Outlaw Heroes, Drug Lords, and International Trade Part 3

Quenby Wilcox Having It All


As seen in my last blog Outlaw Heroes, Drug Lords, and Illegal Commerce – Part 2, the very rich and very poor are probably the most likely to risk shaming sanctions (social ostracization, incarceration, verbal bashing, etc.) in challenging the status quo and their social norms. The poor because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And, the rich because they see money can't buy happiness, and use their power to challenge a faulty status quo (looking at the situation from a strictly anthropological perspective, and not taking any stance on the morality of either the status quo, or those who challenge it).

While I think no one, least of all Pablo Escobar's son, who is with much courage, publicly speaking out against the violence of his father's regime and the damage done to the Colombian people in the process, would defend any kind of illegal trade (as it inevitably involves confronting authorities, and thereby necessitates violence). However, if one looks beyond the illegality and violence of drug-lords, and examines the entrepreneurial acumen of these people, it is nothing less than spectacular. (Which again, in no way should be interpreted as an argument intended to defend actions of drug-lords or other forms of illegal trade, or promotion of violence in any form.)

If free trade and commerce really truly existed, and everyone were truly given equal opportunity in this world, the lives and demise of these men would be very, very different—and their obviously high level of business acumen, if not intelligence, would be put to productive use in society under a different paradigm, as Penn points out in his article. The West must start recognizing to what extent they have been "stacking the cards in their favor" for centuries, and that is the true root of poverty in the developing world at present—not the laziness (etc.) of the people in these countries.

However, in order to expose the hypocrisy and complicity of governments in the matrix we return to the case study of Colombia and the heyday of the drug-lords and cartels in that country. Ingrid Betancourt, in her book Until Do Us Part: My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia[1] (2002) exposes the reality and Wonderland of Alice that is the royal mess. Unfortunately, the type of corruption that Betancourt confronted, and continues to confront, in Colombia and the region, is endemic everywhere. The lines of what is considered morally acceptable, and what is not, have become so blurred that we have illegal organized crime and legal organized crime in societies around the globe. Just like all of the social woes of the narcissistic, consumerism paradigm that reigns at present. And, I quote Ingrid Betancourt in Until Death Do Us Part: My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia,

Why do we decide to focus next on the concealed and sinister bonds linking drug traffickers with politicians? Because these are eating away at Colombian society. Nothing new can be undertaken until this disease is purged. The Colombian people's reaction to the cassette affair shows how painful this wound is. We would rather point the finger at Pastrana for exposing it than condemn Samper for possibly feeding it. What about the rumors circulating everywhere about the murky dealings between Pablo Escobar and former President Gavria, before he decided to chase and finally kill Escobar? What about all that is publicly known but not accepted by our people because we choose to harbor hope that these rumors are false, while knowing that if we find out they are true, we would have to face the fact that Colombia is losing her soul. In short, to us, seeking out the truth becomes an indispensable preliminary to the political renewal we are seeking.

As a first step, we decide to organize a legislative debate on national security. This is one way to start a public discussion of the terrorism generated by Pablo Escobar, to ask formally how all that could have happened, and to figure out how all that could have happened, and to figure out how the government managed the situation. The Colombian people need to know the truth.

What the truth is we first discover in preparing for the debate. We learn that Escobar had Galan assassinated in 1989 because Gala supported the extradition of drug traffickers to the United States. If Galan were elected president of the republic, the extradition agreement would be adopted and exercised. Gaviria, who presented himself as Galan's heir and got himself elected to replace him, immediately abandoned the extradition agreement. Doing so allowed Gaviria to arrange for Escobar's surrender and put an end to his reign of terror that involved bombing, kidnappings, and assassinations.*[2] Gaviria was credited with a great victory, whereas in fact the state had just capitulated to Escobar.

