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Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela

Gilberto Rodríguez OrejuelaGilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, was born in Mariquita, Department of Tolima, Colombia, on January 30, 1939, in the midst of a humble family that was started by his father, a modest self-taught painter and his mother, a self-sacrificing housewife.

He was one of the leaders of the Cali Cartel with his brother Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela. On December 4, 2004, he was extradited to the United States, where he is currently serving a 30-year sentence.

It is estimated that during all the years in which he committed crimes, he managed to amass a fortune of approximately 12,000 million dollars.

¿How was the Personality of Gilberto Rodríguez?

Gilberto was characterized for being an ambitious, charismatic and well-educated man, with a perfectly groomed beard, the employees of the cartel saw him as a very beloved uncle. He almost always dressed in business suits or expensive casual clothes. He had very refined tastes that include passion for Colombian poetry and he prefered to use bribes over violence to run his emporium.

¿How Many Wives and Children did Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela Have?

The drug lord was married twice, not counting the different extra-marital adventures he had. Out of all his relationships, he had eight children:

  • His first wife was Mariela Mondragón. With her, she had four children, Fernando Rodríguez Mondragón, María Rodríguez Mondragón, Humberto Rodríguez Mondragón and Jaime Rodríguez Mondragón.
  • Out of wedlock he had a total of two children, Jorge Rodríguez Herrera and Andrés Gilberto Rodríguez.
Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela with his wife
Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela with Aura Rocio Restrepo
  • After his divorce, he would have a relationship with Gladys Miriam Ramírez, who had a daughter and to whom the narco offered money, so that, she could take his last name. Later they carry out the adoption of José Alejandro Rodríguez Ramírez.
  • Finally, he was married to Aura Rocío Restrepo, who is said to have adopted a girl, however, this fact has not been proven.

Gilberto had forbidden his children to get involved in the world of drug trafficking, he had raised them to be good men and most of them were sent to study at universities in the United States. Gilberto wanted his children to run the lawful business of the family.

On one occasion his eldest son Fernando was arrested for a drug related problem, Gilberto was so furious that he went to jail and took off his belt and hit him repeatedly for what he had done.

¿How did Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela Start in Delinquency?

Due to the situation of poverty, he was forced to leave high school early to contribute to the support of his mother and siblings, since his father was an alcoholic and a gambler, and everything he earned was spent on these two vices.

When he was 10 years old, he used to sell flowers in the fairs of the villages, then when he was 15 years old he started working in a drugstore where he was in charge of the home delivery of medicines, at 20 he was already the manager of the business and at 25 he resigned because he wanted to start his own drugstore.

At the end of the 60s he joins with his brother Miguel and Chepe Santacruz a band called the chemas, led by Luis Fernando Tamayo Garcia, which was dedicated in principle to assault trucks of distributors who were on their way to the delivery of orders, to then expand its operations to the extortion and kidnapping of people.

Rodríguez Orejuela brothers early life
Rodríguez Orejuela brothers early life

On one occasion they kidnapped two people of Swiss origin, one was a student and the other a diplomat. For the rescue of their victims they obtained 12 million pesos that was equivalent at that time to one million dollars.

Also during his time in the gang, Gilberto was arrested for forgery of documents, but the judge who handled the case gave up the deadline to present the evidence due to the death threats he received. In this way Gilberto was free.

Later, together with his partners, he would start importing coca paste from Peru, which would later be transformed into cocaine for export to the United States and Europe.

Within the cartel, Gilberto was in charge of long-term operations and, like his partners, he operated under false names.

¿Why was Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela Nicknamed The Chess Player?

Quickly but discreetly, the chess player, as he was called for his patient and calculating style of leadership, created a network in which he incorporated people from different backgrounds and spheres of society, ranging from the retailers of the alkaloid that he distributed, independent professionals in money laundering operations, until civil and military authorities that cooperated diligently with their purposes.

The Rodríguez Orejuela Brothers Become Owners of the America de Cali

Roberto Cabañas, Paraguayan. Ricardo Gareca and Julio Falcioni, Argentines. Julio César Uribe, Peruvian. Any European club would have wanted to have them on their payroll, but it was not possible.

