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Cali Cartel Offers To Disband, But Its Drug Empire Grows

June 26, 1993 GMT

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ In an apparent effort to head off a government crackdown, the leaders of the Cali drug cartel are offering to dismantle their multi-billion dollar business in exchange for judicial favors.

But the growth of Cali’s global drug empire in recent months gives pause to anyone who believes the talk about giving it all up. One law enforcement official called the offer a farce.

However, President Cesar Gaviria approves of the offer, even though he was embarrassed by an earlier deal he made with the head of the Medellin cartel, Pablo Escobar.


″That’s what the surrender laws are there for,″ Gaviria told reporters recently, referring to laws he enacted enabling drug traffickers to surrender in exchange for reduced jail time.

″They are there so that the violence that plagues our society can be resolved through legal means,″ he said.

The surrender laws were discredited after Escobar used them to turn his jail into a plush cartel headquarters before escaping last July.

In the past two months Cali cartel leaders have held at least two summits, in which some 100 drug traffickers met to discuss their future.

The result was the offer to disband, delivered by a cartel lawyer to Colombia’s prosecutor general. In return, the traffickers want the government to ″define″ their judicial status.

Such a definition may well translate into amnesty. The Cali traffickers have either killed or intimidated witnesses who could help convict them.

U.S. indictments against the drug lords became less relevant after extradition was declared unconstitutional in 1991.

The tangled web of Colombia’s violence - a series of overlapping wars among drug traffickers, leftist rebels, right-wing death squads and common criminals - makes Cali’s offer attractive. ″It is wonderful to see persons outside the law offering to put themselves inside the law,″ said the prosecutor general, Gustavo de Greiff.

But despite their offer, the Cali kingpins took full advantage of the government’s recent crackdown on Escobar’s Medellin cartel.

Anti-narcotics police believe disaffected Medellin drug traffickers are joining forces with the Cali group to form a Colombian supercartel that is likely handling more than $30 billion a year in illicit drug sales.

The Cali group has also cornered an estimated 85 percent of the world’s cocaine market, extended its tentacles into Russia, diversified into heroin and exploited a cozy relationship with local police.

Until recently, cartel members appeared openly at parties, restaurants and discoteques in Cali.

The Gaviria administration must now decide whether to call off its fledgling crackdown against them Cali group, including house searches, arrests, the closure of mafia-owned establishments and more drug busts.

According to one source close to the cartel, in the past month the traffickers have been running scared as the government turns its battle against Escobar into a wider war against all drug traffickers.

But the cartel’s lack of direct confrontation with the state belies its power, according to one foreign drug expert in Bogota. She said the cartel controls 40 percent to 50 percent of Colombia’s Congress and its power in Cali is complete.

She said the Cali kingpins - Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez, Francisco Herrera, and Jose Santacruz - want to clear their judicial slates so their children, some of whom attended Stanford and Harvard, can return to Colombia to manage the families’ non-drug businesses.