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The Cali Cartel: Crime and Civic Pride

Updated August 19, 2015

The new generation of Colombian drug thugs seems to have abandoned a commitment to civic responsibility pioneered by their forefathers in crime – the Cali cartel.

News accounts that Cali is the most violent city in Colombia with a staggering murder rate of nearly 76 per 100,000 residents. Blame it on turf fights between small and medium-sized drug gangs, the scattered remnants of the dismantled cartel, says the website Colombia Reports.

How times have changed.

The four ruling godfathers of the old Cali cartel were just as ruthless as the next drug lord, but they saw business value in keeping their neighborhoods crime-free. The so-called gentlemen of Cali went so far as to ban mob killings anywhere within the city limits without their prior and unanimous consent.

cali godfathers
Top: Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela; Bottom: Jose “Chepe” Santacruz and Helmer “Pacho” Herrera

For years, such killings were rare. In one incident, however, a cartel lieutenant in a jealous rage shot and killed a man who danced with his girl friend. Police never charged him, but the bosses threatened to impose capital punishment. In a brief private hearing, the man apologized profusely for risking embarrassment to the godfathers and, after begging for his life, he was spared from his own out-of-town execution.

The cartel bosses’ reputations as good citizens — enhanced, of course, by generous bribes – produced many friends in high places throughout their community: at city hall, the regional prosecutor’s office, the police and at public utilities like the phone company. Such reliable support at home enabled them to concentrate on projecting their formidable business interests abroad, eventually making them unrivaled giants of international organized crime.

Cali’s new drug gangsters are clearly a menace to themselves and others, but they are not giants. And they are unlikely to accumulate the same kind of political clout once held by their far more disciplined…and therefore more dangerous…forefathers.



Why a Drug War Victory…Hurts


21-ton Cocaine Bust 1989/ Kevork Djansezian / AP Photo

In the U.S. drug war, even successes can have dangerous down sides. My commentary today in the Los Angeles Times describes one of those successes: the 1989 seizure of more than 21 tons of cocaine in a Southern California warehouse. It remains the single biggest cocaine bust in history.

That law enforcement coup led to high-level arrests, compromised smuggling routes and it cost Colombian and Mexican drug bosses billions in lost profits. However, it also had unexpected consequences. Most significantly, it changed the business model for traffickers. Mexican drug gangs that now control the U.S. cocaine market can trace their lucrative rise to power to that very same massive drug bust.

The game-changing series of events began as a pay dispute between Mexican smugglers and Colombian cartel bosses. In the end, Cali and Medellin crime bosses stepped aside, ceding the U.S. cocaine market to Mexican cartels. The frustrating result, years after the record-setting drug seizure, is still bigger, richer and more dangerous organized crime operations on our border.

Read all about it HERE.


Drug Corruption: Jorge’s Rare Inside View


More from recent opinion pieces…

By Jorge Salcedo, “the insider who brought down the Cali cartel”

Drug cartels cannot function without massive assistance from compromised officials at all levels. Corruption is the oxygen that keeps organized crime alive. I know something about corruption and organized crime. I spent more than six years in the biggest, richest syndicate in the history of crime — the Cali cartel. Mexico, like Colombia, can’t succeed against its drug gangs without choking off the bribery and intimidation that sustain them.

In the cartel, others were more directly involved in routine bribery. Still, I managed to deliver nearly a million dollars in payoffs. And I witnessed many, many millions more. Maybe my experience helps show the importance of fighting corruption as a way to fight the cartels.

I used to be Jorge Salcedo. I left my name in Colombia when I entered the U.S. witness protection program 16 years ago.