Colombia’s Drug Cartels


The rise and fall of Colombia’s drug cartels is a saga of wealth, power, and brutality that has changed the country and its reputation worldwide. The demand for cocaine in the United States is widely credited with sparking the formation of drug cartels in Colombia in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, the notorious Pablo Escobar, Gustavo Gaviria, and others formed the Medelln Cartel, which would go on to become one of the most successful drug trafficking organizations in history. They mastered the processes of manufacturing and distributing cocaine, flooding the U.S. market and amassing vast fortunes in the process. A wave of violence swept Colombia due to the cartel’s merciless tactics, which included bombings and executions.

The Rodrguez Orejuela brothers of the Cali Cartel were well-known in the 1990s as well. The compromising of law enforcement and government personnel gave these cartels authority over enormous territory. The Medelln and Cali Cartels were both destroyed by the Colombian government by the mid-1990s, thanks in large part to the support of the United States.

Nonetheless, smaller, more dispersed criminal gangs continued to engage in drug trafficking as a legacy of these cartels, exacerbating Colombia’s already severe violence and instability.

The story of Colombia’s drug cartels is both a cautionary tale about the ravages of drug trafficking on a country and its people and an illustration of the tenacity of law enforcement in the face of organized crime. 

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