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The Medellin Cartel

The Medellín Cartel was a criminal organization that had its birth in 1976 when its main leaders Pablo Escobar, Gustavo Gaviria, Carlos Lehder, Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha and the brothers Fabio, Juan David and Jorge Luis Ochoa decide to associate in the production and distribution of cocaine.

It is said that out of every ten people who used drugs in the United States, eight did it with drugs from the Medellin Cartel.

One by one their members were falling until in 1993 the last of them, Escobar, would be killed by the search block ending the powerful cartel.

Members of The Medellin Cartel


¿What is the Origin of the Medellin Cartel?

The Medellin Cartel was born at the end of the seventies from the need of the drug lords who in principle shared distribution channels of the product of allying to face the offensive of the Colombian state that had assumed as a policy the fight against all activity of production and distribution of illegal drugs.

For those years, the market was forced to evolve towards other products. It created the need to replace the marijuana that had been the pioneer for the start of the activity, because the Cannabis plant had begun to be grown in the main market of the United States with a certain permissiveness on the part of its authorities.

However, the damage was already done. The distribution of the derivative of the sacred leaf was the source of a considerable fortune for those who took the risk of starting the business, and this served as an initial investment to assemble the infrastructure of the new product, cocaine.

medellin cartel

The aforementioned financial muscle, in combination with an already established distribution network, meant the perfect combination for the start-up of an activity that fulfilled the essential conditions to be profitable, such as a market of growing demand and consumers with high purchasing power.

The cost of importing the coca paste and producing the alkaloid was relatively low, however, the price for the final consumer was incredibly higher, of infinite profitability, which occurred for two basic reasons:

  • The amounts that the Cartel had to pay to the civil and military authorities in ports, airports to place it within the reach of consumers.
  • The illegal nature of the same, derived from the high penalties inside the laws that were approved in different countries, substantially increased the risk; therefore, profitability should be very high to compensate for the possibility of going to prison and paying bribes in the judicial system to obtain minor penalties or acquittals.

¿How did the Medellín Cartel Operate?

The raw material for the manufacture of cocaine is coca paste, which was imported from Ecuador and Peru, since in Colombia it was not planted at that time.

Then it was taken to clandestine laboratories in the jungles of the Departments of Caquetá and Meta where they were turned into white powder, to be later moved by multiple routes, both by commercial routes that were part of the itinerary of airlines and maritime routes to their final destination, as well as flights on aircraft owned by the Cartel to Cayos in the waters of Caribbean islands, specifically in the Bahamas where they made a prior stopover for their entry into the United States market.

medellin cartel laboratory
medellin cartel laboratory

The capture of Norman’s cay meant a heavy blow to the Medellín Cartel, as it was a strategic site for its later entry into the territory of the United States.

The idea of ​​the distributors was to have such a large quantity of shipments via the main consumer markets in the United States and Europe that it would be impossible for the authorities to trace them and to confiscate most of them.

¿Why the Medellin Cartel Creates the Group Death to Kidnappers (MAS)?

Seeing such a fortune that the narcos accumulated, the guerrillas began to see them as targets for their financing. This is why on November 12, 1981, a guerrilla group belonging to the M-19 kidnapped Martha Ochoa, sister of the Ochoa brothers and they ask for their ransom the sum of 12 million dollars.

This made the bosses nervous as any member of their family could end with the same fate, so a few weeks after the abduction the Ochoa brothers call a meeting attended by more than 200 cartel members, including those from Medellín.

There they reach an agreement to create a group that would be in charge of providing security to the mafia bosses against the guerrillas. Each one contributes with 2 million pesos to the cause, as well as ten of his best soldiers. Thus, the famous paramilitary group Death to Kidnappers (MAS) emerged with more than 2,000 men and more than 400 million pesos to work.

Their first mission was the liberation of the 26-year-old girl, and for this, people close to the guerrilla group were kidnapped and killed. The M-19 could not face such an offensive and they had no choice but to release Martha Ochoa on February 16, 1982.

The Medellín Cartel Declares War on the State

On March 7, 1984, the Colombian government would hit the Medellín Cartel and the drug trade hard, when they managed to dismantle one of the largest production complexes of the drug called “Tranquilandia” (they gave it that name for the tranquility that they operated there for years). In response, the cartel murders the next month the Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla.

The death of the minister caused that the president Belisario Betancur took matter into his own hands and gave free rein to a very great pressure against the narcos, who feeling cornered decide to flee to Panama. From there they begin to negotiate a peaceful surrender in exchange for legitimizing their capital and not being extradited.

Everything was on the right track until the information leaked to the press, creating an unprecedented scandal that put an end to all attempts at negotiation.

Months later Pablo and company return to Colombia where they begin an escalation of terrorist actions to force the Andean nation government to negotiate their coexistence and tolerance of their illegal activities.

The Medellin cartel was responsible for the murder of the editor of the newspaper El Espectador Guillermo Cano and the presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, who had expressed his will to fight without fuss the criminal organization.

luis carlos galan
luis carlos galan with his family

In addition to the aforementioned personalities, they also killed judges, mayors, military and police officers who tried to obstruct their plans.

The taking of the Palace of Justice in Bogota is attributed to them, the explosion of a commercial flight of Avianca with 107 passengers on board and a bomb in the facilities of the newspaper El Espectador, it is also their responsability.

Causes of the War between the Medellín Cartel and the Cali Cartel

At the beginning of the 1980s, there was no war between the Medellín cartel and the Cali Cartel. The latter from the hand of the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers bought cocaine to the Medellin Cartel.

