As Colombia attacks Medellin cartel, others take control of cocaine trade

April 04, 1991|By Ana Arana | Ana Arana,Special to The Sun

BOGOTA, COLUMBIA — BOGOTA, Colombia -- As Colombia makes progress in beating down the powerful Medellin drug cartel, other traffickers increasingly are taking control of the country's multimillion-dollar cocaine business.

The operations of Medellin drug lords Jorge Luis, Fabio and Juan David Ochoa -- who recently surrendered to Colombian authorities -- and Pablo Escobar, the object of a massive manhunt, have suffered severe setbacks because of police assaults and raids.

But over the past few months, as Medellin has faded, the Cali cartel and independent traffickers have increased their market share from 20 percent to 45 percent of cocaine exports.

Despite police interdiction efforts, cocaine shipments to the United States run about 200 tons per year, and the European market is growing by leaps and bounds, reaching another estimated 200 tons per year.

Medellin continues to producemore cocaine, but most of Cali's smuggling operations are to Europe, where cocaine can fetch up to four times the amount it gets in the United States.

Trafficking activity has brought prosperity to several towns. Cities north of Cali, such as Cartago, Buga and Pereira, have grown into important trafficking centers, authorities claim.

In Bogota and Medellin, new traffickers have taken over operations left unattended after the death of Medellin cartel trafficker Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, who was killed in 1989.

Also, as ships become the most important way to transport cocaine to the United States and Europe, cocaine families from the coastal city of Barranquilla have gained more importance, police say.

"A lot of names that were around before have become increasingly important in recent months," said one law enforcement source.

Police say Cali distributed some of its business to smaller traffickerswho, as in any business franchise, pay commissions for the association.

"It's like belonging to a union; you get a lot of services," said one police source.

The smaller traffickers are known as "narquitos," or "little traffickers," by the powerful drug lords. They are said to be young -- mostly under 30 -- and arrogant. Their profits range between $5 million and $50 million.

The smaller traffickers engage in some violence, but most of it is limited to their competitors and is notdirected against the police or public, said Cali Police Chief Rodrigo Millan Bautista.

The Cali cartel is known as the clean cartel, law enforcement sources said, since its members do not have any warrants pending against them in Colombia.

Unlike Medellin's Pablo Escobar and the Ochoa brothers, Cali leaders Jose Santacruz Londono Gilberto and Rodriguez Orejuela, who is the object of an extradition request from the United States, rub elbows with leading politicians and Cali's elite.

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