areas where coca plants were grown. When Miller went into the jungle to report on a government helicopter that was shot down during a mission to spray coca plants, he and his assistant were kidnapped by the FARC, a left-wing guerrilla army.

Watch

The Families of Colombia’s ‘False Positive’ Victims Are Still Fighting for Justice
I arrived in Soacha, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Bogota, on an overcast July afternoon. We had driven away from the city center and the building that dominates its skyline—a huge structure covered in LED lights that slowly change color; a gaudy beacon for Colombia’s wealthy elite—and had pulled up on a residential side street.   
I was there with the NGO Justice for Colombia to hear about the country’s ‘false positives' scandal, which first broke five years ago and shows no sign of relenting any time soon. The scandal has its roots in the Colombian 50-year civil war between the government and the left-wing peasant insurgent group FARC. In the early 2000s, then-president Alvaro Uribe, out of an apparent concern for the army’s reputation, started putting pressure on soldiers to increase their kill figures.
According to media reports, soldiers were promised cash payments and more vacation time if they produced the bodies of dead FARC guerrillas—an accusation the government denies. In an effort to increase their quotas, soldiers allegedly started luring young, impoverished men away from their homes with the offer of work. Once away from their families, the soldiers executed the men, dressed them up in guerrilla uniforms, and presented them as combat kills. Many victims were dismembered and buried hundreds of miles away from their families.
The National Victims Movement protests against the state’s “false positive” scandal. (Photo courtesy of Justice for Colombia)
When the scandal broke, the Colombian government insisted false positives were isolated incidents. By 2012, however, nearly 3,000 murders were recorded and, in 2007—the worst year for this type of killing—one in every five combat kills recorded was a false positive. In Soacha, 19 mothers lost their sons in the false positives scandal, and so far only one of them has seen the killers convicted, but his conviction was appealed and the main defendant, an army major, became a fugitive.
After parking up among the ownerless dogs and football-playing boys that seem ubiquitous in Bogota’s suburbs, I was led up some steps to a little house set back from the street. Waiting for me were three women, smartly dressed, warm and hospitable. They shook my hand and sat me down. As I waited for the rest of my group to file in, I noticed school pictures on the wall of young boys in suits—the dead sons of the women I’d just met.
Continue

The Families of Colombia’s ‘False Positive’ Victims Are Still Fighting for Justice

I arrived in Soacha, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Bogota, on an overcast July afternoon. We had driven away from the city center and the building that dominates its skyline—a huge structure covered in LED lights that slowly change color; a gaudy beacon for Colombia’s wealthy elite—and had pulled up on a residential side street.   

I was there with the NGO Justice for Colombia to hear about the country’s ‘false positives' scandal, which first broke five years ago and shows no sign of relenting any time soon. The scandal has its roots in the Colombian 50-year civil war between the government and the left-wing peasant insurgent group FARC. In the early 2000s, then-president Alvaro Uribe, out of an apparent concern for the army’s reputation, started putting pressure on soldiers to increase their kill figures.

According to media reports, soldiers were promised cash payments and more vacation time if they produced the bodies of dead FARC guerrillas—an accusation the government denies. In an effort to increase their quotas, soldiers allegedly started luring young, impoverished men away from their homes with the offer of work. Once away from their families, the soldiers executed the men, dressed them up in guerrilla uniforms, and presented them as combat kills. Many victims were dismembered and buried hundreds of miles away from their families.


The National Victims Movement protests against the state’s “false positive” scandal. (Photo courtesy of Justice for Colombia)

When the scandal broke, the Colombian government insisted false positives were isolated incidents. By 2012, however, nearly 3,000 murders were recorded and, in 2007—the worst year for this type of killing—one in every five combat kills recorded was a false positive. In Soacha, 19 mothers lost their sons in the false positives scandal, and so far only one of them has seen the killers convicted, but his conviction was appealed and the main defendant, an army major, became a fugitive.

