The Medellín Cartel was an organized network of drug smugglers (drug cartel) originating in the city of Medellín in Colombia and operating through the 1970s and 1980s. It was founded and run by Juan David Ochoa, and his other brothers along with Pablo Escobar. At its height, it was bringing in as much as $60 million per month, and was estimated by some to be worth as much as $28 billion in total. Other noted figures involved in, or connected with the cartel include the Ochoa family José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, Max Mermelstein, Barry Seal, Jon Roberts, Mickey Munday, and Carlos Lehder.
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 Ramirez and numerous Supreme Court Judges.
However, the Cartel applied a "bend or break" strategy towards several of these supporters. When attacks against the police 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. Sometime later, 35 heavily armed members of the M-19 guerrilla group raided the Supreme Court's building, leading to the Palace of Justice siege in November 1985. The army and the police attempted to rescue the hostages, but the operation ended tragically as many of the hostages were killed in the crossfire and heavy casualties ensued. 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. The issue has continued to be debated inside Colombia.
The Cartel and terrorism
On August 18
, the Cartel murdered leading presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán
, and declared "total and absolute war" against the Colombian government, seeking to stop potential extradition of its members. The strategy consisted in terrorizing the civilian population and cornering the government. The cartel conducted hundreds of terrorist attacks against civilian and governmental targets. However, the cartel had already started a campaign of assassinations of key political figures, as far back as 1984. The following is a list of the most notable incidents involving the Medellín Cartel:
- May 30, 1989: Attempted assassination of Miguel Maza Marquez, director of the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) in Bogotá. Car bomb. 4 dead, 37 injured.
- September 2, 1989: Car bomb against major newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá. 84 wounded. Guillermo Cano Isaza, director of the newspaper had been killed on Escobar's orders on December 17, 1986.
- October 16, 1989: Car bomb against newspaper Vanguardia Liberal, in Bucaramanga. Four killed.
- November 27, 1989: The cartel bombs Avianca Flight 203 during flight over Bogotá while attempting to kill presidential candidate Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, who had not boarded the plane. 110 are killed.
- December 6, 1989: DAS headquarters in downtown Bogotá is bombed with over 1,100 pounds of explosives during the morning rush. The attack kills over 50, injures more than 600, and levels several city blocks, destroying more than 300 commercial properties.
- May 13, 1990: Two bombs detonate separately at the Quirigua and Niza shopping malls during Mother's Day in Bogotá, killing 14 and wounding over 100.
- February 16, 1991: The cartel detonates a 440-pound car bomb outside La Macarena, a Bullring in Medellín, killing 22.
- January 30, 1993: A car bomb in downtown Bogotá kills 20. The bomb was set off in a high-rise area, and most of the dead were in higher floors as the explosive wave traveled up the buildings.
- April 15, 1993: A car bomb kills 15 and injures over 100 outside the Centro 93 shopping mall in northern Bogotá.
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.
- Tulio Manuel Castro Gil, Superior Judge, killed by motorcycle gunmen in July 1985, shortly after indicting Escobar.
- Hernando Baquero Borda, Supreme Court Justice, killed by gunmen in Bogotá on July 31,1986.
- Jaime Ramirez, Police Colonel and head of the anti-narcotics unit of the Colombian police. Killed on a Medellín highway in November 1986 when assassins in a red Renault pulled up beside his white Toyota minivan and opened fire. Ramirez was killed instantly; his wife and two sons were wounded.
- Guillermo Cano Isaza, director of El Espectador, killed on December 1986 in Bogotá by gunmen riding a motorcycle.
- Jaime Pardo Leal, presidential candidate, and head of the Patriotic Union party, killed by a gunman on October, 1987.
- Carlos Mauro Hoyos, Attorney General, killed by gunmen in Medellín on January 1988.
- Antonio Roldan Betancur, governor of Antioquia, killed by a car bomb in July 1989.
- Valdemar Franklin Quintero, Commander of the Antioquia police, killed by gunmen in Medellín in August, 1989.
- 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.
- Carlos Ernesto Valencia, Superior Judge, killed by gunmen shortly after indicting Escobar on the death of Guillermo Cano, in August 1989.
- Jorge Enrique Pulido, journalist, director of JEP Television, killed by gunmen in Bogotá in November 1989.
- Diana Turbay, journalist, chief editor of the Hoy por Hoy magazine, killed during a rescue attempt in January 1991.
- Enrique Low Murtra, Minister of Justice, killed by gunmen in downtown Bogotá on May 1991.
- Myriam Rocio Velez, Superior Judge, killed by gunmen shortly before sentencing Escobar on the assassination of Galan, in September 1992.
End of the Cartel
The Cartel lost much of its consolidated power and influence after the death or capture of many of its leading figures, which led to its disappearance as a unified entity. Several of its surviving associates and former members are still active in the international drug scene.
's biography of Pablo Escobar Killing Pablo