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Cali Cartel

The Cali Cartel was a drug cartel based out of Colombia, and after the fall of Pablo Escobar, controlled 90% of the world cocaine market at the height of its power.


Early history and foundation

Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez meeting Pablo Escobar
Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez meeting Pablo Escobar.

The cartel's founders, brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela were skilled bank robbers from a relatively well-off social background when compared to other cartel leaders. Using the money earned from the robberies, they began establishing smuggling routes into Mexico and the United States, and started smuggling marijuana into the United States.

However, due to the product's low profit rate and large amounts required to traffic to cover resources, the fledgling group decided to shift their focus to a more lucrative drug, cocaine; jumping headfirst into the cocaine trafficking business in the early 1970s, around the same time as their future rival Pablo Escobar.

Sometime in the early 1970s, the brothers met Escobar in person, and came to an agreement in which the newly formed Cali Cartel will sell cocaine in New York City, leaving Miami to the Medellín Cartel. This agreement proved to be in favour of the Cali Cartel, as New York City had a greater population than Miami, and had the same thirst for cocaine as Miami, despite the city being nearly a 1000 miles away.

In the early 1980s, New York based Colombian drug trafficker Helmer Herrera returned to his home country in order to evade an arrest warrant. Herrera joined the Cali cartel, giving the cartel to use the smuggling routes he developed through Mexico, and in return, he was sent to lead operations in several locations. Herrera was a big earner, and soon, it was decided that he was to be made a partner in leading the cartel; despite opposition from the other associates due to Herrera's open homosexuality.

The brothers established their own bank in Panama in order to launder money from the cocaine distribution ring, and also purchased a chain of drug stores, and owned the Athletico de Cali football team, which during the cartel's zenith was the best Latin American football team.

War with the Medellín cartel

Pacho meeting senior members of the Medellin cartel
Pacho meeting senior members of the Medellin cartel.

Cali cartel siccario Navegante infiltrated the Medellín Cartel by working as José Rodríguez Gacha's chief security. Navegante supplied the whearabouts of Gacha's location to Javier Peña, resulting in the Search Bloc killing Gacha in 1989.

In 1990, Pablo Escobar met with Helmer 'Pacho' Herrera to discuss a temporary peace treaty in order to fight extradition. The alliance was short-lived, as disputes arose to who would distribute cocaine in Los Angeles. Knowing the Escobar would not allow the Cali cartel to take over Los Angeles, Pacho met with Fabio and Jorge Luis Ochoa, two co-leaders of Escobar's cartel, and decided to collaborate against Escobar. Pacho discovers Escobar's location from journalist Valeria Velez, and ordered his men to bomb the Monaco hotel, where Escobar was staying with his family. The bombing was unsuccessful, and turned Escobar's daughter permanently deaf in one ear.

Pacho meeting the Ochoa brothers
Pacho meeting the Ochoa brothers.

To weaken their cartel, Pacho reveals the relationship between Marina Ochoa, the sister of the Ochoa brothers and Gustavo Gaviria: Pablo's cousin and right-hand man. The Ochoa brothers, humiliated by the revelation, sell Gaviria out to Colonel Horacio Carrillo, and surrender to the Colombian police in the counts of illegal importation of animals. Escobar learns the connection between the Ochoa brothers and the Cali cartel through Velez, and sends Poison and a group of hitmen to kill Herrera and several other Cali cartel members in midst of a football match, however, Herrera survives the attempt.

The Cali cartel initially turned away the idea of Los Pepes
The Cali cartel initially turned away the idea of Los Pepes.

Two years later, both cartels were ready to make peace. Escobar, who was imprisoned in his private prison, sent his two lieutenants Fernando Galeano and Kiko Moncada to settle the dispute over Los Angeles. Herrera agreed to pay $3,000,000, but Galeano and Moncada rise the price to $10,000,000. Escobar, however, felt that his cartel was losing respect from the Cali cartel, orders Moncada to triple the price.

Pacho, with Lion in the background
Pacho, with Lion in the background; setting up new alliances with Escobar's contracts.

