Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, Colombian drug lord, dies at 83

After leaving high school at age 15, Gilberto took a job as a pharmacy clerk. Very quickly manager, he opened his own store at the age o...


After leaving high school at age 15, Gilberto took a job as a pharmacy clerk. Very quickly manager, he opened his own store at the age of 25. Along the way, he became involved in Cali’s underworld, joining a gang of kidnappers and getting into the drug trade.

In the 1970s, he and his brother helped organize a loose confederation of drug gangs into what became known as the Cali Cartel. Less authoritarian than Mr. Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, the Cali Confederacy cooperated on processing, shipping and distribution but otherwise gave its member gangs significant autonomy.

Yet, as the most successful members, the Rodríguez brothers were first among equals. Miguel acted as a sort of general manager for the cartel, overseeing day-to-day operations, while Gilberto was the strategic visionary. They also set the tone for the organization: no flashy parties, no flamboyant displays of wealth, and above all no unnecessary violence.

Mr. Rodríguez was also responsible for managing the cartel’s legitimate business interests. He owned a chain of 400 pharmacies, a pharmaceutical laboratory, ranches, a radio network and America, a football club in Cali; Mr. Rodríguez has served on banking boards and mingled with Colombia’s financial elite.

At first, he and Mr. Escobar got along well; Jorge Ochoa Vázquez, a chef from Medellín, accompanied Mr. Rodríguez on a trip to Europe in 1984, where they sought to open up new markets. (They were arrested in Spain for trafficking and extradited to Colombia, but Mr. Rodríguez was found not guilty.)

Soon, however, the relationship between the two cartels soured. Apart from rivalries in North American markets, they disagreed on how to fight back when, in the late 1980s, the Colombian government launched a campaign to stamp out drug trafficking.

Mr. Escobar preferred war and, over a period of five years, killed hundreds of police officers, politicians, lawyers and journalists. Mr. Rodríguez hesitated, preferring to watch his two main threats tear apart from the sidelines.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, Colombian drug lord, dies at 83
Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, Colombian drug lord, dies at 83
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