After parking up among the ownerless dogs and football-playing boys that seem ubiquitous in Bogota’s suburbs, I was led up some steps to a little house set back from the street. Waiting for me were three women, smartly dressed, warm and hospitable. They shook my hand and sat me down. As I waited for the rest of my group to file in, I noticed school pictures on the wall of young boys in suits—the dead sons of the women I’d just met.

Continue

Metal Church 
On a busy side street an hour from the center of Bogotá, Colombia, the Communidad Pantokrator meets every Saturday to rock out in the name Jesus Christ.We spent an enthralling evening in Pantakrator’s mosh pit of raw emotion and got a glimpse of how some cast-off rockers have found community and resurrection in the crashing cymbals and sweet arpeggios of Christian metal.
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Metal Church 

On a busy side street an hour from the center of Bogotá, Colombia, the Communidad Pantokrator meets every Saturday to rock out in the name Jesus Christ.

We spent an enthralling evening in Pantakrator’s mosh pit of raw emotion and got a glimpse of how some cast-off rockers have found community and resurrection in the crashing cymbals and sweet arpeggios of Christian metal.

Watch

Peasant Farms in Colombia Are Being Killed for Their Land
On a hot, dusty morning in July, I found myself rattling down a road in the beautiful Colombian countryside. I was there as part of a delegation with the international NGO Justice for Colombia, crashing through virtually unusable roads, over gaping potholes, and dangerously rusted bridges—testament to the government’s unwillingness to invest in its countryside regions, which are inhabited mostly by peasants.
At about 7 AM the bus stopped and we disembarked, unaware of what lay ahead. Waiting for us were at least 60 campesinos—the Spanish word for peasant farmers—lining either side of the road. They were standing upright, left hands aloft, right hands behind their backs, shouting demands for justice in a single, unified voice. We walked up the road in the morning sunlight, pausing occasionally to shake their hands and echo their cries of “Viva!”
This is the region of Catatumbo, and the campesinos are its poorest residents. At the moment, Catatumbo is at the frontline of Colombia’s civil war—a war that hasn’t abated, no matter what the country’s tourist board might tell you.
A few weeks before our arrival, security forces turned up and opened fire on a campesinos protest,killing four and wounding 50. The type of bullets the authorities use mean that limbs often explode and have to be amputated. The Colombian government is currently promising an investigation into human rights abuses in Catatumbo, but state repression has yet to deter the region’s residents—they are genuinely the hardest people I’ve ever met. Despite the threat of security forces returning to rob them of life and limb, during our visit thousands of campesinos were blockading the road to the region’s capital, taking turns to make sure that no vehicle could get through.
Continue

Peasant Farms in Colombia Are Being Killed for Their Land

On a hot, dusty morning in July, I found myself rattling down a road in the beautiful Colombian countryside. I was there as part of a delegation with the international NGO Justice for Colombia, crashing through virtually unusable roads, over gaping potholes, and dangerously rusted bridges—testament to the government’s unwillingness to invest in its countryside regions, which are inhabited mostly by peasants.

At about 7 AM the bus stopped and we disembarked, unaware of what lay ahead. Waiting for us were at least 60 campesinos—the Spanish word for peasant farmers—lining either side of the road. They were standing upright, left hands aloft, right hands behind their backs, shouting demands for justice in a single, unified voice. We walked up the road in the morning sunlight, pausing occasionally to shake their hands and echo their cries of “Viva!”

This is the region of Catatumbo, and the campesinos are its poorest residents. At the moment, Catatumbo is at the frontline of Colombia’s civil war—a war that hasn’t abated, no matter what the country’s tourist board might tell you.

A few weeks before our arrival, security forces turned up and opened fire on a campesinos protest,killing four and wounding 50. The type of bullets the authorities use mean that limbs often explode and have to be amputated. The Colombian government is currently promising an investigation into human rights abuses in Catatumbo, but state repression has yet to deter the region’s residents—they are genuinely the hardest people I’ve ever met. Despite the threat of security forces returning to rob them of life and limb, during our visit thousands of campesinos were blockading the road to the region’s capital, taking turns to make sure that no vehicle could get through.

