Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Drug war: One cartel falls, another rises

Forty years after President Nixon declared war on drugs, the soaring body count from narco-violence in Mexico seems to mock the very notion of progress in that effort. But what is most discouraging about the rampant brutality across our border is that it's largely a consequence of one of the drug war's greatest triumphs.

Colombia's Cali cocaine cartel, once the richest and most powerful crime syndicate in the world, fell as a direct result of U.S.-led law enforcement and diplomatic pressure about a decade ago. Its toppling remains one of the most significant blows inflicted on modern organized crime.

But the giant cartel's collapse left a power vacuum, and Mexican drug gangs are still fighting, with often grisly methods, to determine who will fill it.

The Cali cartel could be as ruthless as any other, but it preferred bribery to violence in the normal course of business. The vertically integrated corporate-style enterprise was run by four billionaires who reigned over a global monopoly that controlled every aspect of the drug trade, from jungle coca production to New York street sales.

In its prime, the cartel was a $7-billion-a-year criminal masterpiece that had bought off an entire country. Colombia was the original "narco-democracy" and a haven for narco-gangsters.

During the 1990s, Cali cartel lawyers rewrote portions of the national constitution outlawing extradition. Drug bosses picked who ran the Cali telephone utility and secretly donated $6 million to elect presidential underdog Ernesto Samper.

Millions of cartel dollars were spent building community police stations. The bosses financed a hospital and a law library. They owned and operated Cali's professional soccer team. In a nod to civic sensibilities, they refrained from carrying out most contract killings within the city limits. Over time, they came to be known as "the gentlemen of Cali."

But the gentlemen were deadly serious about removing impediments to their business. The cartel had its own intelligence force and the capacity to tap any telephone in Cali. Its paid sources included street cops, senators and members of the elite anti-narcotics task force. American drug enforcement agents complained that the cartel seemed always to be a step ahead of them. They called its intelligence wing "the Cali KGB."

Besides a staff of local lawyers, the bosses hired top U.S. defense lawyers, including several former federal prosecutors in Florida and a onetime Justice Department official from Washington, who was later convicted of racketeering.

The cartel accounting department tracked and processed massive volumes of cash. Paper currency from sales around the world was shipped by the ton, often aboard disposable aircraft. Old jetliners, typically stripped-down Boeing 727s, were bought for a few hundred thousand dollars and abandoned on airfields from Bogota to the Amazon jungle after discharging multimillion-dollar loads of $10's, $20's and $100 bills.

A revolving door of former legislators, governors and mayors formed the cartel's lobbying division. They were paid to arrange meetings for the bosses with politicians and to spread the word that the gentlemen of Cali would be generous to friends. Elected officials were constantly wooed with cash, cars, women and luxury vacations.

And the cartel had its own war department. The bosses once paid more than $1 million to hire a team of British mercenaries to hunt down rival drug lord Pablo Escobar, outfitting the commandos with better arms than those of most Colombian military units. They also employed about 150 bodyguards to protect the godfathers and their families.

Armed employees included a small team of sicarios, or assassins, paid to enforce cartel discipline and eliminate security risks. Whenever possible their victims were to "disappear." Unlike beheaded Mexican corpses, often left on prominent display, victims of the Cali cartel typically went into the Cauca River, never to be seen again.

What made the Cali cartel most dangerous, and the greatest menace to U.S. interests, was the way it bought off the Colombian government.

Imagine a country in which its president sends an emissary to apologize to drug lords when American diplomatic pressure forces him to crack down on traffickers. Or where police hotlines for anonymous crime tips are monitored 24/7 by the traffickers themselves. That was Colombia in the 1990s.

So far, there is no evidence that Mexican drug gangs are financing presidential elections. Traffickers are not picking who runs the national telephone company. And gangland lawyers aren't drafting legislation to block extradition of their bosses. Mexico is not the sanctuary that Colombia once was.

But Mexico remains in jeopardy. So does much of Latin America. Unless cocaine demand and its enormous trafficking profits fall, drug war successes are likely to generate similar patterns: simply forcing major narco-operations from one country to another.

And after Mexico, who's next?


  1. And? What is the point of this article? Come on BB let's post better articles.

  2. The point is obvious. It is that there is no actual victory in the eternal US drug war, unless you count having a reason to deploy troops constantly as some sort of 'victory'?

    It really gets me when some folk try to pretend that writers are not saying anything when it is the willful deafness of the reader that is the actual problem.

  3. More disingenuous bullshit from someone who knows nothing.

    And the big question is - "who is next?" Fucking brilliant. The point is there is no point, just another stupid-ass, totally obtuse case for giving in to the drug dealers.

    "So far there is no evidence drug cartels are financing presidential elections." What a stupid thing to say. Who is this moron Rempel?

    BB, the LA Times has never been a good paper and it is worse than ever since Sam Zell bought it.

    @5:14 "the shit" already is outlawed within US boundaries - what kind of shit are you smoking?

  4. June 19, 2011 6:27 PM you miss the point teabag.
    My point is the rest of the world doesnt need to buy into your Xtian morality Bull Shit.
    Prohibition does not work.

  5. I liked the article. Shows just how far narco's can and HAVE infiltrated society around the world.

  6. The US has decended into a self indulgent,left wing welfare State,work ethic,integrity,ethics,are at a all time low,our standards and expectations of performance are shot to hell, 13 States have med marijuana and there appears to be a pandimic of whatever ailment gets you the joint.We have become a nation of druggies legal and illegal, living a inflated lifestyle generated by unsustainable Fed deficit spending. We need to end drug use in the US and get our lazy asses back to work, End the market for drugs!! Sorry I was hallucinating.

  7. Your right prohibition does not work, but its also not gonna change, so we're better off thinking of a different plan to curtail violence.

  8. I believe that change can happen. I just believe that change is not going to come from supporting the likes of people like Calderon and Obama.

    'Bones said...Your right prohibition does not work, but its also not gonna change'

    People will eventually get sick of this perpetual war mentality. Especially when it bankrupts us all, and kills more and more of the totally innocent.

  9. While it is true innocent people have died the vast majority of the 40,000 were killed because of warring between gangs so if you are sick of the war take it up with CHAPO,CDG,Zs----

  10. June 20, 2011 10:40 AM ...
    Take it up with Prohibition to be more precise

  11. I love how the USA Anonymous guy at 10:40 am just shrugs off the innocent lives lost. This is the mindset of much of the US pro war public that also just shrugs off the lives of innocents lost in Nato and US bombings all around the globe.

    They've now added all those who lose their lives in Mexico to their shrug off list of who cares about them people? Who cares about what is euphemistically referred to as the 'collateral damage'?

    This attitude shows the absolutely moral abcess that infects much of the US consumerist culture.

    'I got mine!"

    They don't give a damn about anything other than their benefits, wages, and that eh wars that employ them or family just keep on coming.

    'Whoopee! We gotta do it! We're fighting the bad guys. Don't you get it? Are you paid by the cartels to not get on board the National Security State train witht eh rest of us?"

    It's Sicko Culture...


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