Source: World Press Review

Article from "The Guardian", London, Nov. 28, 1997 
Authors: Jeremy Lennard and Steven Ambrus

Republished in World Press Review, February 1998

Intro: Colombia 's most notorious drug lords are either dead or in jail,
but the multibillion- dollar drug trade is flourishing, and their
successors are proving more elusive to law enforcement.  Is U.S. drug
policy a failure? ask the following articles from the British press. And
from France, an argument in favor of decriminalization of drug use:


I n 1995, United States drug-enforcement officials were congratulating
themselves. Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, leaders of the Cali
cocaine cartel -- the world's most powerful criminal organization -- were
behind bars. The Call cartel had once drawn in cocaine from all over the
Andean region and controlled many of the key smuggling routes north. Their
domination and expansion of the South American narcotics industry was over.

But the U.S. market still demands cocaine and lots of it. In the power
vacuum left by the Cali cartel, other organi zations have rushed to take
control of supplies. The result has been a reshuffle among Latin American
mobs, the opening up of new smuggling routes, and the appearance of new
players, notably the Russian mafia. While the capture of the Rodriguez
Orejuelas may have helped reduce corruption, it may prove a setback in
terms of stemming the flow of drugs from the Andean region.

Within Colombia, the Cali cartel has spawned a series of much smaller
operations with production capability but little regional clout. Enter the
Mexicans, who in the past were paid by the Colombians to move their cocaine
across the U.S. border.  Now the Mexicans frequently take Colombian cocaine
from source to point of sale and return a commission to their Colombian
suppliers. Peru and Bolivia, which used to ship coca to Colombia for
processing and distribution, are increasingly autonomous.

Mexico suffered a setback last summer with the death of its top trafficker,
Amado Carrillo Fuentes, prompting a bloody battle for power in his home
city of JuBrez. But Colombian intelligence sources suggest his death has
had little effect on Mexico's regional influence. Meanwhile, Colombian
traffickers, unused to their subordinate role and vastly reduced profits,
are seeking new partners to break the Mexican monopoly. As smuggling to the
U.S. becomes increasingly convoluted and expensive, many are looking to the
European market, a senior intelligence source said.

In the past, the Cali cartel operated routes from Colom bia's Pacific ports
to Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. They also rode piggyback on
shipments from Mexican ports and worked extensively with the Italian Mafia.
Post-Cali Colombian traffickers have set up smaller-scale routes via
Argentina, Brazil, and Guatemala. They have also begun to take advantage of
the European connections on the Caribbean islands of Antigua, Aruba, and
St. Martin.

The collapse of the Soviet Union has opened up a huge narcotics market, and
the Russian underworld has moved into the Caribbean to do business with the
Colombians.  With the Italian Mafia weakened by a crackdown on both sides
of the Atlantic in the past 20 years, the Russians--many of them former KGB
experts in clandestine operations--have made worrying inroads into Western
Europe. According to Interpol, they dominate arms smuggling across the
continent and are well placed to take a grip on the drug trade. The biggest
fear of anti-narcotics agents is the emerging alliance between Colombian
and Russian traffickers.

The demand for heroin, which is increasing in the U.S. and skyrocketing in
Eastern Europe, provides further cause for concern. As the U.S.
concentrates on coca eradication in Colombia, poppy cultivation has
increased rapidly, and Colombia has taken over from East Asia as chief
supplier to the U.S. east coast. Heroin is worth nine times as much as
cocaine, making small quantities highly profitable and removing the need
for bulk shipments. Traffickers use "mules" to carry 80 percent of
Colombia's heroin direct to the U.S. and Europe, in their luggage or their

T he fragmentation of the Latin American drug industry and a move toward
small-scale smuggling methods has created new problems for anti-narcotics
agencies around the world. It has also generated fierce criticism of U.S.
policy in the region. Despite the war on drugs, the production of cocaine
and heroin in the Andes has risen steadily in the past five years, while
the prices of raw materials have fallen.  One Colombian intelligence source
likened lopping the head off the Cali cartel to taking a hammer to a blob
of mercury. " A blob of mercury is a large, single mass and easy to see,"
he said.  "Hit it with a hammer, and it splatters into tiny drops that are
much more difficult to spot, but it doesn't stop being mercury."