Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, escorted by Colombian soldiers, before boarding the plane that took him to the United States in 2004.


Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, escorted by Colombian soldiers, before boarding the plane that took him to the United States in 2004.
Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, escorted by Colombian soldiers, before boarding the plane that took him to the United States in 2004.

The drug trafficker Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, one of the great Colombian capos of the Cali cartel who faced Pablo Escobar, has died in a North Carolina hospital after spending almost 20 years in a US prison. “My father passed away at dawn today,” one of his daughters, Alexandra Rodríguez, confirmed to him on Wednesday. Radius Snail. the chess player, according to his best known alias, 83 years old, he had been extradited in 2004, after being captured in Colombia in 1995.

Rodríguez Orejuela, who suffered from cancer, had been transferred to the medical center a month ago due to his serious health condition and apparently died of heart problems, according to the Colombian press. Together with his brother Miguel, who is also in a US prison, he was the head of the Cali cartel. The Rodríguez Orejuela brothers became the most powerful drug traffickers in the world, in competition with the late Pablo Escobar, at the head of the Medellín cartel.

When he was handed over to the United States in December 2004, on an early morning flight from Bogotá to Miami, Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela became the biggest mafia capo ever extradited by Colombia. The images that showed them heavily escorted, handcuffed and wearing a bulletproof vest became a postcard of the long fight against drug trafficking in the largest producer of coca leaf in the world. His brother, Miguel, followed in his footsteps a few weeks later, at the beginning of 2005. Until then, the top capos that Bogotá had extradited had been Carlos Ledher and Fabio Ochoa, second-level commanders in the Medellín cartel..

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The two Rodríguez Orejuela brothers waged a legal battle for many years to try to prevent their extradition. They always believed that they had the card up their sleeve of having collaborated in the persecution of Pablo Escobar, their great enemy, who was shot to death on a roof in December 1993, and that this would somehow prevent them from ending their days in the United States. . The US authorities claimed to have proof that Gilberto and Miguel never left drug trafficking and ran their businesses from prison. According to the DEA, the Rodríguez Orejuela family with the Cali cartel and the Escobar family with the Medellín cartel were responsible for 80% of the cocaine that entered the United States between 1984 and 1990.

Those were the years in which drug trafficking permeated Colombian society without restraint, which caused a confrontation with the State in which the capos said they preferred a tomb in Colombia to a prison in the United States. Faced with the terrorism unleashed mainly by the Medellín cartel, President Virgilio Barco (1986-1990) “responded with a total war against drug trafficking, in which he tried to present Colombia to world opinion as a victim of a global business, that could not be resolved without the collaboration of all countries, consumers and producers”, writes Jorge Orlando Melo in his celebrated Minimal history of Colombia. Since then, extradition has been both a source of legal and political disputes and a tool of pressure.

The Rodríguez Orejuela brothers were also front-line protagonists in the political scandal over drug money entering the campaign that brought Ernesto Samper to the Presidency in 1994. “Despite the fact that Samper maintained that this support was behind ‘his back ‘, which was accepted by the Congress that judged him, and forcefully confronted the traffickers of Cali, the US government did not trust him and many local sectors joined together to seek his retirement, “writes Melo with the gaze of the historian. The leaders of the Cali cartel were captured during that same government, and later extradited in that of Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010). The Rodríguez Orejuelas had said last year that they wanted to appear before the Truth Commission arising from the peace agreement with the extinct FARC guerrilla, and in a letter they slipped that they had financed not only Samper’s campaign, but also that of the former president. Andres Pastrana (1998-2002).

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Like Medellín, Cali suffered at the end of the last century from the stigma of drug trafficking and its deep penetration even reached soccer. The Rodríguez Orejuelas took control of América de Cali in 1979, a shadow that lasted for decades. That illicit money allowed for stellar signings that led America to dominate the Copa Libertadores in the 1980s, although without actually winning the trophy. It was no secret. In a memorable episode, Anthony the smurf de Ávila, an American idol, even dedicated a key goal with the Colombian team in the qualifiers for France 98 to “some people who are deprived of their liberty…Gilberto and Miguel.”

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