The America de Cali was determined to conquer one of the most prestigious soccer club tournaments in the world: The Copa Libertadores de América.

It was always a team with a large number of followers, with a stadium very appreciated by the fans of all Colombia, but condemned to be a mere participant in the Andean country football league.

America de Cali in 1983
The America de Cali in 1983

That destiny was going to change and in what way. It was enough for the Rodriguez Orejuela family to poke around in their pockets, full of dollars from the almighty Cali Cartel, an organization that had the courage to face the murderous and unscrupulous Medellin Cartel.

They began by hiring as technical director the laureate and controversial Gabriel Ochoa Uribe. Then they began to bring in a plethora of star players that would make a payroll obviously very expensive for a Colombian club.

The America got several titles in Colombia and disputed in three occasions, in consecutive years the final of the Copa Libertadores de America.

¿What is the Difference Between Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela and Pablo Escobar?

Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, was the leader of an organization. His leadership was a piece of art, in opposition to Pablo Escobar’s one, that can be classified as impulsive.

Rodríguez preferred to walk in the shadows, handle himself with discretion, dissuade and arrange. Escobar, liked to be noticed, feared and ordered using the fame of man who preceded him: Bad character, worse manners and to annihilate without contemplation everyone who opposed his plans.

Pablo Escobar vs Orejuelas brothers

Although it is true that Don Gilberto’s career began with a violent act, such as the kidnapping of two swiss citizens, this worked as a learning tool to create a network of specialist professionals to clean up all the consequences of their distribution operation network, however, when it was necessary in his opinion, he decided to act energetically with all the force that was necessary to fight his adversaries, especially if it was Pablo Escobar.

Gilberto Rodríguez is Arrested in Spain

After the murder of the minister of justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla in 1984, the government began to launch all kinds of operations against drug traffickers. Gilberto decides to flee to Spain with his friend Jorge Luis Ochoa to avoid pressure, but also to expand his business.

The price of cocaine on the streets of the United States had declined due to the oversupply. In Europe the price was up to four times higher. To know about the best routes and storage methods, Gilberto consulted Galicia’s tobacco smugglers. In the end he decided to transport the drug in ships and then use small boats to place it on Spanish soil.

He also opened distribution networks in Berlin, Amsterdam and London. In Liverpool, gangsters in the area facilitated the entry of drugs through the port. The confiscations of cocaine in Europe went from 900 kilos in 1985 to more than 20 tons in 1990.

Everything seemed perfect, until an informant spoke to the Spanish police of their operations in Europe, so they decided to mount surveillance and realized all the luxuries with which they lived. This seemed very suspicious to them and they decided to tell the DEA who told them to stay alert.

After 3 months monitoring their activities, they decide to arrest them, as they feared that they would expand their businesses more than they had already done. Thus, on November 15, 1984, Jorge Ochoa and Gilberto are arrested.

The Dispute between the United States and Colombia.

The government of the United States would take this opportunity to request him in extradition because they already had time behind his trail and they could demonstrate the commission of several crimes in North American territory.

To avoid this, Gilberto asked the Colombian justice minister to extradite him to Colombia, but they could not do it because he did not have any proceedings open at that time, so the cartel decided to bribe a judge to open one for stealing cars.

This situation caused an impasse between both claimants that a court in the European country had to resolve and in effect did so by deciding in favor of the request made by his country of origin.

On June 27, 1986, Gilberto returned to Colombia, remaining in the Villahermosa prison in Cali until October 1987 when he regained his freedom. From there, the narco would breathe a peaceful atmosphere for a while until the war against the Medellín cartel begins.

¿Why Pablo Escobar Declares War on Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela?

In parallel, Pablo Escobar had a similar network, but in his territory of influence as it was the whole Department of Antioquia, especially the city of Medellin.

attempt drogas la rebaja
Facade of one of the drugstores of the Orejuela brothers after Escobar put a bomb

He showed respect and collaborated with the Rodriguez Orejuela’s group, until one day Escobar decided to oppose the Law that was about to be approved, whose objective was to send the members of the drug cartels to render accounts to the justice of the United States. For that purpose, he asks for financial help to the Cali Cartel leaders but they refused.

