Cali Capo meets a quiet death
The death of Cali Cartel boss Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela in a US prison marks the end of one of Colombia’s most notorious drug lords – and of a bygone era.
News of Rodríguez Orejuela’s death in a North Carolina federal prison was confirmed by family members on the morning of June 1, El Tiempo reported.
Once the leader of the infamous Cali Cartel based in western Colombia, Rodríguez Orejuela served as a 30 years in prison for drug trafficking. Colombian authorities first arrested him in 1995 at his luxurious home in Cali. At the time, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimated that the Cali Cartel accounted for 80% of the world’s cocaine supply, according to The New York Times.
SEE ALSO: Has Cali become an operational hub for Mexican cartels in Colombia?
Although he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, he was released in 2002 in a controversial court decision that halved the sentence due to Rodríguez Orejuela’s participation in work-study programs and his good behavior, according to The Guardian. He was arrested again in 2004.
By then, the US government had already successfully pressured the Colombian government to lift its ban on extraditing its citizens. Rodríguez Orejuela was sent to the United States after being accused of maintaining criminal operations behind bars. The US Department of Justice announced his capture and guilty plea as “a final and fatal blow to the Cali Cartel”, demonstrating to “drug dealers and kingpins everywhere that now they are not out of reach.” the United States”.
At 83, Rodríguez Orejuela had spent the last few months battling numerous health issues and, according to Infobae, was bedridden during the last weeks of his life.
One of Colombia’s most infamous capos, Orejuela is survived by his brother and Cali Cartel associate, Miguel Rodríguez.
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Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela built his cocaine empire with a precision that earned him the alias “El Ajedrecista” (The Chess Player), cementing the Cali Cartel into the most powerful top-down cocaine trafficking group in the world. He was one of the last capos of a bygone era, leaving behind a splintered criminal underworld. His relatively low profile – at least compared to his opponent Pablo Escobar – would serve as a role model for Colombian drug traffickers.
Based in the western department of Valle del Cauca, the Cali Cartel became the dominant trafficking force in Colombia after the 1993 death of Pablo Escobar who beheaded the Medellín Cartel. The brothers trafficked hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States, primarily to supply markets in the Northeast such as New York, although they also supplied markets in Europe.
The organization first collaborated with the Medellín Cartel, dividing cocaine markets in the United States. The Cali Cartel, however, soon turned on Escobar and backed a paramilitary group that targeted his organization.
SEE ALSO: Norte del Valle Cartel Profile
With Escobar’s eventual demise, the Cali Cartel maintained control over the cocaine trade before the combined efforts of Colombian and American authorities began to dismantle it in the late 1990s. Rodríguez Orejuela moved away of Escobar’s brash and murderous public style while in power. That’s not to say Orejuela wasn’t violent; Cali cartel gunmen have committed murders in Miami and New York, in addition to the infamous 1998 attack on the Medellin apartment building in Monaco, where a car bomb exploded with Escobar and his wife on the inside. Journalist Manuel de Dios Unanue was murdered on the orders of the Cali Cartel because of his articles on the group.
In 2006, Rodríguez Orejuela and his associates reached a deal with US authorities granting immunity to their family members in exchange for handing over their entire drug-trafficking fortune.
What followed the organization’s breakup was a splintering of the country’s criminal landscape that is still evident to this day.
After Escobar’s death, Colombia saw a sharp drop in homicides and a degree of criminal order brought about in part by Orejuela’s preference for a more subtle approach to narcotics trafficking. However, the fragmentation that resulted from the demise of the Cali Cartel was much messier. The Norte del Valle Cartel (NDVC) formed from remnant trafficking rings, but the organization was prone to factionalism and continued bloody conflict. Some 20 years after Rodríguez Orejuela’s imprisonment, offshoots of the NDVC have continued to fight fiercely.
Beyond criminal fragmentation, Rodríguez Orejuela’s Cali Cartel leaves behind a legacy of high-level corruption in addition to integration between licit and illicit businesses in Colombia and abroad. Rodríguez Orejuela and his brother came to control the banks in Panama and Colombia.
During the 1990s, over 300 individuals and entities were sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for their ties to the Cali Cartel. Authorities pointed to the Colombian pharmacy chain La Rebaja as a money laundering front for the cartel, and the America de Cali professional soccer team was sanctioned by US officials because it was owned by the brothers and allegedly been unable to sever ties with his criminal roots..
The Cali Cartel perfected the art of corruption, favoring a kickback strategy that allowed the brothers to buy off public officials in several Latin American countries. The brothers are said to have even financed the campaign of former Colombian presidents Ernesto Samper and Andrés Pastrana, according to the Semana media.
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