Why "capitulated"? Because Escobar was not at all the prisoner people imagined. He lived in a luxurious prison known as "the cathedral," surrounded by his staff of about twenty people. More than ever, he was involved in the international cocaine trade. In fact, in "prison" his situation improved. Having made bitter enemies of his former allies, the Rodriguez brother of the Cali cartel, Escobar found safety within the walls of the "cathedral," under the "protection" of the government police. I use the word "protection" because we discovered that Escobar had the keys to his so-called prison and, even worse, that he actually owned it. It had been built for him with his authorization and his money, on land that belonged to him.

We also found out why Escobar escaped from his gilded prison. Not only was he carrying on his cocaine export business from inside, he was also enforcing his criminal rules, handing out punishments to Mafiosi, and even prosecutor, Gustova de Greiff, that a massacre had taken place inside the "cathedral" compound. An investigation confirmed that two of Escobar's men, the Galiano brothers, who were accused of stealing millions of dollars from him, were killed in a particularly vicious way: they were cut up alive with a power saw, barbecued, and fed to the dogs so that no trace of their bodies would be found. Horrified, and certainly concerned about the reputation of the judicial system, the prosecutor asked President Gaviria to have Pablo Escobar transferred to a real prison. But Escobar had made a deal with Gaviria: he had surrendered on condition that her would be detained in the "cathedral." Gaviria knew that if he betrayed their secret pact and sent Escobar to a real prison, Escobar would take his revenge. So, Gaviria managed to let Escobar know that he was about to be transferred, implicitly encouraging him to escape—which Escobar did without the slightest difficulty.

What happened afterwards that allowed Escobar to be killed a few months later? After the debate, we found the answer, thanks to an unexpected encounter with the Rodriguez brothers.

On the evening of the debate, the representatives decide to set up a "National Security Commission" whose first task is to pursue the investigation into the Escobar affair. Since most of the legislation are Samper supporters, they see this as an opportunity to do in Gaviria and at the same time divert the growing suspicions about Samper. We "musketeers" are appointed part of this ten-member commission.

In February 1995, while attending a working meeting at the prefecture in Cali, we are asked to come outside for a minute. There, a man introduces himself as someone who has been sent by the Rodriguez brothers. They've been following the debate in the legislature, he says. They've heard what we said about the conditions under which Escobar was detained, and they have other information to give us. Would we agree to meet with them? We have to decide right away. There is only one condition: we have to go with this man immediately, without telling anyone. There we are, Lucio, myself, and the third member of the commission, looking at each other as if trying to decide what to do.

"Okay, let's go."... Gilberto Rodriguez notices our surprise and perhaps also our discomfort. His first words are intended to calm us. "You're surprise to see us in the flesh, but what really surprises you is seeing that we're normal people..."

Gilberto launches into an amazing speech in response. He goes through all the good deeds they are doing for Colombia, the dozens of legal business they've started, giving work to half the city. He goes onto say how they've being unfairly persecuted by the judges considering their only goal is to contribute to the happiness and prosperity of the Colombian people. This is too much. I am beginning to feel out-raged. How dare these gangsters, these criminals, present themselves as Robin Hoods?

"Do you realize that because of you we can no longer travel abroad without being immediately suspected of being drug traffickers?" I ask nervously. "You've ruined Colombia's international image, and as far as your good work goes, you've thrown the people into terror and instability. Because of you, Colombians think they no longer have a future."....

For the Rodriguez brothers, Escobar is the devil incarnate. When Gilberto talks about him, there is fear in his voice, as if Escobar was still alive. Gilbert is hardly a choirboy himself. Allies for a long time, they started fighting when Escobar asked the Rodriguez brothers to hand over to him one of their associates. Apparently, this Cali cartel chief had not given Escobar his "contribution" and was therefore condemned to death. Outraged, the Rodriguez brothers refused.

Then it was all-out war.