This refusal caused the Medellín Cartel to declare the Cali Cartel, especially Helmer Herrera AKA “Pacho Herrera” one of its connoted members as a military target. This conflict ended with the dejection of the boss of Medellín in 1993.

The 8,000 Process

In 1994, the Rodriguez Orejuela starred in Process 8,000 which consisted in the disclosure by the US Attorney’s Office of a political corruption network that included the very President of Colombia at the time Ernesto Samper Pizano, who was accused to receive money from the Cali Cartel for his presidential campaign. Surprisingly for everyone and thanks to an impeccable defense, Samper manages to be free of all guilt.

Santiago Medina and the minister of justice Fernando Botero, were found guilty of illicit enrichment, because they were Samper’s campaign leaders and those in charge of receiving money from the Orejuela brothers

¿How was  Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela Captured?

Gilberto and his associates became the number one enemies of the state after Escobar’s death and the first to fall was precisely Gilberto.

As always with druglords of this magnitude, the authorities had no idea of ​​his whereabouts. Thanks to information provided by informants and various break-ins, the police had knowledge of a man who was Gilberto’s private secretary, called Alfredo Madrid Mayor AKA El Flaco.

Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela captured

In May 1995, Rubén Prieto, a DEA agent who was in Colombia chasing the Cali Cartel obtained information that an informant located in Ecuador had information on El Flaco. He knew that he could take them directly to Gilberto, he immediately made the preparations to meet with the informant, who, in exchange for the reward offered, agreed to work with Prieto to locate El Flaco.

A few days later, the DEA and the Colombian authorities had his location, now all they had to do was follow him until he took them with Gilberto.

For many days they followed him without success, El Flaco was smart and he knew how to avoid being followed, until the morning of June 9, 1995, when they managed to follow him to a street where there were only two houses, therefore, Gilberto had to be in one of them.

The break-in

Around three o’clock in the afternoon, 17 men from the special command, led by Colonel Carlos Barragan, arrive at one of the houses, but it was empty, so Gilberto was therefore in the other. The officers move to it, they realize that it is a house with an ordinary façade, typical of the middle class, even the painting was somewhat deteriorated.

They proceeded to knock on the door and were attended by Aura Rocio Resterepo, who was Gilberto’s partner and she asked them what they wanted, they answered that it was a routine record and that they were going to inspect the property, then they noticed El Flaco and three more people. None of them put up resistance and allowed the officers to enter.

The interior of the house was totally different from the exterior facade, it had marble floors and all kinds of luxuries. The officers begin the search of the house, get money, documents, but there is no trace of Gilberto anywhere.

They continued searching for another half an hour without success, until one of the officers approached a library that was in one of the rooms of the house and realized that there were pieces of glass on the floor, which caught his attention because the house was totally impeccable, it was as if someone had dropped something because he was in a hurry.

Gilberto Rodriguez captured

The officers proceed to hit the wall behind the library and realize that it is hollow, they proceeded to take their weapons and four of them moved the furniture and to their surprise in a gap of only two meters high by one and a half wide , was Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela.

He had a pistol in his hands with which he pointed to the officers, but immediately Gilberto lowered the gun and told the officers not to shoot, that he was a man of peace. Then it was learned that the pieces of glass that were on the floor and that was what gave him away, was the product of an small picture that was on a tripod and that fell when Gilberto closed the cabinet to hide, the painting had been a gift from El Flaco.

Just a week before his capture, Gilberto had met with heads of the guerrillas to talk about the dismantling of drug trafficking and a possible negotiation with the Colombian and the US government.

The Sentence

Immediately after his arrest, he and his associates were indicted in a court in Miami for sending more than 200,000 kilos of cocaine since 1984. Gilberto denied all the accusations against him and he said that the DEA had made up that he was running the Cali Cartel.

Some feared that after the capture of Gilberto, who was considered the most modest of the cartel, the other members who were considered more violent could begin to generate again the violence experienced in the time of Escobar. The day after Gilberto’s arrest a bomb exploded in Medellín, killing 29 people and wounding 200.

