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New Breed of Drug Barons Shun Violence, Flamboyant Lifestyle


February 1993

The major illicit drug importers of Colombia and the U.S. are increasingly becoming impossible to distinguish from their quiet, law abiding neighbors unless implicated in drug smuggling, according to federal officials (Rachel Swarns, "Dealers of the '90s: Civilized, Almost," Miami Herald, 1/24/93, 1B).

Whereas drug barons of the 1970's and 1980's flaunted their wealth and engaged in widespread, high-profile violence, the new breed, influenced by the now dominant Colombian Cali cartel, shun violence, drive modest cars, live in modest homes, and participate in religious and civic activities. One alleged Miami drug dealer charged with importing more than 20 tons of cocaine, for example, ate brown bag lunches and regularly attended temple.

The changes in style are no coincidence, officials say, and are making the task of finding drug smugglers considerably more difficult. The Cali cartel learned from the mistakes of the Medellin cartel, whose boss, Pablo Escobar, is in hiding and whose other members have either surrendered, or been killed or captured. In addition to adopting a low-key public profile, the Cali approach to smuggling focuses on concealing drugs in legitimate cargo rather than running plane- and boat- loads of drugs past interdiction authorities. Drugs now arrive mixed in barrels of fruit, spools of wire, or hollowed out construction materials such as concrete posts or aluminum blocks contained in huge, legitimate cargo shipments.