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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Drug Cartels - Norte del Valle

The Norte del Valle Cartel, or North Valley Cartel, is a drug cartel which operated principally in the north of the Valle del Cauca region of Colombia. It rose to prominence during the second half of the 1990s, after the Cali Cartel and the Medellín Cartel fragmented, and became known as one of the most powerful organizations involved in the illegal drugs trade.

The leading druglords of the Norte del Valle cartel included Diego León Montoya Sánchez, alias "Don Diego", Wilber Varela, alias "Jabón" ("Soap"), and Hernando Gómez Bustamante, alias "Rasguño" ("Scratch"). Diego Montoya was part of the list containing the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.

According to Diego Montoya's FBI entry, the U.S. government accuses him of being involved in the willing production and distribution of multiple tons of cocaine into the United States. It also considers him and his organization as heavily relying on violence and enjoying the protection of both right-wing and left-wing illegal armed groups classified as terrorist by the U.S. government.

According to a 2004 U.S. Government RICO indictment, between 1990 and 2004, the Norte del Valle cartel exported more than 1.2 million pounds – or 500 metric tons – of cocaine worth in excess of $10 billion from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately to the United States for resale.

The indictment charges that the Norte del Valle cartel used violence and brutality to further its goals, including the murder of rivals, individuals who failed to pay for cocaine, and associates who were believed to be working as informants.

The indictment alleges that the cartel members employed the services of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary organization internationally classifed as terrorist, to protect the cartel’s drug routes, its drug laboratories, and its members and associates. The AUC is one of the 37 Foreign Terrorist Organizations identified by the U.S. State Department in 2004.

Leaders of the Norte del Valle cartel allegedly bribed and corrupted Colombian law enforcement and Colombian legislators to, among other things, attempt to block the extradition of Colombian narcotics traffickers to the United States to be prosecuted for their crimes. According to the indictment, members of the Norte del Valle cartel even conducted their own wiretaps in Colombia to intercept the communications of rival drug traffickers and Colombian and United States law enforcement officials.

Fierce rivalries that divided the cartel into warring factions erupted in 2003 when Hernando Gómez, Wilber Varela and their inner circle, prompted by a rising number of extradition of cartel members to the United States, apparently attempted to negotiate a possible surrender deal with the DEA, in a move which was strongly rejected by Diego Montoya and several of the other cartel druglords.

This situation led to brutal gang warfare, which left a deathtoll of more than 1,000 people between 2003 and 2004 throughout different northern locations of the Valle del Cauca department.

The consequences of such an internal vendetta led Colombian authorities to intervene in order to increase law enforcement efforts against the cartel, which resulted in the 2004 arrest of some 100 assassins in the employ of both rival factions, and in the 2005 capture of Varela's close associate Julio César López ( alias "Ojitos", or "Small Eyes"), and Montoya's chief hitman, Carlos José Robayo Escobar (alias "Guacamayo", or "Macaw"), among others. More than $100 million worth in properties and luxury assets was also seized, along with an almost complete fibreglass submarine that would have been built by the cartel in order to smuggle drugs into the United States and other foreign countries.

All of these events may have influenced several members of the Norte del Valle cartel to seek a deal with Colombian and U.S. drug enforcement authorities during late 2004 and early 2005, whether through direct negotiation proposals or employing the possible protection that they may gain through the infiltration of the AUC's then ongoing peace conversations with the Colombian government.

Drug Lords: The Rise and Fall of the Cali Cartel


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