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The Cali Cartel

I am sure you have heard of the Medellin Cartel, but ¿what about The Cali Cartel? ¿does it ring the bell? well here you will find out all its story.

Firstable. let’s talk a bit about the city that is the protagonist of this story.

Cali, like every city that is respected has its particularities. All have urban spaces populated by cement, asphalt, smog, old town, squares, climates, customs. This is so special that it has been cataloged as the world capital of salsa.

The salsa is identified as a rhythm of the Caribbean Sea basin. That space of the world that goes from Key West in the United States, Gulf of Veracruz in Mexico, Central America, the Antilles, islands of the English-speaking Caribbean until arriving at the South Caribbean of the Venezuelan coasts. All very far from Cali.

Cali other than being the origin of a criminal organization that in the nineties made shake the foundations of Colombian society is known for multiple events such as fairs, carnivals, music festivals, as well as other sports, scientific and business.

Members of The Cali Cartel

¿How was the Cali Cartel created?

The Cali Cartel had its origin in a band called “Los Chemas” dedicated to the theft of goods to transport companies on the roads, in addition to extortion and kidnapping. Its original alignment was formed by the brothers Miguel and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela associated with José Santacruz Londoño.

Santacruz, brought to the table of the board of directors the idea of redirecting their efforts to other activities perhaps more risky, but much more profitable as drug trafficking. The business model consisted of importing the coca leaf paste from Peru and Bolivia, to be processed in specialized laboratories in Colombian territory and then sent by different ways to the US and European markets. A whole model of economic integration for globalization purposes.

Coca crops in bolivia
Coca crops in bolivia

The money produced by this economic activity had to be brought to Colombia in order to maintain the network of bribes to police, military, administrative authorities and politics that would give fluidity to the operations of the criminal organization; For this reason, they added the talent of Helmer Herrera, who, in addition to having his own distribution network in New York, was an expert in the packing of dollars in various goods brought to Colombia by importers as well as an ingenious creator of mechanisms for money laundering.

The Philosophy of the Cali Cartel

Rodríguez brothers, Santacruz and Herrera had a corporate strategy based on the discretion of their operations and the formation of solid links among them to act jointly in each of their operations.

Reward for the Cali Cartel drug lords
Reward for the Cali Cartel drug lords

They avoided as much as possible violent actions to achieve their objectives, preferring to use the corrupting power of money that, in the context of a country in permanent economic recession, therefore impoverished, is a solid battering ram to tear down walls.

Of course this philosophy had its exceptions when necessary, as when they formed “Los PEPES” to end Escobar, but if we compare them with the latter, the Cali godfathers were practically men of peace.

¿How was the Cali Cartel Structured?

The Cali Cartel was a perfectly structured organization with different departments that each had their bosses, who reported to a kind of manager, and this in turn reported to the leaders of Cali.

Former cali cartel accountant Guillermo Pallomari
Former cali cartel accountant Guillermo Pallomari

According to the former cartel accountant and protected witness of the DEA, Guillermo Pallomari, the departments were as follows:

  • Drug trafficking: They were responsible for the control of processing laboratories, shipping methods and routes.
  • Military: They were in charge of controlling the security of cartel members and their families. They were also responsible for bribes to military officers and police.
  • Politician: Responsible for establishing government links with senators, congressmen, etc. The cartel controlled 30% of the Colombian congress.
  • Financial: They were in charge of money laundering through the legally constituted companies they owned and frontmen.
  • Legal: They were in charge of the legal matters of the cartel, as well as legally represent the traffickers that were captured both in national and international territory.

¿How Was the Money Laundered by the Cali Cartel?

With a business as lucrative as drug trafficking, it comes the need to launder money, for this the cartel invested heavily in both legal and ghost companies. It is believed that for the year 1996 they obtained a gross income of 7,000 million dollars only in the United States.

Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela was president of the board of directors of “Banco de los Trabajadores” (the workers bank), which allowed the Cali and Medellin Cartel to launder money through it.

Drugstore La Rebaja
Drugstore La Rebaja

Later, Gilberto, together with Jorge Ochoa, founded the First Interamericas Bank in Panama. Both cartels moved large sums of money through the bank.

Gilberto also started the Colombian Radio Group, a network of more than 30 radio stations and the famous drug chain “Drogas La Rebaja”, which came to employ more than 4200 people in its more than 400 stores in 28 cities and which had an estimated value of 216 million dollars.

The Cali Cartel Enters War Against the Medellin Cartel

The Medellin cartel, represented by Pablo Escobar Gaviria, requested financial and logistical support from the Cali Cartel to face the policy of the Colombian State that wanted to end their criminal actions. The Cali drug lords refused because apart from the diatribes among them for personal and operational reasons, they had the philosophy of avoiding the use of violence.

The conflict had deeper and personal roots. Jorge Pabón aka “El Negro” and Alejo Piña met and became friends in a jail in New York. “El Negro” when leaving prison returns to the ranks of his employer Pablo Escobar and finds out that Alejo Piña was living a marital life with his wife.

Later Piña decides to attempt without success against the life of Pabón, reason why he raised to Escobar the necessity to kill him.

The Medellin Cartel had killed an enemy of one of the Rodriguez Orejuela so they decided to charge them this favor with the murder of Alejo Piña who was a member of the staff of a key man of the Cali Cartel, Helmer Herrera, so the Cali Cartel refused.

Consequences of the War Between Both Cartels

The war brought as a consequence a series of actions like mutual attacks by hitmen and car-bombs.