In 1997 Gilberto was sentenced to 15 years at La Picota prison in Bogotá. Years later on September 29, 2000, he was transferred with his brother Miguel to the Palmira prison.

Gilberto Rodríguez is Released

In jail he lived as king, the cell was carpeted, he had his own bathroom, cable television and had no restrictions on visits, even in a week he received 123 people.

But that life of luxury came to an end on September 13, 2002 when he was transferred to the Combita prison, a maximum security prison built under the supervision of the US government.

For the first time, Gilberto was treated as a prisoner, for example, when it came time for haircuts, the order was a military style for everyone. Gilberto asked the barber to use the number 3, but the barber ignoring him used the number 1 since that was the order. Also, at the time of showering he had to line up like the other prisoners.

However, Gilberto had a very calm attitude since he knew that he would not last long, and indeed, only two months after his transfer to this prison, on November 7, 2002, introducing an extraordinary appeal of habeas corpus and only having paid seven years of the total of his sentence, the former leader of the Cali Cartel would get his freedom.

Gilberto Rodríguez is Captured Again and Extradited

The druglord was more than happy with his freedom, at that time he could be seen at fairs or concerts such as Carlos Vives. But that happiness would not last long since only four months later, Gilberto would again be captured by the shipment of 150 kilos of cocaine to Costa Rica in 1990, a crime that allegedly he had not confessed and he was taken back to the combita jail.

Gilberto had originally been saved from extradition since it was not retroactive and he could not be extradited for crimes committed before 1997.

Gilberto rodriguez extradited

But the United States government could not lose this new opportunity to have him under his guardianship, so they presented evidence that the druglord had continued committing crimes from prison and they requested his extradition. AKA Popeye said that once he saw Gilberto in the cubicles of lawyers and looking at him in the eyes Gilberto told him that Pablo Escobar was right, that it is better a grave in Colombia than a prison in the United States and that extradition is deadly.

Gilberto’s extradition materialized on December 4, 2004. At his trial, together with his brother Miguel, they agreed to pay a 30-year sentence and deliver assets valued at $ 2 billion in exchange for immunity for 30 family members who were being persecuted.

Rodríguez Orejuela, The Philosopher

In 2004, Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela received his Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Santo Tomas. His Special Work Degree was about subjectivity and according to specialists, it is one of the most elaborate and profound writings in Colombia on the matter, to the point of being published by Editorial Group Ibáñez.

¿Where is Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela Today?

Currently, Gilberto Rodríguez is incarcerated in Butner, North Carolina, United States, in a medium security prison called the Federal Correctional Institution.

Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela’s Children are Accused of Money Laundering

In 2006, the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers signed an agreement with the authorities of North America, where they committed to deliver all their assets acquired with money from drug trafficking. In exchange for this, the authorities committed themselves to stop the investigations they were carrying out against members of their family.

The situation took a turn against the Orejuela’s relatives since the authorities managed to discover that the brothers had not given all their properties, on the contrary, they had hidden businesses thanks to that they were on the name of their children and others family members.

Gilberto rodriguez during his children trial
Gilberto rodriguez Orejuela during his children trial

The sale of “Drogas La Rebaja” in 1996, pharmaceutical chain that belonged to the drug lords and left a total of 30 million dollars in that operation, it is what would make the brothers’s children accountable to justice.

Jaime Rodríguez Mondragón was imprisoned for seven years. On February 22, 2016, he was granted conditional release. His sister María Rodríguez Mondragón was sentenced on April 13, 2015 to four years in prison with her husband for the crime of aggravated extortion.

¿What are Gilberto Rodríguez’s Characters on TV?

Like many other drug lords, Rodriguez Orejuela appears in several television series:

  • In the series “Escobar, The Drug Lord” by Caracol Televisión. Harold Devasten is in charge of embodying Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela under the name of Gildardo González.

  • On June 4, 2008, Caracol Television premieres another of its famous series of drug traffickers “The Snitch Cartel“. The character of Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela is played by Hermes Camelo under the pseudonym of Leonardo Villegas.
  • In the series “Narcos“, produced by Netflix, which premiered was on August 28, 2015. Damián Alcázar is in charge of playing Rodriguez Orejuela.