Medellín Cartel

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Medellín Cartel
Founded by Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, Jorge Luis Ochoa Vásquez,
Founding location Antioquia Department, Colombia
Years active 1972–1993
Territory Colombia
Ethnicity Colombians and international people out of Colombia.
Criminal activities Drug trafficking, money laundering, assassinations, bombing, extortion, bribery, kidnapping, murder, political corruption, arms trafficking, racketeering.
Allies Guadalajara Cartel, Caribbean gangs.
Rivals Cali Cartel, Los Pepes, and Colombian Government officials

The Medellín Cartel was an organized network of drug suppliers and smugglers originating in the city of Medellín, Colombia. The drug cartel operated in Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, the United States, as well as Canada and Europe throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It was founded and run by Ochoa Vázquez brothers Jorge Luis, Juan David, and Fabio together with Pablo Escobar and José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha. By 1993, the highly effective resistance group Los Pepes and the Colombian government, in collaboration with the Cali Cartel, right-wing paramilitary groups, and the United States government, had successfully dismantled the cartel by imprisoning or assassinating its members.

At the height of its operations, it smuggled tons of cocaine each week into countries all over the world and brought in at least $420,000,000 per week.[1] For a time the Medellin Cartel supplied at least 84%-90% of the United States and 80% of the global cocaine market.[citation needed]


In the late 1970s, the illegal cocaine trade took off and became a major source of profit. By 1982, cocaine surpassed coffee as an export, making up 30% of all Colombian exports. Many members of the new class of wealthy drug lords began purchasing enormous quantities of land, in order to launder their drug money, and to gain social status amongst the traditional Colombian elite. By the late 1980s, drug traffickers were the largest landholders in Colombia and wielded immense political power. They used much of their land for grazing cattle, or left it completely idle as a show of wealth. They also raised private armies to fight off guerrillas who were trying to either redistribute their lands to local peasants, kidnap them, or extort the gramaje money FARC attempted to steal.[2] [3][4]

At the end of 1981 and the beginning of 1982, members of the Medellín Cartel, the Colombian military, the U.S.-based corporation Texas Petroleum, the Colombian legislature, small industrialists, and wealthy cattle ranchers came together in a series of meetings in Puerto Boyacá, and formed a paramilitary organization known as Muerte a Secuestradores ("Death to Kidnappers", MAS) to defend their economic interests, and to provide protection for local elites from kidnappings and extortion.[5][6][7] By 1983, Colombian internal affairs had registered 240 political killings by MAS death squads, mostly community leaders, elected officials, and farmers.[8]

The following year, the Asociación Campesina de Ganaderos y Agricultores del Magdalena Medio ("Association of Middle Magdalena Ranchers and Farmers", ACDEGAM) was created to handle both the logistics and the public relations of the organization, and to provide a legal front for various paramilitary groups. ACDEGAM worked to promote anti-labor policies, and threatened anyone involved with organizing for labor or peasants' rights. The threats were backed up by the MAS, which would come in and attack or assassinate anyone who was suspected of being a "subversive".[5][9] ACDEGAM also built schools whose stated purpose was the creation of a "patriotic and anti-Communist" educational environment, and built roads, bridges, and health clinics. Paramilitary recruiting, weapons storage, communications, propaganda, and medical services were all run out of ACDEGAM headquarters.[9] [10]

By the mid-1980s ACDEGAM and MAS had experienced significant growth. In 1985, the powerful drug traffickers Pablo Escobar, Jorge Luis Ochoa, Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, Carlos Lehder, and Juan Matta-Ballesteros began funneling large amounts of cash into the organization to pay for weaponry, equipment and training. Money for social projects was cut off, and was put towards strengthening the MAS. Modern battle rifles such as the Galil, HK G3, FN FAL, and AKM were purchased from the military and INDUMIL and through drug-funded private sales. The organization had computers and ran a communications center that worked in coordination with the state telecommunications office. They had thirty pilots, and an assortment of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. U.S., Israeli, and British military instructors were hired to teach at paramilitary training centers. [5][7][9][10][11][12]