When Escobar (while living in the "cathedral") killed the Galiano brothers with a power saw, the terrified Galiano family went to the Rodriguez brothers for protection. It was Gilberto who convinced them to tell de Greiff, the public prosecutor, about the killing. After Pablo Escobar's incredible escape, de Greiff assembled around a table—the mesa del diablo, the devil's table—everyone who had an interest in having Escobar quickly eliminated. These included a representative of President Gaviria, who lived in fear that Escobar would reveal the agreement regarding his surrender and "imprisonment" in the "cathedral," the Rodriguez brothers, who were afraid that Escobar would have them assassinated, and, finally, members of the Colombian police, who nurtured a deep hatred for Escobar and his sicarios, responsible for the killings of many policemen. Thus some representatives of the government sat down with ringleaders of organized crime. Of all the shady deals I have taken place, this meeting best symbolizes how sick Columbia is, how profoundly infected by the mafia.

At the conclusion of this meeting, the Rodriguez brothers agreed to find Escobar and point him out to elite police snipers. A dozen men were selected for this killing, and the Rodriguez brothers promised each of them a million dollars in reward. They kept their promises. Gilberto tells us they spent a fortune tracking down Escobar, and, in particular, they finance the development of a technique of electronic surveillance using a phone-tapping system. The Rodriguez brothers knew that Escobar, a monster who had showed his fourteen-year-old son how to dig out a victim's eyeball with a red-hot spoon, passionately loved his youngest daughter, Manuella. Convinced that he would try to telephone her, they set everything up to intercept this call. Escobar fell into the trap. Located in December 1993, he was shot down while trying to escape over the roof of the house where he'd been hiding.

Escobar's fall, celebrated in the whole country and on the front pages of the newspapers, was credited to President Gaviria and his police. My colleagues and I discover to what extent, once again, we Colombians have been deceived and manipulated. We owe this victory over the most fearsome of the Mafiosi not to our institutions, but to other Mafiosi. And this disease continues its long-term goal of annihilation, for obviously the Rodriguez brothers have exacted a high price for the help they provided. That's what we understand in the course of our conversation with Gilberto, his high-strung brother Miguel (who had finally come back to the table), and Jose Santacruz....

Multibillionaires, the Rodriguez brothers needed to craft for themselves another virginity and launder their dirty money in order to hand it down cleanly to their children....

Suddenly, at this point of our conversation, the narcotape affair pops up in my mind. In the recording, we hear the Rodriguez brothers speaking in very warm terms about Ernest Samper, Gaviria's successor. At this precise moment I have the intuition that the Rodriguez brothers could have contacted Samper in the event that their surrender could not be arranged for the final months of Gaviria's term. And this precise moment I have the intuition that the Rodriguez brothers could have contacted Samper in the event that their surrender could not be arranged for the final months of Gaviria's term. And as if by mere coincidence, it is de Greiff, the same prosecutor seated at the devil's table, who declares there are no grounds for opening an investigation into Cali cartel funds donated to Samper's campaign. Suddenly everything seems terribly cleat to me, and, taking the risk of upsetting Miguel again, I burst out:

"Fine, and how much did you give Samper for his campaign?"

"Humph! Twelve billion pesos," Miguel snaps back, with an arrogant look on his face.

The Gilberto, embarrassed and gauging the importance of Miguel's blunder, adds:

"That's correct, but Samper didn't know about it, it didn't go through him, he never knew anything."

I smile incredulously.

"Excuse me, but that's hard to believe. When you give money to a candidate the point is that he pays you back when he's elected, isn't it?"

Gilberto pretends that his honor has been wounded. "Doctora," he stiffly replies, "we also have the right, don't we, to have political convictions? Lots of people give money anonymously to this or that candidate; why shouldn't we do the same?" ...

...we're stupefied to see that the Rodriguez brothers' visitors are policemen in uniform. Are these men really being tracked down by all of the country's police, or is that only a sham?