By the end of 1992, Escobar is forced out of his prison, and now in hiding, after it was discovered that he murdered Galeano and Moncada inside his prison. Seeking this opportunity, Herrera forms the vigilante group of Los Pepes, comprising of Kiko's wife Judy Moncada, Escobar's former head of security Diego Murillo Bejarano and the brothers Fidel Castaño Gil and Carlos Castaño Gil who led a powerful right-wing paramilitary organization. The group co-ordinated with DEA agent Javier Peña. Peña at one point gave Herrera pictures taken by Steve Murphy shortly after the raid in a nightclub which killed Poison, in order to coerce him into helping the Los Pepes. Gilberto was initially opposed to the Los Pepes, but after Pablo bombs the wedding of Gilberto's daughter, he vows revenge against the fugitive drug lord.

Herrera convinced the leader of the Medellin cartel's drug operations in Miami, Lion to turn his operations over to the Cali cartel in exchange for a better deal. After Lion staged a coup against his own organization, he was killed by Navegante on Gilberto's orders, severely weakening Escobar's presence in Miami.

Berna and the Cali cartel decide the fate of Judy Moncada.
Berna and the Cali cartel decide the fate of Judy Moncada.

The last of Escobar's labs were razed in mid-1993, and his final battalion of mercenaries were eliminated by the National Police. With Escobar out of the drug business and on the run, the Cali cartel decides to take over Medellin. In order to accomplish this, they abruptly end the Los Pepes alliance; and gift a warehouse full of cocaine to the Castaño brothers, prompting them to enter the drug business and hinder the growth of Judy Moncada's cartel. After an unsuccessful attempt on her life by the Castaños, she decides to cut herself lose by agreeing to rat out the cartel to the DEA. Upon hearing this, her protector Diego Murillo Bejarano meets up with Pacho and the Rodriguez brothers and decides to eliminate Judy. Later on, Berna escorts Judy to the airfield, where he presents her two choices - leave with the CIA to Miami, or stay in Colombia and fend of the Castaños. Judy chooses the former option, and later gives an interview to The Miami Herald, where she links DEA Agent Javier Peña to the Los Pepes, shifting the blame away from the Cali cartel.


The Los Pepes celebrate the death of Escobar, c. 1994
The Los Pepes celebrate the death of Escobar, c.1994

After Escobar's death on 2 December, 1993; the Cali cartel became the most powerful cartel in the country. In 1994, Gilberto announced that the cartel would cease all its drug activities in six months in a surrender deal, and began ramping up production. This announcement shocked many, especially the Norte del Valle cartel, who used this oppurtunity to wage war against the Cali cartel.

The Cali cartel began influencing all forms of the Colombian government, and even had their own team of lawyers. They bribed everyone from top politicians, judges, police officers, military generals and officials, resulting them having unprecedented success which even Escobar couldn't achieve. The cartel even indirectly funded Colombian President Ernesto Samper's presidential campaign.

In addition, the cartel maintained a security division comparable to the Russian KGB, aptly named the Cali KGB, run by Carlo Cordova and Jorge Salcedo. With an ease access to several major telecommunications providers, the Cali KGB could wiretap, track and listen to phonecalls made my nearly every person of interest in Colombia.

It was at this point that the Cali Cartel began to ally themselves with the Mexican Juarez cartel. After Herrera murders Claudio Salazar, he is sent by Gilberto to Mexico to lay low, and spent time with Mexican smuggler Amado Carrillo Fuentes.


Gilberto Rodriguez meets Orlando Henao of the Norte del Valle cartel
Gilberto Rodriguez meets Orlando Henao of the Norte del Valle cartel.

The Cali Cartel's growth attracts the attention of the DEA, just like Murphy had warned Herrera years ago. The DEA sends Chris Feistl and Daniel Van Ness to Colombia, where they work under Javier Peña. Feistl and Van Ness track down Carlo Cordova going to a mansion where Gilberto was staying, and Pena gets Colonel Hugo Martinez to raid the mansion. Knowing that the cartel got it's ears within the police, they also dispatch another group of soldiers led by an officer loyal to the cartel to raid another empty mansion. Peña and Trujillo discover Gilberto hiding inside a raised bathtub, and quickly arrest him, stunning the Cali cartel's leadership.

