The Cali Cartel was a drug cartel based out of Colombia, and after the fall of Pablo Escobar, controlled 90% of the world cocaine market at the height of its power.


Early history and foundationEdit


Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez meeting Pablo Escobar.

The cartel's founders, brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela were run-of-the-mill bank robbers from a relatively well-off social background. Using money earned from robberies, they created marijuana-smuggling routes into Mexico and the United States.

However, due to the product's low profit rate and large amounts required to traffic to cover resources, the fledgling group decided to shift their focus to a more lucrative drug, cocaine; jumping headfirst into the cocaine trafficking business in the early 1970s, around the same time as their future rival Pablo Escobar. To accommodate the sudden change, they used the help of the skilled chemical engineer, José Santacruz Londoño.

Sometime in the early 1970s, the brothers met Escobar in person, and came to an agreement in which the newly formed Cali Cartel would sell cocaine in New York City, leaving Miami to the Medellín Cartel. This agreement proved to be in favour of the former, as New York City had a greater population than Miami, and had the same thirst for cocaine as Miami, despite being over a 1000 miles away.

In the late 1970s, Hélmer 'Pacho' Herrera joined the Cali cartel. Herrera was a big earner, and soon, it was decided that he was to be made a partner in leading the cartel; despite opposition from the other associates due to Herrera's homosexuality.

The cartel began smuggling cocaine through Mexico with the help of Tijuana-based drug trafficker Alberto Sicilia Falcon.

The brothers established their own bank in Panama in order to launder money from the cocaine distribution ring, and also purchased a chain of drug stores, and owned the Atletico de Cali football team, which during the cartel's zenith was the best Latin American football team.

Fued with the Guadalajara cartelEdit

Sometime in the early 1980s, Mexican marijuana trafficker Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo approached the cartel, seeking to help the cartel smuggle their cocaine through Mexico using his network in lieu of the fall of the Caribbean corridor. Félix Gallardo led the Guadalajara cartel and at that point controlled virtually all of the marijuana smuggling across the United States border. The Cali cartel leadership agreed to work with Félix, since he could handle more than Sicilia Falcon. They reached a deal in which Félix Gallardo would receive $3000 for every kilogram of cocaine he moved through Mexico. However, unbeknownst the Cali cartel, Félix Gallardo made a similar deal with Pablo Escobar later.

In 1985, Félix Gallardo's organization murdered an American DEA agent; prompting the DEA to double it's size and as a result, seizures at the US-Mexico border were up by 60%. This prevented the smooth functioning of the 'Mexican trampoline' since the flow of money was disturbed. By January 1986, the Cali cartel owed $200 million in debt to Félix Gallardo's organization. Félix invited Pacho to his birthday party in 1986 in hopes of renogiating their terms since he was unable to pay his employees. Pacho however blamed Félix for the increased seizures at the American border and told him the decision to kidnap, torture and murder a DEA agent was a moronic move; and refused to renogtiate.

Enraged by Pacho's arrogance, Félix set out to dethrone the Cali cartel by planning to enter the cocaine retail business. He convinced Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, the leader of the second biggest drug trafficking organization in Mexico to enter into an anti-Colombian alliance with him. Guerra's organization, the Gulf cartel, primarily dealt with contraband, heroin and human trafficking; were initially relucant to smuggle cocaine, but agreed after meeting Félix.

Felix pacho

Pacho meeting Félix and Carrillo Fuentes in Panama.

However, the Cali cartel come to know of this arrangement, and quietly convince Guerra to work with them instead of Félix. Félix, not knowing about Guerra's betrayal, set up a meeting with Pacho in Panama. There, Pacho stunned Félix by revealing that his partners had made a separate deal with Guerra. Fearing that his move would be end of his organization, Félix impulsively agreed to move 65000 kilograms of cocaine in a day. Pacho was also aware of Félix betraying Juan Matta-Ballesteros, the man who handled the transport of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, to the CIA; and asked who would handle transportation; and Félix introduced him to Amado Carrillo Fuentes.

After the Cali cartel produced the 70 tons of cocaine, they flew it to Carrillo's airfield in Chiapas in southern Mexico. Carrillo Fuentes successfully flew the cocaine to the north of Mexico, and Félix's other partners smuggled them across the border using trucks and handed them to the Cali cartel's men in the States, who stocked most of it in a warehouse in Sylmar, California.

