A drug cartel is a criminal organization set up with the aim of promoting and controlling drug trafficking activities. In the 1970s and 1980s, a group of drug cartels developed in the South American nation of Colombia. Prominent among these cartels is the Cali cartel which was based in the city of Cali and the Medellin cartel which was based in the city of Medellin. The Cali cartel was founded in 1977 by the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, Miguel and Gilberto. The Medellin cartel was founded by Jorge Luis, Juan David, Ochoa Vazquez brothers and Fabio along with Pablo Escobar. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s these two groups rivalled each other for the control of the Colombian drug business and fought many battles against each other and against government authorities.

The Structure of the Colombian Drug cartels

Drug cartels are usually well structured organisations and they are well known to be violent and ruthless in their operations which make them very resilient against attempts by government authorities to put them out of business. For instance, the United States government has been warring against drug cartels especially those from South American nations like Colombia and Mexico, but only recently announced that they had finally dismantled the Cali cartel. The basic structure of a drug cartel revolves around specialisation of duties and stratification of authority. At the lowest end of the rung of the ladder are the spies or look outs that are responsible for monitoring the activities of the police, the military, government agents, and rival gangs and reporting same to their higher authorities. Next in line are the executioners who are charged with assassinations, protecting their territory, and business operations. The lieutenants are next in line to the bosses and they are responsible for supervising the spies and hit men within their domain and are authorized to carry out low profile executions without express permission from their bosses. The drug lords are highest in position and appoint territorial deputies, supervise the entire business, enter into formal agreements and mastermind the execution of high profile figures. Other groups operate within the drug cartels such as drug producers and suppliers, arms suppliers, traffickers, financiers, and money launderers.

The Historical background of the Colombian Drug Cartels

The Colombian drug cartels started out in small ways and with modest aims, with the trafficking of marijuana in small quantities to the United States and later shifted focus to cocaine because it is more compact and easier to transport and yields greater profits. Later, the scale of operations increased tremendously when a young marijuana trafficker by the name Carlos Lehder convinced the drug barons that they could fly larger quantities of cocaine by planes directly into the US instead of the many brief case trips they were making. From then on the illegal drug business in Colombia grew to a point where they were supplying 90% of the world’s cocaine and contributing about 5% of Colombia’s GDP. The Medellin cartel’s drug trade was reported to be worth about 22 billion US dollars annually.

The Medellin cartel proved to be extremely violent mostly due to the activities and personality of Pablo Escobar and this earned them the enmity of both the Colombian government and the rival Cali cartel. This combination worked covertly together with the US government finally succeeded in putting the cartel out of existence. The US government thought that with this victory the drug war had been won only for them to realise that the power and the resources of the Medellin cartel had been passed on to the Cali cartel. Eventually the Cali drug lords were arrested, prosecuted and jailed in 1990s. The destruction of both the Medellin and Cali cartel made the young, up and coming Colombian drug lords to take low profiles. The most recent efforts of the US and Colombian governments centres around eliminating the coca plants by spraying suspected coca farms with chemicals which have the capacity to destroy them by inhibiting their growth.

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