Chief of Operations, Drug Enforcement Administration
U.S. Department of Justice
Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs and Criminal Justice
Cooperative efforts of the Colombian National Police and military in anti-narcotic efforts, and current initiatives DEA has in Colombia.
July 9, 1997
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
The Emergence of New Trafficking Threats to the Western Hemisphere
Colombian Situation Report
FARC Involvement in the Drug Trade
Law Enforcement's Response
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee today to discuss the cooperative efforts of the Colombian National Police and military in our joint anti-narcotic efforts, as well as current initiatives DEA has in Colombia. First I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman and the Subcommittee, for your continued support of DEA and its programs, both internationally and on the homefront. I know you recently showed your commitment and continued interest in the anti-narcotics efforts in the Western Hemisphere by traveling to the source countries of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. This allowed you to see first hand the initiatives that have been put into place as a result of the substantial budget increases for the Andean Ridge, strongly supported by this committee, in the FY-97 budget.
Narco-traffickers from Colombia seized total control of the cocaine trade in the late 1970's. The first to dominate this trade were the organized criminal groups headquartered in Medellin, Colombia, led by violent criminals like Fabio Ochoa, Jose Rodriquez-Gacha, Carlos Lehder, and arguably the most violent criminal in history, Pablo Escobar. These individuals ruled the drug trade in Colombia and in major cities in the United States, such as Miami and New York, with an iron fist. As with organized crime throughout history, their climb to success was rooted in bribery, intimidation and murder. The murder rate in Colombia has always been exponentially higher per capita than in the United States. During the heyday of Escobar and his confederates, as a result of their violence, up to 2,000 citizens and police officers were murdered per year in Medellin. At the height of his power, in an act of total impunity, Escobar placed a $1,000/$3,000 bounty on the lives of police officers in Colombia and he was the mastermind behind an Avianca commercial airliner being blown from the sky in Bogota killing 107 persons. Numerous Colombian Supreme Court Justices considering the extradition of Colombian drug lords to the United States lost their lives at the hands of Escobar's ruthless henchmen.
One by one the leaders of the most violent organized criminal group in history were brought to justice by the Colombian National Police. Lehder was extradited to the United States, to stand trial for his crimes, and is currently serving life terms in a Federal Penitentiary. The Ochoa brothers were arrested, but received ridiculously short jail terms for their crimes, and were in fact recently released from a Colombian prison. Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez-Gacha and Pablo Escobar were killed in bloody gunfights with the Colombian National Police.
During the time the Colombian National Police were engaged in their campaign to bring down the Medellin Crime Syndicate, a group of young criminals in Cali, Colombia, led by Miquel Rodrigues Orejuela, his brother Gilberto, and Jose Santa Cruz Londono were building what was to become the most prolific and successful criminal enterprise in history. By the early 1990's, these traffickers from Cali, far less flamboyant and seemingly less violent than their counterparts from Medellin, had slowly established control over the cocaine trade in this hemisphere as well as in Europe, and even began opening new markets in the Far East.
Orejuela created an enormous monolithic organization that orchestrated the manufacture of hundreds of tons of cocaine in Colombia, which were moved through the Caribbean and later Mexico, to U.S. markets. The leadership of the Cali Cartel ruled this seven billion dollar per year business, while safely ensconced on foreign soil. In short, they became the prominent "mob leaders of the 1990's." However, they were far wealthier, far more dangerous, far more influential, and had a much more devastating impact on the day-to-day lives of the citizens of our country than either their domestic predecessors or the crime families from Medellin.
Miguel Orejuela and his confederates set up an extremely well-disciplined system of compartmentalization that spanned and insulated every facet of their drug business. The organization's tentacles reached into the cities and towns of the United States either through their U.S.-based infrastructure or their surrogates who sold crack cocaine on the streets of locations as varied as Chicago, Illinois and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. At the height of his power, Orejuela was reportedly using as much as one-half of his seven billion dollar annual income from drug sales to bribe government officials, judges, and police officers in Colombia. Although they freely used their enormous wealth to bribe, they were just as prone to violence as the thugs from Medellin. Just as "traditional" organized crime was addressed over time in the United States by exposing its leaders, and systematically stripping away the pretense that they were legitimate businessmen, the organized criminal groups from Colombia have been eviscerated, and are now a fragment of what they once were.
The Colombian National Police (CNP), through tenacity, courage, and bravery that has seldom, if ever, been seen in law enforcement, faced down the most powerful organized criminal syndicate in history. Through the fearless leadership of General Rosso Serrano and Colonel Leonardo Gallego of the Colombian National Police, as well as that of General Harold Bedoya of the Colombian military, they built cases on the entire upper echelon of the Cali drug trafficking organization. They methodically tracked each leader down until the entire infrastructure of the Cali Mafia was either incarcerated or dead. There is no tribute too great for the brave men and women of the CNP who gave their lives in this effort.