Pacho phone

Pacho learns of the raid on their warehouse in Los Angeles.

However, in order to force Pacho to the negotiating table, Félix tips off the American authorities about the warehouse's location, prompting a raid on the warehouse in 1989, which resulted in the seizure of 60 tons of cocaine worth $7 billion, and the seizure of nearly $12 million in cash. Pacho scrambled for help, and immediately met with Félix in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Félix informed Pacho that further incidents like that would happen, unless the Cali leadership agreed to pay him in cocaine instead of cash. Félix wanted to paid a kilogram of coaine for every kilogram he moved. Pacho warned Félix against entering the retail business, and asked for more time to decide on the offer.

Félix's involvement in the warehouse bust, and his tyrannical control over his organization, caused the members of organization to panic. Carrillo Fuentes, who controlled smuggling in the Juárez plaza, and Benjamín Arellano Félix, who controlled smuggling in the Tijuana plaza individually contacted Pacho and announced that they were willing to smuggle cocaine without the oversight of Félix Gallardo. Pacho accepted their terms, and directly contributed to the downfall of Félix Gallardo and the Guadalajara cartel.

War with the Medellín cartelEdit

Cali medellin meet

Pacho meeting senior members of the Medellin cartel.

Cali cartel sicario Navegante infiltrated the Medellín Cartel by working as José Rodríguez Gacha's chief of security. Navegante supplied the whearabouts of Gacha's location to the DEA, resulting in the Search Bloc killing Gacha in 1989.

In 1990, Pablo Escobar met with Helmer 'Pacho' Herrera to discuss a temporary ceasefire in order to fight extradition to the United States. The alliance was short-lived, as disputes arose to who would distribute cocaine in Los Angeles. Knowing the Escobar would not allow the Cali cartel to take over Los Angeles, Pacho met with Fabio and Jorge Luis Ochoa, two co-leaders of Escobar's cartel, and convinced them to collaborate against Escobar. Through Escobar's love interest Valeria Velez, Pacho finds out that Escobar is residing in the Monaco hotel, and orders a bombing. Escobar survives the bombing, but his daughter suffers from permanent ear damage.

Ochoa pacho meet

Pacho meeting the Ochoa brothers.

To weaken their cartel, Pacho reveals the relationship between Marina Ochoa and Gustavo Gaviria; Pablo's cousin and right-hand man. The Ochoa brothers, humiliated by the revelation, sell out Gaviria to Colonel Horacio Carrillo, and surrender to the Colombian police in the counts of illegal importation of animals. Escobar learns the connection between the Ochoa brothers and the Cali cartel through Velez, and sends Poison and a group of hitmen to kill Herrera and several other Cali cartel members in midst of a football match, however, Herrera survives the attempt.

Los pepes formation

The Cali cartel initially turned away the idea of Los Pepes.

Two years later, both cartels were ready to make peace. Escobar, who was imprisoned in his private prison, sent his two lieutenants Fernando Galeano and Kiko Moncada to settle the dispute over Los Angeles. Herrera agreed to pay $3,000,000, but Galeano and Moncada rise the price to $10,000,000. Escobar, however, felt that his cartel was losing respect from the Cali cartel, orders Moncada to triple the price.

Cali miami gains

Pacho, with Lion in the background; setting up new alliances with Escobar's contacts.

By the end of 1992, Escobar was forced out of his prison after it was discovered that he murdered Galeano and Moncada while imprisoned. Seeking this oppurtunity, various enemies of Escobar form the Los Pepes vigilante group, comprising of Kiko's wife Judy Moncada, Escobar's former head of security Diego Murillo Bejarano and the brothers Fidel Castaño Gil and Carlos Castaño Gil who led a powerful right-wing paramilitary organization. Despite the initial reluctance, the Cali cartel joins the vigilante group. The group co-ordinated with DEA agent Javier Peña, while his partner Steve Murphy refused to do so, and warns about the future of the Cali cartel. Gilberto was initially opposed to Los Pepes, but after Pablo bombs the wedding of his daughter, he vows revenge against the fugitive drug lord.

Herrera convinced the leader of the Medellin cartel's drug operations in Miami, Lion to turn his operations over to the Cali cartel in exchange for a better deal. After Lion staged a coup against his own organization, he was killed by Navegante on Gilberto's orders, severely weakening Escobar's presence in Miami.

Cali berna

Berna and the Cali cartel decide the fate of Judy Moncada.