When the whole problem with extradition begins, both cartels decide to fight it together and carry out various actions such as throwing flyers to football stadiums from an airplane with the famous phrase “We prefer a grave in Colombia than a dungeon in the United States“.

The Beginning of the Conflict

Popeye, former hitman of Pablo Escobar Gaviria, says that the problem between the two cartels begins when Jorge Luis Ochoa and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela are deported to Colombia from Spain in mid-1986 where they were imprisoned for a year and a half.

Already in Colombia both drug lords reach an agreement where none could leave prison first than the other. They had to leave at the same time.

Jorge Luis Ochoa decides to break the pact and manages to leave prison, causing the United States to begin to pressure the Colombian government to extradite Rodríguez Orejuela, who had to pay a millionaire sum in bribes in order to be free.

The Conflict Gets Worse

By that time in the United States were prisoners Alejo Piña, a man from the Cali cartel and Jorge Pabón aka El Negro, a man from the Medellin Cartel.

Piña comes out from prison first, and already in Colombia at the request of Pabón he goes and visits his family to see how they are doing. He falls in love with Pabón’s wife and stays with her.

When Pabón leaves prison and returns to Colombia, he arrives at his family’s house without suspecting that his wife cheated on him. Later, when leaving a football stadium, he would receive twelve shots fired by two assassins. Miraculously he survived.

jorge pabon with arete and popeye
Jorge pabon with arete (left) and popeye (right)

Escobar and Pabón manage to capture the assassins and through torture they find out that Alejo Piña was responsible for the attack. Pabón tells Pablo that Piña works for a man from Cali called Helmer Buitrago aka “Pacho Herrera.”

Pablo Escobar communicates with the Orejuela brothers, tells them what happened and asks them to turn in Pacho Herrera. Escobar was confident that this would be the case since months ago and at the request of the brothers, his men had killed a drug dealer who was an enemy of Cali.

The brothers tell Pablo not to worry that they will turn Herrera in, however, with what Escobar did not count is that Pacho Herrera was one of the leaders of the Cali Cartel, extremely rich and powerful.

Miguel and Gilberto Rodríguez show Pacho Herrera a recording of their conversation with Escobar and tell him that he wants to kill him.

The Conflict Sharpens

Jorge Ochoa decides to travel to Cali to apologize to Gilberto for what happened, there in the middle of parties and women the Cali godfather accepts the apology of Ochoa.

When the narco of Medellín was on his way home, he was arrested by an officer who belonged to the Cali Cartel’s payroll and was sent to La Picota prison where he had to pay millions of dollars in bribes to get free and avoid extradition.

jorge ochoa arrested
scene of the arrest of Jorge Ochoa in Escobar, The Drug Lord

Then he goes to take refuge in one of the hiding places where Escobar was and confirms that it was Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela who gave the order to arrest him.

All this, in addition to the Cali Cartel’s refusal to collaborate with the Medellin Cartel in the war against extradition, gave rise to the start of a total war between the two cartels in 1988.

Assassinated Attempts Between Both Cartels

There are many attacks carried out by both cartels due to the bloody war that confronted them.

On January 13, 1988, a car bomb was placed in the Monaco building by order of Pacho Herrera, which was inhabited by the Escobar family. No relative of the drug lord lost their life in the attack.

Then Pablo Escobar sends several of his men to Cali to acquire property and to become familiar with the area. They put a car bomb to Pacho Herrera, but he survived.

monaco building
The Monaco building after the explosion of the car-bomb

On September 25, 1990, Escobar sent his men back to a farm owned by Don Pacho, they arrived dressed as soldiers and killed 19 people, however, the narco was saved again.

Pablo Escobar would order multiple attacks on La Rebaja drug stores that were owned by the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, leaving dozens of deaths in their wake.

¿How did the Medellin Cartel come to an end?

The end of the infamous Cartel was given little by little, first the declaration of war that the Colombian state made, reinforced by the direct participation of the United States government that put a price on the head of its main leaders and requested the extradition of them to be judged in their territory.

Second, the Cartel operated freely using a combination of bribes, threats to state officials and generous donations to neighboring communities.

The tentacles extended to politics by financing the electoral campaigns of candidates for elected office at different levels of the State, which is why repressive measures are being taken by the security and legal forces by the authorities limit their pernicious action.

escobar funeral
With Pablo Escobar’s death, the Medellin Cartel would meet their end

Third, the increasingly frequent seizures of cargoes and the capture of collaborators with the Cartel, provided the authorities with valuable information that revealed routes and leaders involved in drug trafficking, thus destroying their distribution channels.

Finally, the Cali Cartel forms the group Los PEPES (Persecuted by Pablo Escobar), join the state and begin to attack the infrastructure of Medellin and to kill everyone who had ever collaborated with them.

Thanks to the combination of all these factors and with a high financial and life cost, the Colombian government managed to put an end to the lives of the so-called Minister of War of the organization Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha aka “El Mexicano”, Pablo Escobar and Gustavo Gaviria, to capture Carlos Lehder Rivas who was handed over to Uncle Sam and put the Ochoa brothers behind bars.

The dissolution of the Medellin cartel meant a relief for the life of Colombian society and left a great institutional experience that it shares with other countries that suffer from this scourge of the modern world.

¿Where are the Members of the Medellín Cartel currently?

As previously mentioned, Escobar, Gacha and Gustavo Gaviria lost their lives during the war against the state.

The Ochoa brothers reached an agreement with the state and paid a sentence of 5 years, remaining free in 1996. Fabio was the only one of them who continued with the business after regaining his freedom and in 1999 he was put back behind bars. Today, like Carlos Lehder, he is in a prison in the United States.

The eldest of the brothers, Juan david, died in 2013 due to a heart attack.