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Leader’s Arrest Called Death of Cali Drug Cartel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a raid early Sunday, Colombian police captured the reputed leader of their country’s major drug-trafficking group, prompting Colombia’s foreign minister to declare that “the Cali cartel is dead.”

Foreign Minister Rodrigo Pardo said in a telephone interview from the Colombian capital of Bogota that the arrest of Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela in Cali, following the recent arrest and surrender of other major cartel figures, represents a severe setback to “the major source of violence and instability in Colombia.”

U.S. authorities, while hailing the action by Colombian police, were not as quick to write off the cartel, which is estimated to be the source of 80% of the cocaine sold in the United States.

White House drug czar Lee P. Brown praised the capture of Rodriguez as “a very real disruption of one of our most serious national security threats, causing crime, violence and death in our land.”

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But at the same time, Brown, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that any impact “in existing cocaine supplies will not be felt for some time. The threat is not over as others try to take the place of the removed leaders.”

Thomas A. Constantine, the chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, called the arrest “the capstone in a series of arrests of major leaders of the Cali drug mafia, perhaps the most significant criminal entity the world has ever seen.”

Combined with the June 9 capture of Rodriguez’s older brother, Gilberto, and the July 4 arrest of Jose Santacruz Londono, who is reputed to have headed the cartel’s distribution network in the United States, the Colombian government’s actions “strike a mortal blow against the unholy trinity who lead the Cali mafia,” Constantine said.

According to Colombian authorities, police captured Miguel Rodriguez and four associates during a raid by 500 officers on a building in an exclusive residential neighborhood of the southwestern Colombian city.

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Police knocked down the front door of Rodriguez’s 10th-floor apartment, rushed inside and caught the cartel boss in his underwear as he was trying to hide in a secret compartment in a wardrobe in the master bedroom, said Gen. Luis Enrique Montenegro, the second in command of Colombia’s national police.

“He was half-asleep,” Montenegro told a Colombian radio station, according to the Reuters news service. “He was very confused. He did not resist arrest.”

According to police, Rodriguez actually congratulated officers on the arrest and said their intelligence service was excellent.

Foreign Minister Pardo, in the telephone interview, sidestepped the question of whether the rapid-fire series of arrests of Cali bosses was related to allegations that illicit drug money had been funneled to the 1994 election campaign of President Ernesto Samper.

After his arrest two weeks ago, Samper’s former campaign treasurer, Santiago Medina, alleged that Samper had approved the receipt of millions of dollars from the cartel for his campaign.

But Pardo instead tied the arrests to the creation last year of special anti-drug teams, drawn from the police, army and Department of National Security.

And after his arrest, Rodriguez himself denied that traffickers had contributed to Samper’s campaign. He called Medina a liar for saying that they had.

Appearing relaxed in a goatee and a blue sports jacket as police with automatic rifles showed him off to reporters in Bogota after he was flown there from Cali, Rodriguez said, “The president is an honest man,” the Associated Press reported.

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As for the prospects that others would step into the cartel leadership roles, Pardo said, “It is true that the drug trafficking problem in the world won’t be solved until there is a reduction in demand for drugs and money-laundering.”

Pardo said the latest arrest resulted from the intelligence-gathering work by the special anti-drug teams and represented a “domino effect” that began with the June capture of Gilberto Rodriguez.

Miguel Rodriguez was known as the organization’s “transportation specialist,” responsible for the day-to-day operations. He “micro-managed the cartel’s trafficking, which included production, transportation, wholesale distribution and money-laundering,” the DEA’s Constantine said.

Gilberto Rodriguez had concentrated on strategic planning for the Cali group, the DEA said.

The government’s success against the Cali cartel followed its earlier eradication of the Medellin cartel, whose dominance over cocaine production, distribution and related money-laundering was taken over by the Cali group.


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