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Colombia Arrests Suspected Head of Cali Cartel


September 1995

On June 9, a Colombian elite police squad arrested one of the most important suspected Cali cartel leaders named in the Cali cartel indictment, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela (Steven Gutkin, "Colombia Arrests Leader of Top Drug Cartel," Washington Post, June 10, 1995, p. 1).

The arrest came during a raid on the home of Rodriguez's wife in Cali, a large city in southwestern Colombia. According to police, Rodriguez, 56, was discovered hiding in a closet. He was flown to Bogota and booked on outstanding drug trafficking charges.

Rodriguez was one of the 59 people indicted in Miami, charged with operating a massive cocaine smuggling operation. The suspected cocaine "kingpin" already faced numerous indictments in the U.S. and in Colombia. He is known as "the Chess Player" for his carefully-planned business strategies and his ability to evade extradition (Mary Beth Sheriden, Christopher Marquis, and Jeff Leen, "Leader of Cali Cartel Caught," Miami Herald, June 10, 1995, p. 1).

He and his brother, Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, were indicted in New Orleans in 1987, charged with importation of 1,200 kilos of cocaine. In 1991, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela was charged in Miami with money laundering. He allegedly gave $500,000 to undercover federal agents, and threatened to kill one of the agents if the money was not returned to him.

Colombian President Ernesto Samper said that Rodriguez's arrest shows that Colombia is winning in the fight against drug traffickers. "This is the beginning of the end of the Cali cartel," he said, "and we will not give up until this scourge is completely eradicated."

The arrest comes after pressure from the U.S. to step up investigations of drug trafficking organizations. Samper commissioned a special 6,000-member "shock force" to track cartel figures in the densely-populated Cali inner city. Members of the elite task force are recruited from outside Cali (so cartel members cannot find and threaten their families) and are specially trained (Douglas Farah, "Raiding the World's Cocaine Capital," Washington Post, June 10, 1995, p. 1; Kerry Luft, "With Arrest, Colombia Dents Cali Drug Cartel," Chicago Tribune, June 11, 1995, p. 11).

The operation reportedly received critical tactical and information assistance from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (James Risen, "U.S. Aided Colombia Drug Arrest," Chicago Sun-Times, June 13, 1995, p. 20).

Two days after Rodriguez's arrest, 30 people were killed and 200 wounded in Medellin, Colombia when a bomb exploded during a music festival. Although no group claimed responsibility, Colombian police and DEA officials reportedly wondered if the bombing was meant as retaliation for Rodriguez's arrest and signaled an escalation in battles with police (Joseph B. Treaster, "Arrest in Colombia Heartens U.S.," New York Times, June 12, 1995, p. A8).

The Cali cartel is believed to be the source for 80 percent of the cocaine and 30 percent of the heroin shipped to the U.S.