During the height of its operations, the cartel brought in more than $60 million per day.[13] The total amount of money made by the cartel was in the tens of billions, and very possibly the hundreds of billions of dollars. There were many "groups" during the cartel's years, usually white Americans, Canadians, or Europeans, organized for the sole purpose of transporting shipments of cocaine destined for the United States, Europe, and Canada. One group of members went by the name of "El Tomotes". This group is believed to be part of an "Enforcement arm" for Escobar, allegedly responsible for many assassinations, bombings, and missions of vengeance for their leader. It is reported that, while most were Colombian, there was a small number of US citizens involved in these operations of brutal violence. While many groups were infiltrated and taken down by Federal agents and informers, a few were stumbled upon by authorities, usually due to some small misstep or careless behavior by a group member.[citation needed]

Relations with the Colombian government

Once authorities were made aware of "questionable activities", the group was put under Federal Drug Task Force surveillance. Evidence was gathered, compiled and presented to a grand jury, resulting in indictments, arrests and prison sentences, for those convicted. The number of Colombian cartel leaders actually taken into custody as a result of these operations was very few. Mostly, non-Colombians conspiring with the Cartel were the "fruits" of these indictments.[citation needed]

Most Colombians targeted, as well as those named in such indictments, lived and stayed in Colombia, or fled before indictments were unsealed. However, by 1993 most, if not all, cartel fugitives had been imprisoned or hunted and gunned down by the Colombian National Police trained and assisted by specialized military units and the CIA

The last of Escobar's lieutenants to be assassinated was Juan Diego Arcila Henao, who had been released from a Colombian prison in 2002 and hidden in Venezuela to avoid the vengeance of Los Pepes. However he was gunned down in his Jeep Cherokee as he exited the parking area of his home in Cumana, Venezuela in April of 2007.<El Tiempo, Bogotá Abril 18, 2007>

While it is broadly believed that the group "Los Pepes" have been instrumental in the assassination of the cartel's members over the last 17 years, it is still in dispute whether the mantle is just a screen designed to deflect political repercussions from both the Colombian and United States governments' involvement in these assassinations.[citation needed]

Fear of extradition

Perhaps the greatest threat posed to the Medellín Cartel and the other traffickers was the implementation of an extradition treaty between the United States and Colombia. It allowed Colombia to extradite any Colombian suspected of drug trafficking to the US and to be put on trial there for their crimes. This was a major problem for the cartel since the drug traffickers had little access to their local power and influence in the US, and a trial there would most likely lead to imprisonment. Among the staunch supporters of the extradition treaty were Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, Police Officer Jaime Ramírez and numerous Supreme Court Judges.[citation needed]

However, the cartel applied a "bend or break" strategy towards several of these supporters, using bribery, extortion or violence. Nevertheless, when police efforts began to cause major losses, some of the major drug lords themselves were temporarily pushed out of Colombia, going into hiding while they ordered cartel members to take out key supporters of the extradition treaty.

Rodrigo Lara Bonilla was pushing for more action against the drug cartels.

The cartel issued death threats to the Supreme Court Judges, asking them to denounce the Extradition Treaty. The warnings were ignored. This led Escobar and the group he called Los Extraditables (the extraditionables) to start a violent campaign to pressure the government by committing a series of kidnappings, murders and Narco-terrorist actions.[14][15][16][17]

Alleged relation with the M-19

In November 1985, 35 heavily armed members of the M-19 guerrilla group stormed the Colombian Supreme Court in Bogotá, leading to the Palace of Justice siege. Some claimed at the time that the Cartel's influence was behind the M-19's raid, because of its interest in intimidating the Supreme Court. Others state that the alleged Cartel-Guerrilla relation was unlikely to occur at the time because these two organizations had been having several standoffs and confrontations, like the kidnappings of drug lord Carlos Lehder and Nieves Ochoa, the sister of Medellin cartel founder Juan David Ochoa, by the M-19,[18][19][20][21] the kidnapping led to the creation of the MAS/"Muerte a Secuestradores"("Death to Kidnappers") paramilitary group by the Medellin cartel. Former guerrilla members have also denied that the cartel had any part in this event.[22] The issue continues to be debated inside Colombia.[23][24][25][26]


As a means of intimidation, the cartel conducted several hundred assassinations throughout the country. Escobar and his associates made it clear that whoever stood against them would risk being killed along with his/her families. Some estimates put the total around 3,500 killed during the height of the cartel, including over 500 police officers in Medellín, but the entire list is impossible to assemble, due to the limitation of the judiciary power in Colombia. The following is a brief list of the most notorious assassinations conducted by the cartel:

