Much is known about the world-renown Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar. At odds with his illicit career, Escobar was a family man. He fell in love with Maria Victoria Henao when she was only 13 years old. Two years later, the two married. Escobar was 26. While much controversy, both past and present, surrounds this union, giving rise to the question of appropriateness, the couple remained happily married until the kingpin’s early death. The pair had a son named Juan Pablo and a daughter named Manuela. Despite Escobar’s many infidelities, Maria remained faithful to him and the family lived as happily as one surrounded by adultery and class A drugs could do.
Born in 1984, Manuela was only 9 years old when her father died.
Up until that point, she was his princess. Anything she wanted, daddy would get her – being worth over $59 billion tends to help. One story tells of her wanting a unicorn for Christmas and her father provided – a horse with a cone stapled to its head, wearing wings. The unfortunate creature did not last very long, allegedly having died due to an infection that came from its fantastical (and brutal) cranial accessory. The giraffe she wanted was a bit more humanely procured. During Escobar’s life, he procured his own private zoo. Along with the giraffe and questionable unicorn, Escobar also bought hippos and elephants for the family’s private collection. Manuela had a whole menagerie available to her, a child’s dream much more magical than a simply pony.
Another crazy legend that came out of a father’s love for his daughter takes place on the Medellin mountainside.
While once evading the police, the Escobar family was holed up in the kingpin’s elevated hideaway. Legend has it that Manuela suffered from hypothermia due to the cold and daddy lit $2 million on fire, burning the cash to keep her warm. Given Juan Pablo’s testaments to how much his father disregarded numbers when it came to money (the drug lord saying, when asked how much money he has, “I don’t know; I really don’t want to count it”), this legend could be believable to some.
Contrary to what many would see as an unsupportable pairing, Escobar managed to maintain his cartel supremacy along with being a family man. His son, decades after his death, speaks of two men: the violent drug lord known throughout the world and his father, a man who played Monopoly and bonded with his children.
Pablo Escobar was finally caught by police in a fatal shootout in December 1993. The grieving family was staying in Bogota at the same time of the famous singer Piero who, upon visiting the family with his condolences, took pity upon Maneula and invited her to sing in a children’s choir he arranged. Piero received vicious backlash to this plan, parents of the other children outraged at the thought of mixing with a nefarious mobster’s child. This would be a very slight incident compared to the prejudice the family would face in the wake of Escobar’s death.
His family feared for their lives, wary of revenge from other cartels wanting reparations and police from several countries wanting justice. With the two children, Maria fled from Columbia in 1994.
The family was not granted asylum by any country and moved several times. Seeking aid from the Pope, the Vatican itself turned the family down for any assistance. They travelled from Latin America to Africa and back again, trying to find a new, inconspicuous home in Mozambique, Brazil, Ecuador, South Africa, and Peru before settling in Argentina later that year where they lived in relative anonymity until 1999.
All three had changed their names to help hide their identities in an attempt to lead normal lives. Manuela chose Juana Manuela Marroquin Santos.
Manuela Escobar is still alive. It isn’t clear if she still goes by her now-revealed pseudonym of Juana and perhaps its for the best we don’t know – it shows her anonymity is working.
Throughout her adult life, Manuela has chosen to remain under the radar which is no surprise given the feelings of foe and fans alike of her famous father. She allegedly suffers from bouts of depression that leave her reliant on her brother and his wife, with whom she’s rumored to live.
At the time of his death, Escobar was estimated to be worth $30 billion (which today would inflate to $59 billion). It is unclear what became of that money, or how much the family actually had access to.
Their time living in exile in Argentina, though, hints at moderate living conditions. Maria worked as a real estate agent and Maneula (then under the name of Juana) rode the bus to school.
When Maria and Juan Pablo were brought in on charges of money laundering, teenage Juana lived virtually alone in their middle class apartment. Since reaching adulthood, Manuela’s brother has become an architect, documentarian, and author. Though earning a living in his own right, it seems unlikely that the siblings have the billions of dollars their father once amassed.
While she’s the only member of the immediate Escobar family who has never been charged with any crimes, she is undoubtably as severely affected by that family’s history as any of those who have been imprisoned, if not worse.
Having known at a young age of her father’s power, having lived through his death and then her mother’s and brother’s arrest, it’s no wonder she wants to disassociate with the Escobar name. It’s been 28 years since Pablo Escobar died and the fervor around his notoriety has hardly died out, leaving his family forever in the shadow of his misdeeds.