- In Bed with a Narco:Pablo Escobar and Wilber Varela Through the Lens of Colombian "Trophy Women"
No aprenden. Sueñan con lujos peliculeros y terminan vendiendo su alma al diablo.("Las novias de la mafia" Mora)
Aside from occasional scandals in press involving beauty queens whose reputations were tarnished by their intimate relationship with drug-traffickers, there exist few first-person accounts that reveal what it is like to be a Colombian narco's "trophy woman." Therefore, Virginia Vallejo's 2007 Amando a Pablo, odiando a Escobar and Yovanna Guzmán's 2011 La bella y el narco, ghost-written by Javier León Herrera, are worthy of note in that they bring to light an intimate aspect of the drug trafficking world, one which has been cloaked in silence and shame. Trading in "popular" mythology as opposed to "official" history, the subject matter of these real-life biographies, much like the matter of tabloids as defined by John Fiske, is one "produced at the intersection between public and private life," where "its modality fluidity denies any stylistic difference between fiction and documentary, between news and entertainment" (48). Indeed, there are more characteristics that narco women's memoirs and tabloids have in common: from a resistance to critical distance or a heightened emotionality to voyeurism, a loss of control, and the ubiquity of victimization (Glynn 7). Thus at first glance, this maudlin approach may appear frivolous with its combination of catchy melodrama and half-told truths, laced with frequent manifestations of vanity.
But students of culture, understood in the wider sense, increasingly accept that these broader, more inclusive and not necessarily literary contexts reveal "the lived life, at once raw and subtle, coarse and complex … progressively refined out of the most sophisticated literary studies" (Greenblatt 35). With the drug lords in question [End Page 155] dead, and their few surviving cronies circling their wagons, Virginia and Yovanna, the protagonists and the narrators of their own ill-fated romances, humanize Pablo Escobar and Wilber Varela respectively.1 They present them as private men of flesh and blood through the sentimental discourse of a love affair, turning the intimate into a consumable merchandise, with their glamorous bodies as a point of dialogue between public presence and private pleasures. Using the melodramatic mode, the populist form by definition and "the mold upon which the consciousness of Latin America is imprinted" (Monsiváis, qtd. in Félix-Didier and Levison 54) allows them to seek emotional solidarity with their (predominantly female) readers who have been raised on the form's rich and complex range, particularly in the Hispanic world.
The two women are quite different: Virginia Vallejo was born into the sociopolitical aristocracy; she spoke a number of languages, and built her career in the media as a news anchor and the co-host of various shows, including beauty pageants. Erudite and at ease with the camera, she could talk with the same authority about politics and fashion. Her face and body were an object of veneration in Colombia in the early 1980s, and Vallejo's image adorned countless magazine covers and TV commercials. She was a cosmopolitan socialite at home and in destinations around the world, and thus she presents her liaison with Pablo Escobar as a step down in her career. On the other hand, Yovanna Guzmán was not a celebrity until she made public her relationship with Varela. Originally, her good looks took her out of her modest home in Tolima in pursuit of modeling contracts. Catching Wilber Varela's eye meant securing the financial means to advance in the modeling industry and to win beauty pageants. Whereas Virginia met Escobar when he was an up-and-coming public persona whose good deeds of constructing housing for the poor were being praised by the Colombian press, Yovanna claims to have no idea of Wilber Varela's true profession for a long time. Meaning, neither one admits to knowingly becoming involved with a feared narco.
This is where their memoirs converge along similar paths, in that they dispel their culpability for sleeping with the public enemy and reveal an awareness of the precariousness of their position...