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.
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.
Gruesome accounts of violence in Mexico have obscured one notable bright spot in Latin America’s struggle with powerful drug gangs. In Colombia, once home to the world’s biggest cocaine cartels, new crime organizations are being picked apart with silent efficiency — aided by Bogota’s enthusiastic embrace of extradition.
In recent years, more than 1,300 of Colombia’s top crime bosses and their most dangerous enforcers have been sent north to face trafficking charges in the United States, a dramatic turnabout from the 1990s when extradition was outlawed under coercive pressure from the Medellin and Cali cartels.
The beauty of extradition is not its power to stop drug smuggling. There is scant evidence it has had much direct effect in that regard. But it continues to splinter the leadership of trafficking gangs, keeping them in a perpetual state of rebuilding. In short, extradition disorganizes organized crime.