New book coming 2018...


My next project is tentatively called Make Colombia Safe Again: What One Country's Effort To Change Its Brand Tells Us About The Future Of The United States.

The book is about national reputations--how they form, how they can and cannot change, and why they matter. In it, I discuss government propaganda, compare Pablo Escobar to Donald Trump, and explore a seldom visited "wonder of the world."

The book will be published sometime in 2018. Here are a few excerpts:



When Forbes magazine released its first billionaire’s issue in 1987, Pablo Escobar, the most famous Colombian of all time, was said to be worth at least $3 billion. This was an estimate. The truth is, nobody knows how much money Escobar had. Even Pablo’s brother Roberto, who served as the drug lord’s accountant, says that it’s impossible to know how much was coming in every year from their lucrative cocaine business. In his memoir, Roberto describes the family’s wealth through anecdotes, such as his recollection that he would “spend as much as $2,500 monthly on rubber bands to hold the money together.”

It was the kind of wealth that made dreams come true. And nowhere were those dreams more tangible than at Escobar’s playground, Hacienda Nápoles, a secluded seven thousand acre estate a hundred miles east of Medellín. Many accounts paint Nápoles as a place of virile excess, where Escobar and his companions would play “erotic games” such as having women race naked toward an expensive car. But others portray life at Nápoles as more restrained, a bucolic retreat where friends and family would gather to have meals and where Pablo would stand up and recite poems during dinner. What’s undeniable is that Nápoles, as Roberto explained, “was a place unlike any that had ever been built in Colombia.” It had manmade lakes, a bullring, a helipad, an airstrip, several residences, and a collection of exotic animals. No desire went unfilled. When Escobar’s children pleaded with their dad for some dinosaurs, Escobar did the best he could, commissioning a sculptor to build life-size statues scattered around the grounds.

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While browsing through the surprisingly robust websites of Colombia’s national parks, I came across the following paragraph:

Around the year 1800, in front of the impressive torrent that the indigenous people of the region called Quintana, astonished by amazement, the wise Alexander Von Humboldt, characterized as the “Eight [sic] Wonder of the World” what is known today as the Maypures Torrent, one of the main attractions of the protected area.

The passage refers to a set of rapids on the Orinoco River located far out in the llanos, a vast stretch of plains spanning eastern Colombia and western Venezuela. It’s a region so remote, according to one writer, that it’s viewed “almost as an alien land” by many Colombians. Nobody goes to the llanos; there’s little to do and minimal infrastructure. The same can be said of Tuparro National Park, a protected area the size of Delaware framed on the east by the Orinoco and the home of the so-called “eighth wonder of the world.” Before stumbling across the park’s website, I had never heard of these rapids. And I wasn’t alone. Not a single Colombian I spoke with knew what Tuparro was like. Most had no idea this “wonder” even existed.