With Gilberto in the pit, his brother Miguel becomes the new leader. Miguel, who has no interest in the surrender deal, kills Cordova, and appoints Salcedo as the new head-of-security, and tells José Santacruz Londoño, the fourth partner who is responsible for operations in New York City to increase production and eliminate local competition. However, he is forced to flee the United States after a Cuban journalist reveals his identity and ties him with the explosion of a drug lab in Brooklyn.

Chepe and Pacho watch as the Cali cartel take over the Buenaventura port from the Norte del Valle cartel
Chepe and Pacho watch as the Cali cartel take over the Buenaventura port from the Norte del Valle cartel.

Miguel, as the leader, forays away from his brothers plan. He begins to increase cocaine production, and convinces the other two to forget about surrender. After a failed attempt on his life by the Norte del Valle cartel, he goes into war with them, and intimidates Orlando Henao Montoya into giving up Gerda Salazar by sending him the decapitated bodies of a Norte del Valley surveillance team sent to Cali. He also begins an aggressive crackdown on security and other cartel members, despite Gilberto's objection.

Unknownbest to others, Salcedo begins to talk to the DEA, and gives away the location of Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, resulting in his arrest. With both the brothers arrested, Herrera and Santacruz decide to surrender, but not before Herrera assaults the Norte del Valle cartel, killing most of the leaders.

Don Chepe with Carlos Castano of the AUC
Don Chepe with Carlos Castano of the AUC.

To make matters worse for the imprisoned leaders, the cartel's connections to the President Samper and Defense Minister Fernando Botero were uncovered, causing several politicians to sever ties with the cartel, rendering all leaders (with the exception of José Santacruz Londoño) unable to escape a prison sentence. Salcedo, along with the chief cartel account agree to testify against the cartel in court. Javier Peña goes off the hook, and publicly reveals the cartel's links to the government despite being told not to.

The cartel's operations ceased when its last leader, Miguel's son David Rodriguez was shot and killed in an ambush by the Norte del Valle cartel. Gilberto and Miguel spent 10 years in prison, before being extradited to the United States. Pacho was shot dead in prison following a football match by the Norte del Valle cartel. Santacruz managed to free himself, and went back to the Castano brothers for help, but they chose to humiliate and beat him to death.


Unlike Escobar's Medellín Cartel, the Cali cartel was run like a Fortune 500 company by the highly qualified Rodriguez brothers. The brothers avoided any sort of negative attention, and spent nearly $6 million on bribes and building a good image. The brothers owned several front companies, the most notable one being the largest chain of pharmacies in the country.

Each of the four leaders took care of different things. Gilberto Rodriguez took care of long-term strategy, Miguel took care of day-to-day operations and accounts, Helmer Herrera managed the smuggling routes while Chepe Santacruz controlled foreign production. This sharply contracts the Medellin cartel, in which Pablo Escobar controlled absolutely every aspect production, sales and money laundering. Another way in which the cartel different from Escobar's is the low-level vertical autonomy. The Cali bosses usually made alliances with smaller drug cartels, in which Cali provided smuggling routes and security in exchange for a hefty cut of the profits. Through this method, the Cali cartel always had partners to work with and could continue without losses even if labs where shut down.

The cartel had a really complex, but effective money laundering process managed by Franklin Jurado. This allowed them to wash several of their illegal funds and invest them in their legitimate business or use them as bribes, and as a result, the Cali godfathers did not bury heaps of cash in the countryside like Escobar did.

The cartel, with excess of funds, had bribed nearly every police officer, army general, politician and businessmen to ensure virtual immunity from crimes. Through donations, they had ensured the election of Ernesto Samper as Colombia's president, who would then allow them continue their interests. Among other people in their payroll included the Defense Minister, Attorney General and several judges and police officers.

Cordova briefs his men
Cordova briefs his men.

Another notable difference is the cartel's counter-intelligence bureau. Created by former Major Carlo Cordova, the cartel's security wing could overhear almost all radio signals and through the Con Telefonia Company, can overhear all calls made from Cali and Bogota, and wiretap every phone in the country and elsewhere. A complex network of informants enable them to keep track of any person of interest, particularly DEA Agents throughout the country.

In addition, the Rodriguez brothers purchased several legitimate chemical companies and laboratories to come up with new ways of smuggling cocaine, including mixing cocaine in carbon rocks and filling up empty gas cylinders and shipping them.


Gentlemen of Cali

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