By Lizbeth Diaz
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Nearly two decades after Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar died in a hail of bullets, his eldest son is conquering new markets in Mexico - with a fashion line in his father's image.
Sebastian Marroquin's designer T-shirts, plastered with photos of Escobar, are hot sellers in Mexican states that are on the front lines of the country's deadly drug war.
The shirts are emblazoned with images of the Medellin cartel boss, who flooded the world with cocaine before he was shot dead in 1993. Featuring pictures from Escobar's student ID card, driver's license and other images, the shirts cost between $65 and $95 - a small fortune in a country where about half of the population lives in poverty.
"We're not trying to make an apology for drug trafficking, to glamorize it in the way that the media does," insists Marroquin, 39, who was born Juan Pablo Escobar Henao, but changed his name to avoid reprisals after his father's death.
In a bid to head off criticism that the line glorifies drug crime, the shirts carry messages to provoke reflection. One bearing Escobar's student card reads: "What's your future looking like?" while a design emblazoned with his driver's license warns: "Nice pace, but wrong way."
The cotton shirts, which went on sale last year in Mexico, are selling well in stores in Culiacan, the capital of western Sinaloa state, which is home of Mexico's most wanted trafficker, Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman.
The clothing is also on sale in Guadalajara in western Jalisco state, long a refuge for drug traffickers, which has been swept up in Mexico's raging drug violence. About 60,000 lives have been lost in the last six years.
Analysts warn that the increasingly popular 'Escobar Henao' clothing line simply reinforces an already widespread fascination with the symbols of cartel culture such as marijuana leaves and AK-47s among youngsters in Mexico.
"I see it as a strong symbolic product," said Vicente Sanchez, a researcher at Mexico's Colegio de la Frontera Norte. "The state ... has to have a better grasp of things directed at young people, as that's the way that these anti-values gain ground," he added.
But Marroquin, who has stores in Austria, Guatemala and the United States as well as Mexico, dismisses criticism, pointing to others who cashed in on his legacy. There are plenty of books on Escobar's exploits and even a Colombian television soap opera, "Pablo Escobar: The Boss of Evil" that aired this year.
"Those who set out to criticize me are the same who have profited from the story, life and name of Pablo Escobar," Marroquin told Reuters in an interview on Skype.
The 39-year-old has said he held off opening stores in Colombia out of respect for drug trafficking victims there.
Despite the success of the clothing line in Mexico and other markets, Marroquin insists that there has been an enduring downside to his father's legacy that has followed the family in the 19 years since his death.
"In 1994, we left Colombia ... but because of our surname, we couldn't get a passport anywhere in the world ... for the crime of having Escobar DNA," says Marroquin, who lives in Argentina. "We have lived liked criminals without being them."
(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Simon Gardner and Stacey Joyce)