Al Qaeda is Scared and No Match to the Colombian Drug Cartels
Al Qaeda is Scared and No Match to the Colombian Drug Cartels
Al-Qaeda (// al-KY-də; Arabic: القاعدة al-qāʿidah, Arabic: [ælqɑːʕɪdɐ], translation: “The Base” and alternatively spelled al-Qaida and sometimes al-Qa’ida) is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden in Peshawar, Pakistan, at some point between August 1988 and late 1989, with its origins being traceable to the Soviet War in Afghanistan. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and a radical Sunni Muslim movement calling for global Jihad and a strict interpretation of sharia law. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, India and various other countries (see below). Al-Qaeda has carried out many attacks on non-Sunni Muslims, non-Muslims, and other targets it considers kafir.
Al-Qaeda has attacked civilian and military targets in various countries, including the September 11 attacks, 1998 U.S. embassy bombings and the 2002 Bali bombings. The U.S. government responded to the September 11 attacks by launching the War on Terror. With the loss of key leaders, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s operations have devolved from actions that were controlled from the top-down, to actions by franchise associated groups, to actions of lone wolf operators.
Characteristic techniques employed by al-Qaeda include suicide attacks and simultaneous bombings of different targets. Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the movement, who have taken a pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, or the much more numerous “al-Qaeda-linked” individuals who have undergone training in one of its camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Sudan, but who have not taken any pledge. Al-Qaeda ideologues envision a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new world-wide Islamic caliphate. Among the beliefs ascribed to Al-Qaeda members is the conviction that a Christian–Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam. As Salafist jihadists, they believe that the killing of civilians is religiously sanctioned, and they ignore any aspect of religious scripture which might be interpreted as forbidding the murder of civilians and internecine fighting. Al-Qaeda also opposes man-made laws, and wants to replace them with a strict form of sharia law.
Al-Qaeda is also responsible for instigating sectarian violence among Muslims. Al-Qaeda is intolerant of non-Sunni branches of Islam and denounces them by means of excommunications called “takfir“. Al-Qaeda leaders regard liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other sects as heretics and have attacked their mosques and gatherings. Examples of sectarian attacks include the Yazidi community bombings, the Sadr City bombings, the Ashoura Massacre and the April 2007 Baghdad bombings.
Medellín Cartel (1976–1993)
Main article: Medellín Cartel
The Medellín Cartel led by Pablo Escobar established a ruthless organization, kidnapping or murdering those who interfered with its objectives. The Medellín Cartel was responsible for the murders of hundreds of people, including government officials, politicians, law enforcement members, journalists, relatives of same, and innocent bystanders. The cartel sometimes cooperated with guerrilla groups such as the M-19, to process and protect illegal drugs. When conflicts emerged between the Medellín Cartel and the guerrillas, the cartel also promoted the creation of paramilitary groups.
The cartel originally imported most coca from Bolivia and Peru, processing it into cocaine inside Colombia and then distributing it through most of the trafficking routes and distribution points in the U.S., including Florida, California and New York.
The pressure mounted by the US and Colombian governments to counter them led to the cartel’s destruction, with key associates being gunned down by police and military forces or turning themselves in to authorities in exchange for lenient prison terms.
Cali Cartel (1977−1998)
Main article: Cali Cartel
The Cali Cartel, also known as “Cali’s Gentlemen,” was based in southern Colombia, around the city of Cali and the Valle del Cauca Department. The Cali Cartel was founded by the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers, Gilberto and Miguel, as well as associate José Santacruz Londoño. The Cali Cartel originally began as a ring of kidnappers known as Las Chemas. The profits of kidnapping helped finance the ring’s move to drug trafficking, originally beginning in Marijuana and eventually spreading to cocaine. The cartel’s estimated revenue would eventually reach an estimated $7 billion a year.
The cartel’s influence also spread to the political and justice system. It also played a role in the manhunt that led to the death of Pablo Escobar, helping form the vigilante group “Los Pepes”, which worked alongside members of the government’s elite Bloque de Busqueda, exchanging information on the whereabouts of Escobar and key figures in the Medellín Cartel.
