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DEA Background Information (2/97)

We cannot discuss the situation in Mexico today without looking at the evolution of the groups from Colombia --- how they began, what their status is today, and how the groups from Mexico have learned important lessons from them, becoming major trafficking organizations in their own right.

During the late 1980's the Cali group assumed greater and greater power as their predecessors from the Medellin cartel self-destructed. Where the Medellin cartel was brash and publicly violent in their activities, the criminals, who ran their organization from Cali, labored behind the pretense of legitimacy, posing as businessmen, just carrying out their professional obligations. The Cali leaders --- the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, Santa Cruz Londono, Pacho Herrera --- amassed fortunes and ran their multi-billion dollar cocaine businesses from high-rises and ranches in Colombia. Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his associates composed what was until then, the most powerful international organized crime group in history, employed 727 aircraft to ferry drugs to Mexico, from where they were smuggled into the United States, and then return to Colombia with the money from U.S. drug sales. Using landing areas in Mexico, they were able to evade U.S. law enforcement officials and make important alliances with transportation and distribution experts in Mexico.

With intense law enforcement pressure focused on the Cali leadership by brave men and women in the Colombian National Police during 1995 and 1996, all of the top leadership of the Cali syndicate are either in jail, or dead. The fine work done by General Serrano and other CNP officers is a testament to the commitment and dedication of Colombia's law enforcement officials in the face of great personal danger, and a government whose leadership is riddled with drug corruption.

Since the Cali leaders' imprisonment, on sentences which were ridiculously short and inadequate, traffickers from Mexico took on greater prominence. The alliance between the Colombian traffickers and the organizations from Mexico had benefits for both sides. Traditionally, the traffickers from Mexico have long been involved in smuggling marijuana, heroin, cocaine into the United States, and had established solid distribution routes throughout the nation. Because the Cali syndicate was concerned about the security of their loads, they brokered a commercial deal with the traffickers from Mexico, which reduced their potential losses.

This agreement entailed the Colombians moving cocaine from the Andean region to the Mexican organizations, who then assumed the responsibility of delivering the cocaine into the United States. In 1989, U.S. law enforcement officials seized 21 metric tons of cocaine in Sylmar, California; this record seizure demonstrated the extent and magnitude of the Mexican groups' capabilities to transport Colombian-produced cocaine into the United States. This huge shipment was driven across the Mexican/U.S. border in small shipments and stored in the warehouse until all transportation fees had been paid by the Cali and Medellin cartels, to the transporters from Mexico. Now, trafficking groups from Mexico are routinely paid in multi-ton quantities of cocaine, making them formidable cocaine traffickers in their own right.

The majority of cocaine entering the United States continues to come from Colombia through Mexico and across U.S. border points of entry. Most of the cocaine enters the United States in privately owned vehicles and commercial trucks. There is new evidence that indicates traffickers in Mexico have gone directly to sources of cocaine in Bolivia and Peru in order to circumvent Colombian middlemen. In addition to the inexhaustible supply of cocaine entering the U.S., trafficking organizations from Mexico are responsible for producing and trafficking thousands of pounds of methamphetamine, and have been major distributors of heroin and marijuana in the U.S. since the 1970's.

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