Continue

It’s Good to Be the King – Arjan Roskam’s Cannabis Empire Is More Than Smoke & Mirrors
One afternoon this May, Arjan Roskam lounged on the deck of a 24-foot sport-fishing boat. He was speeding through a deep bay off the Caribbean coast of northwestern Colombia, keeping an eye on a line he’d cast a few minutes before. Arjan is 48 years old, well over six feet tall, and clean-shaven. He has the rough-hewn mien of a Dutchman, and possesses a piercing baritone that cuts through chatter like an oboe. He looks and sounds like a leader, one of those rare souls who was able to fulfill his destiny without compromising. He is the most recognizable and controversial figure in the business of marijuana, the self-styled and self-described “King of Cannabis.” 
I was traveling with Arjan through the mountains and jungles of Colombia, along with a crew of international pot growers he calls the “Strain Hunters.” We were searching for three exceptional but elusive varieties of marijuana that have remained genetically pure for decades. They have lyrical, almost mythic names that roll off the tongue: Limon Verde, Colombian Gold,  and  Punta Roja. The day before our jungle excursion, we’d found specimens of the latter two strains in a nearby marijuana grove maintained by paramilitary groups and local farmers. Arjan was elated. He had acquired the first two of the 200 or so landraces—strains of marijuana that have naturally developed in far-flung regions around the world—and he was hell-bent on getting them all.
Arjan and his breeders will grow thousands of plants from these landrace seeds, pick the strongest ones, and breed new commercial strains based on their exotic genetics. This is the first step in a long, intricate process that makes it possible for a local deliveryman to show up at your house with a backpack bouquet filled with varieties like Alaskan Ice, Bubba Kush, and White Widow. If you’ve ever been cornered by a bleary-eyed pot nerd at a party, you know that the reason we’re not all still smoking Thai stick and twiggy, seed-filled weed is because of the thousands of commercial breeders around the world mixing, cross-breeding, experimenting, and developing new flavors, effects, and qualities—all from what is essentially a common mountainside plant. 
Continue

It’s Good to Be the King – Arjan Roskam’s Cannabis Empire Is More Than Smoke & Mirrors

One afternoon this May, Arjan Roskam lounged on the deck of a 24-foot sport-fishing boat. He was speeding through a deep bay off the Caribbean coast of northwestern Colombia, keeping an eye on a line he’d cast a few minutes before. Arjan is 48 years old, well over six feet tall, and clean-shaven. He has the rough-hewn mien of a Dutchman, and possesses a piercing baritone that cuts through chatter like an oboe. He looks and sounds like a leader, one of those rare souls who was able to fulfill his destiny without compromising. He is the most recognizable and controversial figure in the business of marijuana, the self-styled and self-described “King of Cannabis.” 

I was traveling with Arjan through the mountains and jungles of Colombia, along with a crew of international pot growers he calls the “Strain Hunters.” We were searching for three exceptional but elusive varieties of marijuana that have remained genetically pure for decades. They have lyrical, almost mythic names that roll off the tongue: Limon Verde, Colombian Gold,  and  Punta Roja. The day before our jungle excursion, we’d found specimens of the latter two strains in a nearby marijuana grove maintained by paramilitary groups and local farmers. Arjan was elated. He had acquired the first two of the 200 or so landraces—strains of marijuana that have naturally developed in far-flung regions around the world—and he was hell-bent on getting them all.

Arjan and his breeders will grow thousands of plants from these landrace seeds, pick the strongest ones, and breed new commercial strains based on their exotic genetics. This is the first step in a long, intricate process that makes it possible for a local deliveryman to show up at your house with a backpack bouquet filled with varieties like Alaskan Ice, Bubba Kush, and White Widow. If you’ve ever been cornered by a bleary-eyed pot nerd at a party, you know that the reason we’re not all still smoking Thai stick and twiggy, seed-filled weed is because of the thousands of commercial breeders around the world mixing, cross-breeding, experimenting, and developing new flavors, effects, and qualities—all from what is essentially a common mountainside plant. 