Yet, even though Orejuela and his brother are in jail, the violence continues. On November 4, 1996, a van , filled with 360 pounds of dynamite, was discovered parked outside a chemical plant owned by the family of a Senator sponsoring a bill that lifted the ban on extradition of Colombian drug traffickers to the United States. The car-bomb, once the signature of the Medellin Cartel, was discovered just days before the extradition bill was scheduled for debate by the Colombian Senate. On June 18th, eight Colombian National Police Officers were killed and 12 others wounded as they tried to disarm a powerful truck-bomb that had been located during a cursory vehicle search just west of Bogota. A news outlet in Bogota reported receiving a telephone call from an individual indicating that "the Extraditables" were taking responsibility for the bombing. There have also been recent reports from Colombia that Miguel and Gilberto Orejuela are actively plotting their escape from La Picota Prison, a high security detention facility outside Bogota, where they are being held.
The Emergence of New Trafficking Threats to the Western Hemisphere
Despite accurate reports indicating the Orejuelas have ready access to both pay phones and cellular phones in their cells, they are unable to control their vast empire from jail. Consequently, their ability to function as the first among all others has been seriously degraded. There are many groups in Colombia and Mexico trying to fill the void left by the incarceration of the Cali leadership. Without question the organized crime families in Mexico, most notably the Arellano-Felix brothers, Miquel Caro-Quintero and Jesus Amezcua-Contreras, and, until his death last week, Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, have eclipsed the Colombian traffickers as the most dominant figures in the cocaine trade today.
Originally, these Mexican crime families received shipments of cocaine from the Cali group and then smuggled it across the U.S.- Mexico border, where it was turned over to Colombian distribution cells. First paid $1000 to $2000 per kilo for their services, they ultimately began receiving between 40% to 50% of each shipment as payment. Amado Carrillo-Fuentes and the other major traffickers quickly amassed fortunes from the profits of the sale of thousands of kilograms of cocaine and systematically expanded their distribution networks.
Although Colombian traffickers still dominate the movement of cocaine from the jungles of Bolivia and Peru to the large cocaine hydrochloride (HCL) conversion factories in Southern Colombia, they have lost their stranglehold on the U.S. wholesale market. The ascension to power by the groups from Mexico has garnered them enormous wealth and a demonstrative expansion in their spheres of influence. The organized criminal groups from Mexico now control virtually all cocaine sold in the western half of the United States and, for the first time, we are seeing a concerted effort on their part to expand into the lucrative East Coast market.
However, the remnants of the Cali group still directed by the Orejeulas, as well as Cali splinter groups such as the Grajales-Urdinolas, have become powerful forces in their own right. New independent traffickers from the Northern Valle del Cauca have risen to prominence. and are responsible for huge volumes of cocaine and heroin being shipped to the United States. With their surge to power, the face of the drug trade has changed.
These groups have enlisted the aid of traffickers and smugglers from the Dominican Republic to deliver their product to market and have placed an entire command and control infrastructure in the Caribbean, predominantly in Puerto Rico, to manage the movement of cocaine throughout the Caribbean Corridor. There has been a concerted effort on the part of these Colombian groups to franchise their smuggling and transportation operations to Puerto Rican and Dominican groups in order to minimize their presence on the island. This is an example of the recent decentralization of the cocaine trade in Colombia. The leadership of these new Colombian groups is adopting a less monolithic approach in their operations, as demonstrated by a willingness to sub-contract transportation services and franchise distribution operations in the United States.
This has effectively amputated one to two levels of the Colombian cell system and forced them to relinquish some profits and control. The cell system is still employed to provide security and compartmentalization, but it no longer exists to the extent that the Colombian traffickers exert complete control over the distribution networks. They have been using Dominican trafficking groups to handle, and to some degree, control wholesale and street level distribution of cocaine and heroin. By using this approach they may forego some profits, but they gain the insulation from U. S. justice that they desire. These new traffickers vying for the Cali throne understand that direct control creates vulnerability for the criminal organization's leadership in both the United States and Colombia.
Traffickers from the Dominican Republic have developed intricate trafficking networks to distribute cocaine and heroin for the Colombians in the lucrative New York market, as well as in cities all along the East Coast and operate with efficiency, relying heavily on counter surveillance, and operational security to ensure success. They use sophisticated communications equipment, cloned cellular communications, alarm systems, and police scanners to monitor the activity of law enforcement. They also rely heavily on the ingenious construction of vehicle "traps" to secrete and secure their drug loads for transportation in passenger vehicles or trucks for transportation to cities throughout the Northeast.
