If the Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel can be regarded as the Henry Fords of the Drugs business then the Cali cartel with its corporate business acumen can certainly be regarded as the McDonalds. This well-written, detailed biography tracks the rise and fall of the most successful drug cartel in history. Closely focusing on the cartel leaders: Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, Chepe Santacruz and Pacho Herrera – we see how a criminal enterprise can spread its tentacles across the globe. Gilberto the Chessplayer manipulates the board, Miguel’s micromanagement combined with Chepe’s ultraviolence and Pacho’s style, turn this bunch of bandits from the southern Colombian city of Cali into a most feared and efficient drug exporting organisation. There are links to the Italian Mafia and other international gangs such as the Yakuza. Cali were always one step ahead of the law and the DEA had to face unremitting work in order to bring this cartel down over several decades of watching them dominate the markets. They had control of the lucrative New York City cocaine trade from way back in the 1970s and went on to control 70-80% of Colombian cocaine exports. There was war with the Medellin cartel but an uneasy truce with the Colombian government with a web of corruption extending right to the top with Ernesto Samper’s Presidential campaign allegedly being infiltrated by large inputs of Cal narco-dollars. The story could be that of any large multinational corporation – the Cali Godfathers were experts at laundering their money in conventional businesses. The tale is ultimately a massive success for law enforcement but the amazing true narrative will shock readers and leave you in awe of what can be deemed as the ultimate organisation in the world of narco-trafficking. A five star read.
Review: Gangster Warlords – Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America – by Ioan Grillo
This is the second of Ioan Grillo’s books that I have read and I found this volume equally as good as my first encounter with this talented British journalist. Gangster Warlords focuses on 4 separate crime gangs across the Americas. For each group we identify leaders, politics, often brutal and horrendous crimes and a link to the out of control trade in Narcotics across Latin America and the Caribbean that gives rise to the conditions necessary for Gangster Warlords to thrive. The first part looks at the Comando Vermelho or Red Commando of Brazil, focussing on a biography of the ‘brain’ of the guerrilla / criminal gang, William da Silva Lima. From open bocas selling drugs on the streets of the Rio favelas, to political indoctrination in the fusion of leftwing political prisoners and armed robbers in Brasilian jails, this story is eyeopening and violently disturbing. The second part covers Jamaica’s Shower Posse with the rise and fall of its President, Christopher Michael Coke or ‘Dudus’. The impact one man’s crimes can have upon an entire political system that reaches deep into the depths of global cities with their yardie drug gangs highlights how uneasy a relationship is struck between warlords and governments. Third up we have coverage of the gangs of the Northern Triangle – Honduras and El Salvador with its imported from Los Angeles headlining crime group the Mara Salvatrucha. The brutal murder rate of these guys strikes fear into even the hardiest of Latin American gangs with the MS-13 being recruited by powerful Mexican cartels such as Sinaloa to do their dirty work. The global reaches of violent criminal empires is apparent. Lastly there is a focus on Nazario Moreno, El Chayo – El Más Looa – The Maddest One. and his Knights Templar. This NarcoSaint formed from the nucleus of the La Familia Michoacana a devoted following based around the medieval style religious teachings and devotion of the holy warrior monks of the Middle Ages. He faked his death at one stage until he was finally put into his grave by the fierce war with autodefensas who in vigilante justice were the only solution to his expansive Crystal Meth and Marijuana empire. The whole book encompasses many of the same themes. Recurrent violence, cocaine smuggling and distribution internationally, political unrest and inadequate government coping strategies. In his conclusions Grillo identifies possible solutions to the War on…
When you see the title ‘The Cartel’ you might immediately imagine a book about Colombian or Mexican drug lords. Yet, this book covers a 30 year history of a homegrown cartel, based in Liverpool. Back in the 1970s a pioneering Fred the Rat grouped together his criminal comrades and they moved from bank robberies and burglaries into drug importation and reselling. At its height the Liverpool cartel was importing 60% of the UK’s narcotics. International expansion took cartel employees into Spain, Turkey, North Africa, The Netherlands and South America. Police were oblivious to much of what was going on and characters such as ‘The Analyst’ had their work cut out, only many years later getting serious results through the hard work of the MCU (Major Crime Unit). The story of notorious Scouse trafficker, Curtis Warren is a highlight of the book, most probably his ostentatiousness proving hiss downfall, after appearing in the Sunday Times Rich List, getting busted by Dutch police and serving a long prison sentence in Holland. The global matrix structure of the cartel meant it operated like a large multinational business. The book’s violence is astounding. From street gangs, doormen companies, professional hits, murders (including links to the Crimewatch presenter Jill Dando’s killing), internecine wars and revenge attacks plus the rip off and advantage-taking of gullible workers further down the chain of command, blood is almost always flowing. The murder of the Cream head doorman by a 20 strong gang in a pub with machetes and baseball bats was particularly gruesome. For me, the highlight of the well woven tale was the ongoing saga of the never caught division featuring Poncho, Kaiser, Scarface and Hector. Based mainly in Amsterdam, these renegades dealt directly with the Cali Cartel and were the first to import a metric ton of cocaine to the UK. I found the tandem ascent of the UK Rave scene and dance music culture to be particularly relevant. The author has done good research and knows how to captivate the reader’s attention. I shall certainly be checking out more of Graham Johnson’s books. This book is only short and is divided into 45 chapters of only a few pages long. Yet after each chapter it takes a polite pause of breath to work out what is going on and to let the information seep in. The tale is traumatic. Definitely a five star, truly entertaining and…
