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Columbian Drug Cartels

Narcotics traffickers operating on a global scale require an extensive support network, including procurement, logistics, transportation, communications, security, money laundering, and other facilitation. Disguising the sometimes vast profits derived from major drug operations requires the purchase of ostensibly legitimate enterprises capable of handling business on an international scale. These illicitly funded “corporate empires” can be extensive, complex, and undermine the integrity of financial systems. They are also one of the drug cartels’ greatest vulnerabilities.

Multinational counterdrug efforts crippled the Medellin Cartel that dominated the international cocaine trade in the 1980s and into the early 1990s. The Cali Cartel, a loose association of five independent trafficking organizations, took advantage of the Colombian Government's focus on the Medellin Cartel by consolidating its control of the international cocaine trade. Each year, the Cali Cartel smuggled hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States and Europe, and launders billions of dollars in drug proceeds. The Cali Cartel kingpins directed and managed criminal enterprises employing thousands throughout Latin America, Europe, and the United States. These included investors, bankers, lawyers, logistics experts, exporters, importers, chemists, wholesalers, and retailers.

To combat the threats of violence, corruption, and harm posed by narcotics traffi ckers and their networks, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12978 in October 1995, declaring a national emergency with respect to significant foreign narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia. The impact of these sanctions has been significant and, at times, dramatic. When OFAC designates an individual or entity, any assets within the United States or the possession or control of a U.S. person anywhere in the world, must be frozen.

OFAC’s principal tool for implementing these sanctions against narcotics traffickers is its list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers. OFAC works in close consultation with the U.S. Departments of Justice and State to develop this list. It names not only the principal leadership of targeted drug cartels, but also their businesses and associates. At the outset of the program, the list included the four Cali drug cartel kingpins named in the Annex to Executive Order 12978, Gilberto and Miguel RODRIGUEZ OREJUELA, Jose SANTA CRUZ LONDOÑO, and Helmer HERRERA BUITRAGO. Beginning in 1998, OFAC expanded the SDNT list beyond the Cali drug cartel.

As of December 31, 2006, the SDNT list included 527 companies and 815 individuals involved in the ownership or management of the 21 Colombian drug cartel leaders’ business empires. The businesses named as SDNTs range across industries and include drugstore chains, a supermarket chain, pharmaceutical laboratories, airlines, a medical clinic, hotels, restaurant service companies, radio stations, sports teams, communications companies, construction firms, real estate firms, investment and financial companies, consulting companies, off -shore fi rms, horse breeding farms and other agricultural businesses, mining operations, maritime agencies, and a department store.

By 2008 drug cartels in South America, specifically in Colombia, were using submarines that they make in the jungles where they make the cocaine that they bring into the United States. The submarine is made out of fiberglass. It is about 100 feet long and it carries approximately $300 million worth of cocaine. It has a crew of five.

It is made in such a way that when intercepted by the United States Navy or the United States Coast Guard, they are able to pull certain levers and valves on this submarine and it is junked in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of Colombia. They scuttle these ships, because what happens is when they scuttle them, the five man crew jumps off the boat into a lifeboat, and then the United States Navy has to rescue them and save them, but they can't prosecute them for importation of drugs into the United States.

These submarines cost the drug cartels about $1 million apiece to manufacture. Intelligence sources reported that by 2008 the drug cartels would bring in approximately 90 more loads of drugs into the United States from Colombia using these submarines.

They are made in such a way that they are highly mobile. They go about 14 knots apiece, and they are able to go all the way from Colombia into the United States without refueling. It is a constant problem for the Navy and United States Coast Guard to track these individuals and to catch them with the cocaine. That same vessel can go into any port in the United States as a submarine carrying weapons, explosives, weapons of mass destruction, and used as some type of suicide submarine, similar to what was used against the USS Cole some years ago in the Middle East.

With the dismantlement of the former Colombia cartels and the retraction of these cartels from key geographic locations outside of Colombia, the Mexican cartels have filled the vacuum first by assuming supremacy of the cocaine distribution market in the United States and in recent years in a much broader global context.

By 2010 Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) expanded their operations in the Florida/Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic, New York/New Jersey, and New England Regions, where, in the past, Colombian DTOs were the leading suppliers of cocaine and heroin. As a result, the direct influence of Colombian DTOs has diminished further, although they remain a source for wholesale quantities of cocaine and heroin in many eastern states, especially New York and New Jersey.

Mexican DTOs expanded their presence by increasing their transportation and distribution networks, directly supplying Dominican drug distributors that had previously distributed cocaine and heroin provided primarily by Colombian DTOs. The switch by Dominican DTOs from Colombian to Mexican suppliers is most evident in the Mid-Atlantic Region, specifically in the Philadelphia/Camden and Washington/Baltimore areas. In these locations, some Dominican DTOs bypass Colombian sources of supply in New York City and Miami and obtain cocaine and heroin directly from Mexican sources or from sources in the Caribbean or in South America.

Colombian Trafficking Organizations involvement in wholesale drug trafficking operations within the United States declined over the 5 years upt 2010 and was unlikely to increase in the foreseeable future. As a consequence, other trafficking organizations expanded into areas previously controlled by Colombian traffickers, particularly East Coast markets.

Colombian-based TCOs involved in drug trafficking to the United States were largely remnants of larger cartels as well as demobilized paramilitaries and insurgents . The groups were involved in producing cocaine and heroin and transporting the drugs out of Colombia. Law enforcement reporting indicates that most Colombian-controlled wholesale trafficking cells are primarily smuggling multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine and South American heroin into eastern U.S. markets, principally New York and South Florida. Colombian TCOs smuggling cocaine and heroin into East Coast cities favored commercial airlines and maritime vessels, often transiting Caribbean island countries such as the Dominican Republic.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2018 18:09:14 ZULU