The criminal groups from the Dominican Republic also provide a natural conduit for Colombian heroin to the large addict population in New York and the northeastern United States. Approximately 63 percent of the heroin seized in the United States last year was of South American origin. Abuse of high quality Colombian heroin, which can easily be snorted or smoked, rather than injection the traditional method of of administration, has significantly increased over the last several years, and its use has unfortunately become "fashionable" for many young people. The heroin trade in Colombia is controlled by independent traffickers who harvest the poppy in the mountainous areas of the Andes and produce heroin in small laboratories throughout the area. They then employ an army of couriers who smuggle the heroin into the United States via ingestion, body carrys and increasingly in concealed compartments in luggage. The couriers enter the United States primarily at the ports of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Miami, Florida and New York City from where they distribute this highly addictive drug all along the East Coast.
Colombian Situation Report
An estimated 15% of the world's coca leaf is grown in Colombia and the vast majority of the cocaine base and cocaine HCL is produced in laboratories throughout Colombia. The fingerprints of Colombian traffickers are on the vast majority of the cocaine distributed in the United States today. Many of these activities take place in the southern rainforests and eastern lowlands of Colombia. Most of the coca cultivation occurs in the Departments of Guaviare, Caqueta, and Putumayo. Cocaine conversion labs range from small "family" operations to large facilities, employing dozens of workers. Common methods are still used to extract cocaine alkaloids from raw coca leaf and to remove impurities from cocaine base and cocaine HCL. Once the cocaine HCL is manufactured, it is either shipped via maritime or aircraft to traffickers in Mexico, or shipped through the Caribbean corridor, including the Bahama Island chain, to U.S. entry points in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Miami and New York City. The Cali splinter groups and the new groups from Colombia have returned to the traditional smuggling routes in the Caribbean, creating alliances with Dominican and Puerto Rican trafficking groups.
The following new independent traffickers from the Northern Valle del Cauca have risen to prominence:
Jairo Ivan Urdinola Grajales and his brother Julio Fabio Urdinola Grajales head a major drug trafficking organization associated with the so-called Northern Valle del Cauca drug mafias. The Urdinolas are related by marriage to the Henao Montoya family. The CNP arrested Ivan in April 1992, while Fabio later surrendered to Colombian authorities in March 1994. The incarceration of the Urdinola Grajales brothers notwithstanding, their organization reportedly remains active in the drug trade.
The Henao Montoya brothers, Arcangel de Jesus and Jose Orlando, run trafficking operations out of the Northern Valle del Cauca region. The Henao Montoyas run the most powerful of the various independent trafficking groups that comprise the North Valle drug mafia. The major North Valle drug mafia organizations are poised to become among the most powerful drug trafficking groups in Colombia. The Henao Montoya organization has been closely linked to the paramilitary group run by Carlos Castano, a major cocaine trafficker in his own right.
Diego Montoya Sanchez heads a North Valle trafficking organization that transports cocaine base from Peru to Colombia and produces multi-ton quantities of cocaine HCI for export to the United States and Europe. DEA considers Montoya Sanchez to be one of the most significant cocaine traffickers in Colombia today.
In March 1996, Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia (aka "Chupeta"), surrendered to Colombian authorities. Chupeta is believed to have surrendered, in part, due to his fear for his personal safety and to be eligible for a more lenient prison sentence. In December 1996, Chupeta was sentenced to 24 years in prison, but may actually serve as little as 7 1/2 years due to Colombia's lenient sentencing laws. DEA and CNP reports indicate that Chupeta continues to direct his drug operations from prison.
Julio Cesar Nasser David heads a major polydrug trafficking and money laundering organization based out of Colombia's North Coast. His organization smuggles multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana to the United States via commercial shipments and maritime vessels. In 1994 DEA and Swiss authorities arrested Nasser-David's wife and seized over 180 million dollars in drug proceeds concealed in secret Swiss bank accounts.
Alberto Orlando Gamboa (aka "Caracal") runs the most powerful drug trafficking organization on the North Coast. Gamboa exploits maritime and air routes to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean islands, to smuggle multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana into the United States.
FARC Involvement in the Drug Trade
Adding significantly to the dangers faced by the anti-narcotic forces in Colombia is the protection being afforded to the farmers, who grow the coca and to the traffickers who process it into cocaine base and cocaine HCL, by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The FARC factions continue to raise funds through extortion, by providing security services to traffickers, and charging a fee for each gallon of precursor chemicals and each kilo coca leaf and cocaine HCL moving in their region. Some of these groups have assisted the drug traffickers by storing and transporting cocaine and marijuana within Colombia, and certain FARC units in Colombia may be engaged in localized opiate trafficking.
CNP helicopters and planes used in drug eradication efforts continually receive ground fire when conducting counterdrug operations. Guerilla groups provide security for and aggressively defend coca and poppy fields and the processing laboratories, like the huge HCL conversion complex seized in January of 1997. The FARC, and other guerilla groups, were originally founded and built on ideological beliefs, but profits from the multi-billion dollar drug trade have sparked the guerillas' interest in selling their services to drug traffickers instead of pursuing ideology. To date, there is little to indicate the insurgent groups are trafficking in cocaine themselves, either by producing cocaine HCL and selling it to Mexican syndicates, or by establishing their own distribution networks in the United States.