After the collapse of the cartel, it was discovered it was wiretapping phone calls made into and out of Bogotá, and was engaged in money laundering using numerous front companies spread throughout Colombia.
Norte del Valle Cartel
Main article: Norte del Valle Cartel
The Norte del Valle Cartel, or North Valley Cartel, is a drug cartel which operates principally in the north of the Valle del Cauca department of Colombia. It rose to prominence during the second half of the 1990s, after the Cali Cartel and the Medellín Cartel fragmented, and was known as one of the most powerful organizations in the illegal drugs trade. The chiefs of the Norte del Valle cartel included Diego León Montoya Sánchez, Wilber Varela and Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía. Of the original leaders of the cartel, Wilber Varela was the last remaining member being sought by the authorities, but was found dead on January 31, 2008.
The Norte del Valle cartel is estimated to have exported more than 1.2 million pounds – or 500 metric tons – of cocaine worth in excess of $10 billion from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately to the United States for resale in past year. Indictments filed in the United States charge the Norte del Valle cartel with using violence and brutality to further its goals, including the murder of rivals, individuals who failed to pay for cocaine, and associates who were believed to be working as informants. This illegal drug is one of Colombia’s main exports even though it’s illegal.
Leaders of the Norte del Valle cartel were further alleged to have bribed and corrupted Colombian law enforcement and Colombian legislators to, among other things, attempt to block the extradition of Colombian narcotics traffickers to the United States for further prosecution. According to the indictments filed in the United States, members of the Norte del Valle cartel even conducted their own wiretaps in Colombia to intercept the communications of rival drug traffickers and Colombian and United States law enforcement officials.
The cartel is believed to have employed the services of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary organization internationally classified as a terrorist organization, to protect the cartel’s drug routes, its drug laboratories, and its members and associates. The AUC is one of the 37 Foreign Terrorist Organizations identified by the U.S. State Department in 2004.
North Coast Cartel
Main article: North Coast Cartel
The North Coast Cartel was based in the Colombian city of Barranquilla by the Caribbean coast and was headed by Alberto Orlandez-Gamboa “Caracol” (the snail) considered as ruthless as Pablo Escobar. The organization transshipped significant amounts of cocaine to the United States and Europe via the smuggling routes it controlled from Colombia’s North Coast through the Caribbean. As head of the organization, Gamboa depended on his close associates to conduct the organization’s operations and to insulate himself.
As is typical with many Colombia-based organizations, Gamboa compartmentalized his business dealings. In addition, the success of Caracol’s Barranquilla-based drug trafficking organization was attributed, in part, to the respect the drug organization received from other traffickers operating on Colombia’s North Coast. DEA Intelligence indicated that traffickers paid taxes to Gamboa’s organization in order to be allowed to ship drugs out of the North Coast. His influence in this region was so strong that traffickers even asked him for permission before conducting assassinations.
On June 6, 1998, Caracol was arrested in Barranquilla, as a result of an ongoing joint investigation between DEA’s Barranquilla Resident Office and the Colombian National Police. After his arrest, Caracol immediately was flown to Bogota, Colombia, where he was held on murder, kidnapping, and terrorism charges. He was extradited to the United States in August 2000. On March 13, 2003, Caracol pleaded guilty to participating in a narcotics trafficking conspiracy that smuggled tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into New York and other cities. His plea was announced on the morning he was to go on trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan after losing a crucial appellate ruling. With the capture of Gamboa the North Coast Cartel structure was later dismantled by the Colombian National Police.
Extradition treaty with the US
Perhaps the greatest threat posed to the Medellín Cartel and the other traffickers was the implementation of an extradition treaty between the United States and Colombia. It allowed Colombia to extradite any Colombian suspected of drug trafficking to the US and to be put on trial there for their crimes.
This was a major problem for the cartel since the drug traffickers had little access to their local power and influence in the US, and a trial there would most likely lead to imprisonment. Among the staunch supporters of the extradition treaty were Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, Police Officer Jaime Ramírez and numerous Supreme Court Judges.