The most resounding actions were the explosion of a car bomb in front of the Monaco Building in Medellin, residence of the wife and children of Pablo Escobar, the murder of 19 people who witnessed a football match in the town of Candelaria in the Valle del Cauca where suspected Pacho Herrera was present and the explosion of a total of 85 bombs in drugstores La Rebaja that left a balance of 27 dead.

The Cali Cartel Recruits Jorge Salcedo

The cartel would recruit in its ranks an engineer who belonged to the Colombian army called Jorge Salcedo. The Cali drug lords got in touch with him because they had heard that in the past Salcedo had hired a group of British mercenaries to kill guerrilla groups in an operation ordered by Colombian generals and they wanted to repeat a similar action to end Escobar’s life.

Jorge Salcedo
Jorge Salcedo

The operation was carried out, nevertheless, it failed since one of the two helicopters that went to the “Hacienda Napoles” hit a mountain and the mission had to be aborted.

Then when Escobar was imprisoned in the cathedral prison, a new attack would be organized where the objective was to bomb the prison. For this Salcedo moved to El Salvador to acquire the bombs, but when it was time to mount them on the plane to take them to Colombia, they did not fit through the door and the operation had to be abandoned.

Over the years, specifically in 1995, Salcedo would become a national hero, being the main responsible for the capture of Miguel Rodríguez.

The Cali Cartel and Los PEPES

The 4 kings of Cali were part of the armed group Los PEPES, which is the acronym for Persecuted by Pablo Escobar, and was an armed group created by the brothers Fidel and Carlos Castaño Gil and Diego Murillo Bejarano AKA Don Berna to end the life of Pablo Escobar.

Carlos Castaño gil
Carlos Castaño gil

Los PEPES began to destroy everything that had to do with Escobar, they ended up with some of their properties and with the lives of workers, accountants and anyone who could have helped at some point. They also supported the Colombian authorities by giving them information on the whereabouts of the drug lord and his men.

After Escobar’s death, this group would come to an end.

The Cali Cartel Decides to End Drug Trafficking

After the death of Pablo Escobar, the leaders of the Cali Cartel organized a meeting with other drug traffickers in order to put an end to drug trafficking, since they had been talking with members of the government and they assured them that if this were done they could keep the money and established legal companies, besides they would only pay a few years in jail.

This was not very well received by the other drug lords who said that for the four Cali leaders it was very easy to leave the business because they had already made a lot of money, while many of them had little time trafficking.

This caused the birth of a new cartel called North Valley Cartel, which was led by Orlando Henao Montoya, aka the man in overalls.

After the meeting the negotiations with the state continued, but the desire of the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers that the state kneel to what they wanted did not make it possible to reach any agreement.

¿How was the End of the Cali Cartel?

There are several reasons why the Cali Cartel came to an end, while the Colombian authorities and the DEA focused all their resources to catch Escobar, the Cali Cartel went practically unnoticed, but after the death of the leader of Medellín, the Cali godfathers took absolute control of drug trafficking and therefore were placed in the sights of the authorities.

Another compelling reason was that the Colombian president at that time Ernesto Samper, in order to cleanse his name that had been stained with the 8000 process, decides to pursue them relentlessly.

Ernesto Samper
Ernesto Samper

First it was the turn of Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, who was arrested in June 1995, the next month it would be the turn of Chepe Santacruz Londoño, later in August it would be Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, and finally Pacho Herrera who decided to surrender to the authorities.

¿Where Are the Members of the Cali Cartel Currently?

Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela

He was sentenced in 1998 by a Colombian court to more than 15 years in prison, which were reduced for good behavior. The crimes of which he was accused were committed before 1997 when the feared extradition to the United States was not in force. For that reason, the Colombian government rejected his first request for extradition.

In 2003, DEA agents testified against him accusing him in a Florida court of obtaining more than $ 2 billion in profits from drug trafficking while he was serving time in Colombia.

In 2005, he was extradited to the United States, where he was claimed for drug trafficking and money laundering. “The Lord” was handed over to agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and sentenced by the American justice system to 30 years in prison, which continues to be up to date.

Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela

“The Chess Player” as he was also known, ran a similar fate than his brother, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which were reduced by procedural benefits and by doubts about the procedure used by the Colombian State in its apprehension.

He obtained his freedom in 2002, but he was arrested again for crimes committed in 1990 that he had not confessed, in addition to others that he led from prison for which he was extradited in 2004. In that same year, he obtained his degree in Philosophy and History in the Santo Tomás University. He is currently in a prison in the United States serving a sentence of 30 years.

Rodriguez Orejuela brothers captured
Rodriguez Orejuela brothers

José Santacruz Londoño

He was arrested on July 4, 1995 in Bogotá. He escaped from prison in January 1996, and tried to reorganize the Cali Cartel, seeking alliances with members of the Medellin Cartel, the FARC guerrillas and paramilitaries.

The official version of the police was that they had killed him in a confrontation with the police in Medellin, Colombia, on March 5, 1996, then it was known, by different versions that the event had been planned by Carlos Castaño Gil and members of the North Valley Cartel who, in collusion with Colonel Danilo González, assembled to make the public believe that it had been the result of a police operation.

Helmer Herrera

On September 1, 1996, Hélmer Herrera surrendered to the Colombian authorities. He was the last of the leaders of the Cali cartel in being captured. He was tried and sentenced to 14 years in prison for crimes associated with drug trafficking.

He was saved from being extradited to the United States for crimes committed before December 16, 1997, after the Constitutional Court upheld the decision to reimplant the extradition without retroactivity. Pacho was murdered by a person who entered the penitentiary center of Palmira, Colombia, posing as a lawyer on November 4, 1998.