The last of Escobar's labs were razed in mid-1993, and his final battalion of mercenaries were eliminated by the National Police. With Escobar out of the drug business and on the run, the Cali cartel decides to take over Medellin. In order to accomplish this, they abruptly end the Los Pepes alliance; and gift a warehouse full of cocaine to the Castaño brothers, prompting them to enter the drug business and hinder the growth of Judy Moncada's cartel. After an unsuccessful attempt on her life by the Castaños, she decides to cut herself lose by agreeing to rat out the cartel to the DEA. Upon hearing this, her protector Diego Murillo Bejarano meets up with Pacho and the Rodriguez brothers and decides to eliminate Judy. Later on, Berna escorts Judy to the airfield, where he presents her two choices - leave with the CIA to Miami, or stay in Colombia and fend of the Castaños. Judy chooses the former option, and later gives an interview to The Miami Herald, where she links DEA Agent Javier Peña to the Los Pepes, shifting the blame away from the Cali cartel.


The Los Pepes celebrate the death of Escobar, c. 1994

After Escobar's death on 2 December, 1993; the Cali cartel became the most powerful cartel in the country. To celebrate their victory, Gilberto hosts a party inviting several politicians, ministers, police officers and other cartel leaders. To everyone's surprise, he announces that the Cali cartel will be ceasing all its illegitimate activities by 6 months, and will enter a surrender deal with the government; in which they will serve reduced prison sentences and would retain much of their legitimate wealth and businesses. This announcement shocked many, especially the Norte del Valle cartel, who used this opportunity to wage war against the Cali cartel.

The Cali cartel began influencing all forms of the Colombian government, and even had their own team of lawyers. They bribed everyone from top politicians, judges, police officers, military generals and officials, resulting them having unprecedented success which even Escobar couldn't achieve. The cartel even indirectly funded Colombian President Ernesto Samper's presidential campaign to facilitate their surrender deal.

In addition, the cartel maintained a security division comparable to the Russian KGB, aptly named the Cali KGB, run by Carlo Cordova and Jorge Salcedo. With an ease access to several major telecommunications providers, the Cali KGB could wiretap, track and listen to phonecalls made my nearly every person of interest in Colombia.

After Herrera murders Claudio Salazar, he is sent by Gilberto to Mexico to lay low, and spent time with Mexican smuggler Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who at that point became the leader of the Juárez cartel and was Mexico's most powerful drug trafficker. The Mexican smuggler expresses his disappointment over Gilberto's plan, and invites Herrera to continue their alliance, but Herrera denied, expressing that his loyalty lied with the brothers.


The Cali KGB

Gilberto Rodriguez meets Orlando Henao of the Norte del Valle cartel.

The Cali Cartel's growth attracts the attention of the DEA, just like Murphy had warned Herrera years ago. DEA agents Chris Feistl and Daniel Van Ness follow Carlo Cordova to a mansion where Gilberto was staying, and Pena gets Colonel Hugo Martinez to raid the mansion. Knowing that the cartel has ears within the police, they also dispatch another group of soldiers led by an officer loyal to the cartel to raid another empty mansion. Peña and Trujillo discover Gilberto hiding inside a loft below a bathtub, and quickly arrest him, stunning the Cali cartel's leadership.

With Gilberto in the pit, his brother Miguel becomes the new leader. Miguel, who has no interest in the surrender deal, kills Cordova, and appoints Salcedo as the new head-of-security, and tells José Santacruz Londoño, the fourth partner who is responsible for operations in New York City to increase production and eliminate local competition. However, he is forced to flee the United States after a Cuban journalist reveals his identity and ties him with the explosion of a drug lab in Brooklyn.

Cali takingover port

Chepe and Pacho watch as the Cali cartel take over the Buenaventura port from the Norte del Valle cartel.

Miguel, as the leader, forays away from his brothers plan. He begins to increase cocaine production, and convinces the other two to forget about surrender. After a failed attempt on his life by the Norte del Valle cartel, he goes into war with them, and intimidates Orlando Henao Montoya into giving up Gerda Salazar by sending him the decapitated bodies of a Norte del Valley surveillance team sent to Cali. He also begins an aggressive crackdown on security and other cartel members, despite Gilberto's objection.

