The cryptic life of Maria Victoria Henao, Pablo Escobar’s wife, has captivated the public for decades. From her humble beginnings to her marriage to one of the most notorious drug lords in history, her story is filled with hardship and resilience, and it’s one that continues well after his downfall and death.
Maria Victoria Henao meets the infamous Pablo Escobar
Maria Victoria Henao’s story began in a modest family setting, far from the world of organized crime. Growing up in a middle-class Colombian family, she found her passion in dancing. Outside of that, very little is known about her early life prior to her meeting Pablo Escobar at the tender age of 12 (some sources say 13).
At the time Henao met Escobar, he was 11 years her senior. Her older brother, Carlos, was working for the drug kingpin. The year was 1974 and he was unlike any man she’d ever met. In her memoir, My Life and My Prison With Pablo Escobar, the future wife-to-be wrote, “He made me feel like a fairy princess and I was convinced he was my Prince Charming.”
Becoming Pablo Escobar’s wife
Despite the dangerous world Pablo Escobar inhabited, Maria Victoria Henao fell deeply in love with the drug lord. Their romance, though unconventional, was filled with genuine affection and devotion. It was the latter’s first-ever romance and she had to learn to navigate not only it, but her future husband’s criminal lifestyle.
Among the hardships she had to endure early on was an unplanned pregnancy, which was dealt with in a back alley. Just one year later, Henao and Escobar wed, despite her family being against the nuptials. They weren’t the only ones to question the wedding, with the bishop also asking the 15-year-old if she was truly ready to become an older man’s wife.
Being married to Escobar came with its own set of challenges and privileges. Not long into their union, the drug lord cheated on Henao, taking on a number of mistresses over his life. While the family was relatively well off, Henao was forced to live under a strict set of rules, which meant she couldn’t question her husband, nor could she do or say anything against him.
Surprisingly, Escobar was said to be a very doting father who cared for his children, even though he was rarely home.
The Medellín Cartel becomes a criminal empire
Pablo Escobar’s criminal activities and his vast empire are infamous not only in Colombia, but across the world. Maria Victoria Henao witnessed firsthand the rise and fall of the Medellín Cartel, which went on to have far-reaching implications for both of them.
Henao may not have known the full extent of her husband’s drug network, but she was aware enough to know that her life would never be easy. She heard about the assassinations and was smart enough to not get involved or say anything, as it would become a case of self-incrimination.
It’s difficult to say if Henao would have left if she could. In her autobiography, she wrote that she “wasn’t able to leave him, not just because of love but also out of fear, powerlessness, and uncertainty.” There was also the protection he afforded her and the children, in terms of the people he knew.
Pablo Escobar goes out in a blaze of glory
The events leading up to Pablo Escobar’s downfall and death marked a turning point in his wife’s life. As the noose tightened around the drug kingpin, he attempted multiple escapes, leaving Maria Victoria Henao and the children in constant fear. One time, Escobar even asked her to take the kids to a safehouse under government watch, out of an understandable fear that his enemies would target them.
Things came to a head on December 2, 1993, when Escobar lost his life in a firefight with Colombia Special Forces, better known as the Search Bloc. The loss of the world’s biggest drug kingpin opened the field for his competitors to take over, which is exactly what happened, with the Cali Cartel becoming the dominant force until the mid-1990s.
Maria Victoria Henao has tried to move on with her life
Following Pablo Escobar’s death, Maria Victoria Henao faced the daunting task of rebuilding her life. Cut off from the wealth and power she and her children once enjoyed under her husband, she was forced to navigate the aftermath of one of the world’s most infamous criminal legacies.
While Henao tried to seek asylum in the likes of Germany and Mozambique, she found her applications denied, and she was made to seek a similar claim in Argentina, where she and her children changed their names. They managed to live in relative obscurity until 1999, when she and her son, Juan Pablo, were arrested for money laundering, a crime for which they were imprisoned. This was short-lived, however, as the charges were dropped over a lack of evidence.
Speaking with the media about her arrest, Henao, under the name Victoria Henao Vallejos, said she was being persecuted for who she was, not what she’d done. “I am a prisoner in Argentina for being Colombian,” she said. “They want to try the ghost of Pablo Escobar because they want to prove that Argentina is combatting drug trafficking.”
Pablo Escobar’s influence on pop culture
Maria Victoria Henaeo’s life and her role as Pablo Escobar’s wife have had a profound impact on the public’s perception of both her and the notorious drug lord. She’s since come out to apologize to the nation of Colombia for the terror caused by her former husband’s cartel, but was adamant that she had no involvement in it – she was simply married to its leader.
Given the scope of Escobar’s criminal organization, it’s no surprise that the media has opted to milk it for all it’s worth. His life has been the subject of several films and television shows, the most popular being Netflix’s Narcos (2015-17), starring Wagner Moura, Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook.