Colombian Cocaine Trafficking Groups and the Decentralization of Cocaine Trade:
Colombian drug traffickers are chiefly responsible for most of the world’s cocaine base production, cocaine HCI production, and cocaine wholesale distribution. From the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, first the Medellin Cartel, and then the Cali Cartel, dominated all aspects of international cocaine trade, from wholesale production to wholesale distribution in the United States and Europe, until aggressive counter-drug efforts by Colombia and the US caused the dissolution of these cartels and the decentralization of the drug trade.
In the late 1980s, the Medellin Cartel was run by the Ochoa brothers (Juan David, Jorge Luis, and Fabio). But, as these leaders faced increasing government pressures, they surrendered to the Colombian Government in late 1990 and early 1992, assuming they would face lenient sentencing. Following their surrender, two more chief drug lords of the Medellin cartel, Jose Rodriguez-Gacha (December 1989) and Pablo Escobar (December 1993), were violently murdered. As a result, the Medellin cartel broke up and gradually lost its secure lock on the international cocaine market.
By the early 1990s, a loose association of five independent drug trafficking groups, collectively known as the Cali Cartel, succeeded the Medellin Cartel in dominating the international market.11 However, the capture of the Rodriguez-Orejuela brothers in 1995, the death of Jose Santacruz-Londone, and the surrender of Helmer “Pacho” Herrera in September 1996 drove the Cali Cartel to a fate similar to that of the Medellin Cartel. Following the dissolution of these powerful cartels, experienced drug traffickers jumped on the opportunity to increase their roles and positions in the cocaine trade. What resulted was a decentralized drug trade which led to a subsequent change in how drug trafficking groups operated.
Today, Colombian traffickers typically specialize in one aspect of the cocaine industry, unlike their cartel predecessors. This is in part a result of the cocaine trade’s fragmentation, but also a product of the reintroduction of extradition in Colombia, which occurred in December of 1997. Because traders can be extradited to the US, as was a recent trader Alejandro Bernal Madrigal (aka Juvenal), major Colombian traffickers are increasingly willing to allow their foreign criminal associates an expanded international role.
Since the mid-1990s, some Mexican drug transportation groups have received up to 50 percent of the Colombian cocaine they move to the United States as payment for a successful smuggling operation. Seeing an opportunity to expand their wholesale cocaine distribution, the major Mexican drug trafficking groups have increasingly capitalized on this “payment-in-product” arrangement. In fact, Mexican trafficking groups now dominate the wholesale distribution of cocaine in the United States’ West and Midwest. Despite this development, Colombian traffickers continue to control the supply of cocaine at its source and dominate the wholesale cocaine markets in the eastern United States and in Europe.
Similarly to their Mexican counterparts, Caribbean drug trafficking groups are primarily involved in drug transportation and receive a payment-in-product arrangement for successful smuggling operations. This arrangement has also allowed Dominican traffickers to expand their own cocaine distribution operations in the United States and the Caribbean. As a result, Dominican groups dominate drug trafficking in and around the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico.12