In order to avenge their losses, Henao Montoyo spoke to Carrillo Fuentes. He agreed to form an alliance with the Juárez cartel, in exchange for Amado giving up the location of Pacho's hiding place in Mexico. Amado agreed, and the Norte del Valle cartel assault Pacho's mansion in Mexico, but saw no success in killing the drug lord, who managed to escape back to Colombia along with his brother, who was paralysed due to injuries sustained in the gunfight. Simultaneously, Norte del Valle members attempted to assassinate Miguel in a nightclub during the new leader's first public appearance.

Franklin Jurado, the cartel's money-launderer was tracked and captured by the DEA. Jurado agreed to testify to the DEA in exchange for his wife's safety, but his wife is kidnapped by Navegante before the DEA could take her into her custody. The cartel lawyer, Alan Starkman forces Jurado to abandon his commitment to the DEA. Jurado was found guilty of money laundering, and was imprisoned in Miami, where he was killed on the orders of the Cali cartel.

Unbeknownst to others, Salcedo begins to talk to the DEA, and gives away the location of Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, resulting in his arrest. With both the brothers arrested, Herrera and Santacruz decide to surrender, but not before Herrera assaults the Norte del Valle cartel, killing most of the leaders.


Don Chepe with Carlos Castano of the AUC.

To make matters worse for the imprisoned leaders, the cartel's connections to the President Samper and Defense Minister Fernando Botero were uncovered, causing several politicians to sever ties with the cartel, rendering all leaders (with the exception of José Santacruz Londoño) unable to escape a prison sentence. Salcedo, along with the chief cartel account agree to testify against the cartel in court. Javier Peña goes off the hook, and publicly reveals the cartel's links to the government despite being told not to.

The cartel's operations ceased when its last leader, Miguel's son David Rodriguez was shot and killed in an ambush by the Norte del Valle cartel. Gilberto and Miguel spent 10 years in prison, before being extradited to the United States. Pacho was shot dead in prison following a football match by the Norte del Valle cartel. Santacruz managed to free himself, and went back to the Castano brothers for help, but they chose to humiliate and beat him to death.


Unlike Escobar's Medellín Cartel, the Cali cartel was run like a Fortune 500 company by the highly qualified Rodriguez brothers. The brothers avoided any sort of negative attention, and spent nearly $6 million on bribes and building a good image. The brothers owned several front companies, the most notable one being the largest chain of pharmacies in the country.

Each of the four leaders took care of different things. Gilberto Rodriguez took care of long-term strategy, Miguel took care of the accounts and bribes, Helmer Herrera managed the security and operations while Chepe Santacruz controlled foreign production. This sharply contracts the Medellin cartel, in which Pablo Escobar controlled absolutely every aspect of production, sales and money laundering. Another way in which the cartel differs from Escobar's is the low-level vertical autonomy. The Cali bosses usually made alliances with smaller drug cartels, in which Cali provided smuggling routes and security in exchange for a hefty cut of the profits. Through this method, the Cali cartel always had partners to work with and could continue without losses even if labs where shut down. Many of the lower level gangs did not even know that they were working for the Cali cartel.

The Cali cartel also worked openly with Mexican drug traffickers unlike Escobar, and this allowed their cocaine to easily penetrate into the markets of American cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. This also allowed them to transport cocaine without hinderance once the DEA shut down the Carribbean corridor.

The cartel had a really complex, but effective money laundering process managed by Franklin Jurado. This allowed them to wash several of their illegal funds and invest them in their legitimate business or use them as bribes, and as a result, the Cali godfathers did not bury heaps of cash in the countryside like Escobar.

The cartel, with excess of funds, had bribed nearly every police officer, army general, politician and businessmen to ensure virtual immunity from crimes. Through donations, they had ensured the election of Ernesto Samper as Colombia's president, who would then allow them continue their interests. Among other people in their payroll included the Defense Minister, Attorney General and several judges and police officers.

Cali security

Cordova briefs his men.

Another notable difference is the cartel's counter-intelligence bureau. Created by former Major Carlo Cordova, the cartel's security wing could overhear almost all radio signals and through the Con Telefonia Company, can overhear all calls made from Cali and Bogota, and wiretap every phone in the country and elsewhere. A complex network of informants enable them to keep track of any person of interest, particularly DEA Agents throughout the country.

In addition, the Rodriguez brothers purchased several legitimate chemical companies and laboratories to come up with new ways of smuggling cocaine, including mixing cocaine in carbon rocks and filling up empty gas cylinders and shipping them.


Calicartel board

Gentlemen of CaliEdit



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