However, the cartel applied a “bend or break” strategy towards several of these supporters. When attacks against the police began to cause major losses, some of the major drug lords themselves were temporarily pushed out of Colombia, going into hiding while they ordered cartel members to take out key supporters of the extradition treaty.
Influence in government and politics
Influence of the Medellín Cartel
During the 1980s, the Medellín Cartel leader Pablo Escobar, already possessed of considerable wealth, attempted to expand his influence and notoriety by entering into Colombian political life through the political movement of liberal leader Luis Carlos Galán named New Liberalism. Escobar succeeded in becoming deputy to congressman Alberto Santofimio, but after the provenance of Escobar’s wealth and his mounting influence were made a public controversy Galán was forced to reject him from his political movement and pushed for an extradition treaty with the United States.
Another member of the Medellín Cartel, Carlos Lehder, used his cocaine wealth to make a push for political power. His movement was populist, funding free education and health programs in rural areas and the construction of homes for slum-dwellers. His rhetoric was also anti-American, anti-Russian and anti-imperialist. His program showed similarities with that of Pablo Escobar, who paid for lighting to be installed in local football clubs and also paid for housing for slum-dwellers. The active political stance of some members of the Medellín Cartel was a significant factor in the attempts of the Colombian state to destroy their influence in the country.
Influence of the Cali Cartel
See also: 8000 Process
In contrast, the Cali Cartel adopted a much more subtle and non-confrontation attitude. Many of its bosses were from already wealthy and influential families, and they tended to invest their earnings from the cocaine trade in legitimate businesses. This often included complementary businesses, such as pharmacy and chemical manufacturing, which provided a cover for the purchase of the chemicals needed to refine the coca-paste purchased in the coca-growing regions into cocaine for export to the USA.
The cartel’s non-confrontational strategy and its integration within the existing power structure, in contrast to the political challenge attempted by members of the Medellín Cartel, meant that they were threatened much less by law enforcement, from both Colombian investigators and the DEA. The head of the DEA in Bogotá said that in comparison with the Medellín bosses, the Cali bosses were “more refined, more cultured.” The DEA regularly left the Cali Cartel alone in exchange for information that would allow them to arrest figures from the Medellín Cartel.
Influence upon the armed conflict
See also: Colombian Armed Conflict (1960s–present)
During the 1980s the Medellín Cartel led by Pablo Escobar was at its height and the U.S. and Colombian governments were moving towards enforcing laws regarding the illegal drug trade. The Medellín Cartel associated with 19th of April Movement (M-19) guerrilla among others to rely on them the production and processing of the illegal drugs. The guerrillas saw in the illegal drug trade a form of financing their guerrilla movement. Other guerrillas such as FARC and ELN followed the same example and also began collecting taxes on small illegal drug trafficking organizations to improve their financial stability.
With the fall of the two main drug trafficking cartels of Medellín and Cali in the 1990s, some of organizations that inherited their drug routes were members of the newly formed Norte del Valle Cartel. The FARC and ELN guerrillas came to control the coca-growing regions in the Colombian Amazon and to tax the income from the sale of coca-paste. The para-military groups initially grew out of the private armies of cocaine cartels.
They have however also been employed by the Colombian state to assassinate trade unionists, left-wing priests and any others deemed to be leftist sympathists. “The strengthening of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during the 1990s was an unintended consequence of a series of tactical successes in U.S. antidrug policies. These included dismantling the Medellín and Cali drug cartels, interdicting coca coming into Colombian processing facilities, and using drug certification requirements to pressure the Colombian government to attack drug cartels and allow aerial fumigation of coca crops. These successes, however, merely pushed coca cultivation increasingly to FARC-dominated areas while weakening many of the FARC’s political-military opponents. This provided the FARC with unprecedented opportunities to extract resources from the cocaine industry to deepen its long insurgency against the Colombian state.”
See also: FARC, ELN Colombia, Popular Liberation Army, and 19th of April Movement
See also: Paramilitarism in Colombia and United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia
See also: Plan Colombia