Continue

Weediquette: Kings of Cannabis 
You might not know who Arjan Roskam is, but you’ve probably smoked his weed. Arjan’s been breeding some of the most famous marijuana strains in the world—like White Widow, Super Silver Haze, and many others—for over 20 years.In 1992 he opened his first coffee shop in Amsterdam and has since crafted his marijuana-breeding skills into a market-savvy empire known as Green House Seed Company, which rakes in millions of dollars a year.He’s won 38 Cannabis Cups, and has even dubbed himself the King of Cannabis.VICE joins Arjan and his crew of strain hunters in Colombia to look for three of the country’s rarest types of weed, strains that have remained genetically pure for decades. In grower’s terms, these are called “landraces.” We trudge up mountains and crisscross military checkpoints in the country’s still-violent south, and then head north to the breathtaking Caribbean coast. As the dominoes of criminalization fall throughout the world, Arjan is positioned to be at the forefront of the legitimate international seed trade.
Watch the video

Weediquette: Kings of Cannabis 

You might not know who Arjan Roskam is, but you’ve probably smoked his weed. Arjan’s been breeding some of the most famous marijuana strains in the world—like White Widow, Super Silver Haze, and many others—for over 20 years.

In 1992 he opened his first coffee shop in Amsterdam and has since crafted his marijuana-breeding skills into a market-savvy empire known as Green House Seed Company, which rakes in millions of dollars a year.

He’s won 38 Cannabis Cups, and has even dubbed himself the King of Cannabis.

VICE joins Arjan and his crew of strain hunters in Colombia to look for three of the country’s rarest types of weed, strains that have remained genetically pure for decades. In grower’s terms, these are called “landraces.” We trudge up mountains and crisscross military checkpoints in the country’s still-violent south, and then head north to the breathtaking Caribbean coast. As the dominoes of criminalization fall throughout the world, Arjan is positioned to be at the forefront of the legitimate international seed trade.

Watch the video

You might not know who Arjan Roskam is, but you’ve probably smoked his weed. Arjan’s been breeding some of the most famous marijuana strains in the world—like White Widow, Super Silver Haze, and many others—for over 20 years.In 1992 he opened his first coffee shop in Amsterdam and has since crafted his marijuana-breeding skills into a market-savvy empire known as Green House Seed Company, which rakes in millions of dollars a year.He’s won 38 Cannabis Cups, and has even dubbed himself the King of Cannabis.VICE joins Arjan and his crew of strain hunters in Colombia to look for three of the country’s rarest types of weed, strains that have remained genetically pure for decades. In grower’s terms, these are called “landraces.” We trudge up mountains and crisscross military checkpoints in the country’s still-violent south, and then head north to the breathtaking Caribbean coast. As the dominoes of criminalization fall throughout the world, Arjan is positioned to be at the forefront of the legitimate international seed trade.Check back Monday, July 29, for part one of Kings of Cannabis.
Watch the trailer

You might not know who Arjan Roskam is, but you’ve probably smoked his weed. Arjan’s been breeding some of the most famous marijuana strains in the world—like White Widow, Super Silver Haze, and many others—for over 20 years.

In 1992 he opened his first coffee shop in Amsterdam and has since crafted his marijuana-breeding skills into a market-savvy empire known as Green House Seed Company, which rakes in millions of dollars a year.

He’s won 38 Cannabis Cups, and has even dubbed himself the King of Cannabis.

VICE joins Arjan and his crew of strain hunters in Colombia to look for three of the country’s rarest types of weed, strains that have remained genetically pure for decades. In grower’s terms, these are called “landraces.” We trudge up mountains and crisscross military checkpoints in the country’s still-violent south, and then head north to the breathtaking Caribbean coast. As the dominoes of criminalization fall throughout the world, Arjan is positioned to be at the forefront of the legitimate international seed trade.

Check back Monday, July 29, for part one of Kings of Cannabis.

Watch the trailer

Colombia’s Hidden Killers, Part 2: Watch our documentary about Colombia’s land mines, which have killed or injured 10,000 people since 1990.

Colombia’s Hidden Killers, Part 2: Watch our documentary about Colombia’s land mines, which have killed or injured 10,000 people since 1990.

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