  • Luis Vasco and Gilberto Hernandez, two DAS agents who had arrested Pablo Escobar in 1976. One of the earliest assassinations of authority figures by the cartel.
  • Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, Minister of Justice, killed on a Bogotá highway on April 30, 1984 when two gunmen riding a motorcycle approached his vehicle in traffic and opened fire.[27]
  • Tulio Manuel Castro Gil, Superior Judge, killed by motorcycle gunmen in July 1985 shortly after indicting Escobar.[28]
  • Enrique Camarena, DEA Agent, February 9, 1985 killed in Guadalajara, Mexico. Tortured and murdered on orders of members of the Guadalajara Cartel and Juan Matta-Ballesteros, a drug lord of the Medellin Cartel.[citation needed]
  • Hernando Baquero Borda, Supreme Court Justice, killed by gunmen in Bogotá on July 31, 1986.[29]
  • Jaime Ramírez, Police Colonel and head of the anti-narcotics unit of the National Police of Colombia. Killed on a Medellín highway in November 1986 when assassins in a red Renault pulled up beside his white Toyota minivan and opened fire. Ramírez was killed instantly; his wife and two sons were wounded.[30]
  • Guillermo Cano Isaza, director of El Espectador, killed on December 1986 in Bogotá by gunmen riding a motorcycle.[31]
  • Jaime Pardo Leal, presidential candidate and head of the Patriotic Union party, killed by a gunman on October, 1987.[32]
  • Carlos Mauro Hoyos, Attorney General, killed by gunmen in Medellín on January 1988.[33]
  • Antonio Roldan Betancur, governor of Antioquia, killed by a car bomb in July 1989.[34]
  • Waldemar Franklin Quintero, Commander of the Antioquia police, killed by gunmen in Medellín in August 1989.[35]
  • Luis Carlos Galán, presidential candidate, killed by gunmen during a rally in Soacha in August 1989. The assassination was carried out on the same day the commander of the Antioquia police was gunned down by the cartel.[36]
  • Carlos Ernesto Valencia, Superior Judge, killed by gunmen shortly after indicting Escobar on the death of Guillermo Cano, in August 1989.[37]
  • Jorge Enrique Pulido, journalist, director of Jorge Enrique Pulido TV, killed by gunmen in Bogotá in November 1989.[38]
  • Diana Turbay, journalist, chief editor of the Hoy por Hoy magazine, killed during a rescue attempt in January 1991.[39]
  • Enrique Low Murtra, Minister of Justice, killed by gunmen in downtown Bogotá on May 1991.[40]
  • Myriam Rocio Velez, Superior Judge, killed by gunmen shortly before she was to sentence Escobar on the assassination of Galan, in September 1992.[41][42]

In 1993, shortly before Escobar's death, the Cartel lieutenants were also targeted by the vigilante group PEPES (People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar).

With the assassination of Juan Diego Arcila Henao in 2007, most if not all of Escobar's lieutenants who are not in prison have been hunted down and killed by the Colombian National Police Search Bloc or Los Pepes, both trained and assisted by U.S. Delta Force as well as the CIA.[43]

DEA agents considered that their four-pronged "Kingpin Strategy", specifically targeting senior cartel figures, was a major contributing factor to the collapse of the organization.[44]


La Oficina de Envigado is believed to be a partial successor to the Medellín organization. It was originally founded by Don Berna as an enforcement wing for the Medellín Cartel. When Don Berna fell out with Escobar, it caused his rivals to oust him. The Office inherited the Medellín turf, its criminal connections in the U.S., Mexico and the U.K. and began to get affiliated with the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, organising drug trafficking operations on their behalf.[45]

See also


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  2. Marc Chernick (March–April 1998). "The paramilitarization of the war in Colombia". NACLA Report on the Americas. 31 (5): 28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Brittain, 2010: pp. 129–131
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  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 HRW, 1996: "II. History of the Military-Paramilitary Partnership"
  6. Richani, 2002: p.38
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hristov, 2009: pp. 65-68
  8. Santina, Peter "Army of terror", Harvard International Review, Winter 1998/1999, Vol. 21, Issue 1
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Geoff Simons (2004). Colombia: A Brutal History. Saqi Books. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-86356-758-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 Pearce, Jenny (May 1, 1990). 1st. ed. Colombia:Inside the Labyrinth. London: Latin America Bureau. p. 247. ISBN 0-906156-44-0
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  • [1] Lawyer Luiz Felipe Mallmann de Magalhães 31. United States vs. Robert Elisio Serry, Walter J Magri Jr Importation of Cocaine. Sarasota News TimeS MARCH 21, 1990

Further reading