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DATE=11/10/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=COLOMBIA DRUGS NUMBER=5-44743 BYLINE=RHODA METCALFE DATELINE= INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Colombia has struggled for decades with drug mafias. Its reputation as a source of high quality cocaine -- and more recently heroin -- remains legendary. For years the U-S government rejected Colombia's assertion that it was doing all it could to fight drugs. But times are changing. Rhoda Metcalfe reports from Bogota that the days of the all-powerful Colombian mafias seem to be over TEXT: /// SPANISH NEWS CLIP FADES UNDER /// When news reports in Colombia recently announced the capture of a major drug trafficker, Colombia's police chief Jose Serrano said the best evidence against the suspect was close ties to Mexican drug lords. /// SERRANO SPANISH ACT FADES UNDER /// General Serrano says, the man has excellent connections with the Mexican drug traffickers. He says that is critical, because as everyone knows, without those Mexican connections, Colombian drug traffickers cannot move the drugs directly into the United States. General Serrano's words were a sign of how far Colombian drug dealers have fallen since the days of the infamous Colombian drug mafias -- which once ruled the drug world. Today, Colombian drug lords have become the middle men. /// SFX SIRENS, BOMB, SIRENS /// Bombings were commonplace in the heyday of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin drug cartel. In the early 90's, their campaign of terror killed thousands of Colombians and successfully forced the government to back away from extraditing drug lords. Economic analysts estimate that during the Escobar years, five to six percent of Colombia's G-D-P was drug money -- close to the combined value of Colombia's oil and coffee - the country's two top exports. With the slaying of Escobar in 1993, the Cali drug cartel took over. A subtler mafia, the Cali drug lords gained control by bribing Colombian politicians. The corruption even tainted the election of former President Ernesto Samper. /// SAMPER SPANISH ACT FADES UNDER /// Mr. Samper was accused of winning the presidency with the backing of six million dollars from the Cali cocaine cartel. The Supreme Court cleared him, but the United States revoked his American visa, saying it had evidence of his links to traffickers. The power of Colombia's drug mafias finally began to unravel three years ago, with the arrest of the Rodriguez-Orejuela brothers, the leaders of the Cali cartel. This time, there was no new mafia to take their place. Sergio Uribe is an independent researcher who has worked with international anti-drug organizations. He explains that a bunch of small Colombian players moved in to take over the cocaine processing. /// FIRST URIBE ACT /// Before we might have had maybe 10 to 20 people who controlled 60 or 70 percent of the cristalization -- that is the production of cocaine from base to cocaine. Today we might have 200. /// END ACT /// The Colombians lost the most lucrative end of the business -- the distribution routes into the United States. They were taken over by Mexican traffickers who had the advantage of contacts in large Mexican neighborhoods established in the big U-S cities. /// SFX CASH REGISTER /// The amount of drug money circulating in Colombia is now believed to be about half what it was at its peak -- about two or three percent of G-D-P. The drug dealers who remain downplay their wealth. They've learned. The opulent style of former drug lords was often the key to their downfall. /// OPT /// Analyst Sergio Uribe points to a recently publicized arrest of a Cali drug dealer who was thought it wise to live in a middle-class neighborhood. /// SECOND URIBE ACT /// Of course, the news media forgot to mention that the house was basically bulletproof. Had been totally armored. But he was living there, that's very low profile. He ran around in a taxi. Ten years ago the guy would have gone around in a Mercedes Benz and had 20 bodyguards. /// END ACT /// /// END OPT /// And after the scandal surrounding former President Samper and many other high-ranking Congressmen and bureaucrats, it has become harder for drug lords to get Colombian politicians into their pocket [bribe them]. Analyst Juan Jose Echavarria of the private economic research group known as FEDESARROLLO says politicians are increasingly wary. /// FIRST ECHAVARRIA ACT /// It is true that drugs corrupted many people, but it is also true that many of these people ended in jail. So if you are in politics, you had better think again. You had better think twice if you go into the drug business or work with these people /// END ACT /// Colombia's justice system continues to make regular arrests of bureaucrats allegedly corrupted by drug money. New controls over banking and taxation are making money-laundering slightly more difficult -- pushing some traffickers to move their money to safer places, often in the Caribbean. Analyst Echavarria points out that the new generation of small-scale traffickers has learned to operate like modern businessmen. /// SECOND ECHAVARRIA ACT /// They put their money in or out as any legal activity puts the money in. When it is profitable to send the money out they do it, when it is profitable to bring it in, they do it. And that depends on interest rates and expectation of devaluation. I mean they are as rational as every other guy in the country is. /// END ACT /// That makes them all the more difficult to track. Drug profits move as fluidly around the world as investment capital. And Colombia's drug traffickers, despite their nasty reputation, are becoming less and less significant actors in the increasingly complex world of the drug trade. (Signed) Neb/rm/gm 10-Nov-1999 15:24 PM EDT (10-Nov-1999 2024 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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