Law Enforcement's Response
Cases against the leaders of these criminal groups most often originate from investigations being conducted in the United States. Through what was originally designated our Southwest Border Initiative, but has become a Hemispheric Strategy, we are able to build cases on the bosses and the U.S. based infrastructure of these international drug syndicates and with the assistance of foreign governments, their long-term incarceration leave entire organizations in disarray.
Combining resources from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the United States Attorney's Office, and other Federal, State, and local agencies, as well as the host country law enforcement agencies, as we did with the CNP, we can ensure that the leaders of these groups will be arrested and hopefully sentenced to prison terms commensurate with their crimes.
The central focus of the DEA office in Bogota is the identification and investigation of the organized drug syndicates in Colombia that control the growth, manufacturing, and flow of cocaine to the United States. These investigations, conducted with the CNP in support of domestic investigations, target the leadership and U.S. based infrastructure of their distribution cells by attacking the communications systems of their command and control functions in an effort to build criminal cases that will result in their conviction and incarceration in either the United States or Colombia. In support of this strategy DEA Bogota and the Colombian National Police have developed a series of programs and operations designed to enhance the criminal investigations, attack the weakness of the major criminal groups in Colombia, and inhibit the flow of cocaine through the key source zone located south and east of the Andes Mountains. These support programs have the immediately positive result of seizing cocaine, conversion laboratories, and aircraft. However, the overriding benefit of these programs is the critical intelligence and evidence they provide to our primary program of building cases on the criminal organizations' leadership and infrastructure. Key programs DEA has been able to either initiate or expand as a result of funding for the Andean Ridge in the FY97 budget are:
- The expansion of the DEA/CNP wire intercept program that is critical to our prime objective of building criminal cases against the leadership of the organized criminal drug organizations in Colombia. This program also provides key information used in our interdiction and disruption strategies.
- The recently established Information Analysis/Operations Center plays a vital role in the coordination of U.S. and Colombian information and intelligence related to the interdiction of drugs manufactured and transited through Colombia.
- The lack of a developed transportation infrastructure in the source zone offers a viable target of opportunity. Traffickers are dependent on aircraft and the riverine network to transport chemicals, vital to the processing of cocaine base to HCL and to move cocaine base from Bolivia and Peru to the conversion complexes located mostly in the Departments of Gaviari, Caqueta and Putumayo. Given the paucity of the legitimate traffic on the rivers and the finite number of aircraft available and suitable for trafficker use, a flow reduction strategy will be extremely effective in denying transportation options to traffickers and substantially reducing the movement of cocaine in the source zone.
- Maintain and improve the investigative capabilities of the vetted Special Investigation Units (SIU ) of the CNP that are critical to our wire intercept and other enforcement programs in Colombia
- Expansion of operations conducted jointly with the CNP to locate and destroy clandestine laboratories, airstrips, and storage sites. In January of this year, the CNP seized the largest drug processing complex in Colombia's history, seizing 13.8 tons of cocaine and 455 tons of chemicals from the site hidden in the tropical savanna of Southwest Colombia. Although these complexes are often quite large, they are easily concealable in the triple canopy jungles of Colombia. However, through a variety of intelligence collection techniques we are able to locate and destroy the laboratories that produce thousands of kilograms of cocaine HCL weekly. The pressure to locate and seize cocaine HCL laboratories must be maintained along with efforts to stop the flow of cocaine base, most often via aircraft, from Bolivia and Peru. Equally as important is the seizure of precursor chemicals which are essential to the manufacturing process (none of which are manufactured in Colombia). This strategy is critical to the success of our anti-narcotics program in Colombia.
- Expansion of information collection and investigative activities in support of the International Emergency Powers Act (IEEPA) and money laundering schemes by Colombian trafficking organizations.
The DEA, working in Colombia with the CNP, and domestically with our Federal, State, and local partners, will concentrate on the vulnerabilities of these Colombian organizations. First, we will continue to focus our domestic investigative efforts on the U.S.-based infrastructure of these groups, particularly those in the Caribbean theater and South Florida. For example, we know that the more powerful of the Colombian groups have moved high level managers from Colombia into Puerto Rico to direct and coordinate cocaine shipments through the region. The sophistication and volume of these smuggling operations was seen recently when six tons of cocaine were seized from the freighter Limerick when it was searched by Cuban authorities at our request after developing engine problems and washing into Cuban waters. Secondly, we will work in Colombia to build cases on the leaders of the new groups vying to dominate the cocaine trade as well as direct resources against their production and transportation operations.
Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to testify today and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.