When we resume our conversation, I say to astonishment:

"You were just saying that you were hounded by the police, but the police seem to get on rather well with you.

Gilberto hints that he, in fact, controls a considerable portion of the police force. "I have good connections," he says. As we seem stunned to hear this, he continues with a certain tone of self-importance in his voice:

"It's exactly the same with the parliament! Most of your fellow representatives are in our pay."

"About a hundred representatives and more than half of the senators, Doctora. Would you like their names?"

Though I don't say anything in reply, he names a dozen legislators. And there I am thinking: "If more than half the representatives are on their side (there are 186 representatives and 100 senators in all), they're governing the country more than the president."

Two days later, as agreed, we tell the press what the Rodriguez brothers have revealed to us concerning their involvement in Escobar's liquidation. Then we proposed to strongly back up the idea of creating an International Court of Justice to deal with the impunity of Colombian drug traffickers. But we proposed to strongly back up the idea of creating an International Court of Justice to deal with the impunity of Colombian drug traffickers. But we keep to ourselves the main lesson we've drawn from this encounter: the mafia's control over all the nation's institutions, from the Congress—the source of the country's laws—the judicial system, and the police, which are charged with enforcing these laws. This will have an effect on my future thought and action. More than ever, it seems to me that only extradition can halt this fatal vortex into which Colombia is being sucked. Luis Carlos Galan knew that and he was right; he fought for extradition, and paid for it with his life.

As for revealing the Rodriguez brothers' admission that they have financed Samper's campaign, it would be a real bombshell in Colombia—it would be irresponsible for us to mention it. And we have to avoid being manipulated. On one hand, the admission may be, as seemed more in the mood to protect him). On the other hand, we have to investigate. If proof exists, we will have to find it first. Only then we will be able to engage in the battle.

I first heard Ingrid speak about her book La Rabia en el Corazon in Bogota in 2001 and again in her presidential campaign leading up to her kidnapping. As I state in my blog Abuse and Torture Go Far Beyond Broken Bones, It Breaks the Heart and Spirit and Is So Designed, "While I was impressed with [Ingrid's] convictions, enthusiasm, and desire for peace and change for her county, I felt that she could never achieve in Colombia what is unattainable in the United States and Europe."

Ingrid's battles against corruption (and all of the problems related to the Failed War on Drugs has been creating in her country for decades) have much to do with her ensuing kidnapping. Ingrid's numbers in the polls at the beginning of her campaign were low, and she never had a huge political machine behind her—so the cards were definitely stacked against her from the beginning. However, she was, and had been for some time, asking some very tough, and uncomfortable questions about corruption at the highest level.

And, no one at the highest levels (whatever the country) wants that!!

Ingrid's kidnapping was never just another arbitrary kidnapping by the guerrilla, of which there are still too many victims. Her kidnapping was "allowed to happen" at best, and orchestrated by her political opponents at worst, because neither the government nor the violence forces (guerilla, paramilitary, army, police, delinquents) in Colombia or the USA have an interest that the War on Drug or the War on Terror end. Everyone is too busy making money, and partying on the drugs they are telling their populations it is illegal to consume, to care about the socio-economic problems they are creating.

As explained in Mexican Drug Trade: A Look into the Future by Looking at Colombia's Past – Part 1, the American government not only has no interest that the Failed War on Drugs ends, but is actively seeking policies designed to escalate and perpetuate the violence and wars; as is the Colombian government as we shall see with Ingrid Betancourt in my blog for tomorrow, Reclaiming Democracy: The First Step Toward Peace.


[2] Escobar place bombs inside shopping malls, brutally killing women and children. He killed hundreds of policemen and promised rewards to anyone who would bring him the head of any policeman. He killed the minister of justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla. He killed judges, and he kidnapped Andres Pastrana, and Diana Turbay, the daughter of former President Julio Cesar Turbay. He tortured to obtain information. He would force women to have sex with him and his lieutenants and would kill them afterwards.