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One Cali Drug Cartel Leader Escapes Prison, Second Negotiating His Surrender; Colombian President Faces Mounting Accusations of Taking Cartel Money, Resignation Pressure Growing


February 1996

Jose Santacruz Londono, one of the leaders of Colombia's Cali drug cartel, escaped from prison on January 11 (Associated Press, "Drug Cartel Leader Escapes From Colombian Prison," Washington Post, January 12, 1996, p. A18).

Santacruz had been held in La Picota prison since his arrest on July 4, 1995 on charges of conspiracy, murder, and illicit enrichment. Authorities say he may have been smuggled out in a car from the prosecutor general's office. The national police service announced a $2 million award for information leading to his capture.

Colombian and U.S. officials told the Washington Post that despite their incarceration, Cali cartel leaders continue to run their drug trafficking business (Douglas Farah, "Colombia's Jailed Drug Barons Said to Carry on Business," Washington Post, January 13, 1996, p. A13). They said that corruption is so widespread in the country's prisons that even high-profile prisoners such as Santacruz can literally walk out of prison. According to the sources, Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela had cellular phones smuggled to them in prison.

Last summer Colombian police arrested six of the seven leaders of the Cali cartel. Helmer Herrera Buitrago, the last Cali cartel leader not killed or prosecuted, is reportedly negotiating with police and his lawyers for his surrender. Although one of his lawyers announced on December 17 that Herrera would soon surrender, police refused the conditions he proposed and increased the reward offered for his capture from $1 million to $1.5 million (Reuters, "Cartel Kingpin Set to Surrender," Philadelphia Daily News, December 18, 1995, p. 17; Associated Press, "Colombia Steps Up Reward for Cartel Leader's Capture," Philadelphia Inquirer, January 5, 1996, p. A8).

Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar escaped from a Colombian prison known as "The Cathedral" on July 22, 1993. He was killed in a shootout on December 2, 1993.

Santacruz's escape brought more criticism to Colombian President Ernesto Samper, who is being accused of accepting a $6 million bribe from the Cali cartel. His former campaign manager and defense minister, Fernando Botero, has testified that Samper took the money to fund his campaign.

Samper is considering ordering a referendum on his presidency, and many Colombians are calling for him to resign (Douglas Farah, "Colombians Demand Samper's Resignation," Washington Post, January 24, 1996, p. A21).

On January 24, President Clinton ordered the revocation of six military officers' visas because of alleged involvement in drug trafficking (Douglas Farah, "U.S. to Revoke Colombians' Visas," Washington Post, January 25, 1996, p. A18). According to unnamed sources quoted in the Washington Post, one of those officials is Hernando Camilo Zuniga, chairman of the Colombian Joint Chiefs of Staff. During a January 15 visit to Colombia, Central Intelligence Agency Director John M. Deutsch refused to meet with Zuniga because of his possible ties to drug organizations.