Review: El Infierno – Drugs, Gangs, Riots and Murder – My Time Inside Ecuador’s Toughest Prisons – by Pieter Tritton
This autobiographical account of Brit drug smuggler, Pieter Tritton, is a flowing, page-turning journey that documents his twelve years locked up in Ecuador’s notorious, corrupt and highly dangerous prison system. Tritton is already in trouble back in the UK where he is being sought by police for large scale international drug trafficking. He heads out to Ecuador for a fairly straightforward 2kg cocaine purchase, cleverly melted down and concealed in a tent’s groundsheet, that he aims to transport back to the lucrative European markets. He has been stitched up though and his hotel room is busted and his girlfriend and him start an arduous adventure in the justice system of this exotic Andean nation. From the outset it is clear that the prison system is quite a bit different to that Pieter has previous experienced in the UK. Here. the guards are usually in the command of the brutal gangs that run the prisons. It is a dog eat dog world and murder is rife. At first the lifestyle seems quite liberal within the prison as the cells aren’t usually locked up for much of the time and there is relative freedom of movement and lots of amenities such as shops and prisoners are allowed luxury items and to decorate their own cells. However, the underlying gangs that run the system are in total control. Drugs are very freely available and Pieter gets heavily involved in the business he knows best, dealing both inside the prison walls and also continuing international trafficking through the new contacts he picks up. He earns the respect of most inmates although he occasionally takes high risks that could result in serious calamity. There is a steady stream of high machismo violence and murder. The justice system is obviously corrupt and there are difficulties negotiating this. Later, during his stay in the notorious Guayaquil La Peni prison, he contracts TB and almost dies. The book is a heartfelt journey and the frank nature of the author as he expresses his true feelings and fears and narrates his liaisons with the depraved criminal characters often right at the top of the gang hierarchy, gives us a true life insight into a dark and oppressed system where Pieter survives probably only though his optimistic spirit and entrepreneurial attitude. I really enjoyed this book and it tells of a journey through life that must have been very difficult….
Review: At The Devil’s Table – Inside the Fall of the Cali Cartel – the World’s Biggest Crime Syndicate – by William C. Rempel
Jorge Salcedo signed up to the Cali cartel in order to lead a mission to assassinate Pablo Escobar, head of the rival Medellín cartel and, in Jorge’s eyes, a clear and present danger to the people of Colombia. This ex Colombian army professional was a security expert and although the initial mission, with the aid of British mercenaries, was to fail, Jorge embarked on a flourishing career with his Cali cartel bosses, one that would end in betrayal and the fall of the biggest crime syndicate on the planet. Miguel and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela were the brothers at the head of the Cali cartel and Jorge would become part of their inner circle, as a trusted almost family member, in charge of Miguel’s day-to-day security and all the cartel business that that entailed. He would witness the trafficking operation that flooded the US market with Cocaine and would bear party to the intense violence that accompanied his boss’ position, gradually becoming an integral part of all operations. From learning how the sicarios operated, to engaging overseas in Nicaragua and the USA, to witnessing assassinations, Jorge would build up an essential insider’s knowledge of the cartel’s overall business. However, as time wore on, and it became clear that there would be no easy exit for him from the cartel, Jorge became disillusioned and ultimately sought to betray his boss. Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela became the most wanted criminal on the planet and when Jorge fell into the arms of the DEA, his knowledge of daily operations assisted the US and Colombian authorities in tracking down and successfully capturing the head of the syndicate. Jorge and his family fled into protective custody and the Cali cartel was permanently weakened by the ‘chopping off of the head’. This book, well researched clandestinely for over a decade, tells a bloodthirsty true tale of top level narco-trafficking, political corruption, and gang warfare. It is a true page-turner that will engage and grip you from start to finish.
This is an enthralling, well-researched book, that reveals many unknown new facts about the global cocaine industry. The book opens with a chapter focussing on the USA, the biggest market for the Cocaine industry, where 66% of Cocaine users exist. We then enter into the producing and transit phase of the drug and examine Colombia, Mexico and the Caribbean in detail. Colombia has the infamous Medellín and Cali cartels, much responsible for the initial production of Cocaine. The role of the FARC, AUC and the Colombian Civil War is documented and the political difficulties with America’s Plan Colombia and the extreme bribery involved in Colombian political life. In Mexico, we see how the various cartels such as Sinaloa, Juárez, Gulf and Tijuana have gone to war, recruiting the services of such paramilitaries as Los Zetas. The Caribbean covers Jamaica in detail and also Cuba, Haiti and the various tax haven islands. In Jamaica we see how politics have heavily influenced the gang culture and the rise of the Shower Posse is documented. In all of the Western producer country sphere, the USA and its policies is never far from the forefront. The ‘War on Drugs’ in force from many successive administrations at the White House, often focuses on producer and transit countries and is totally supported by draconian United Nations international legislation. The European market, in particular the United Kingdom is the second largest market for Cocaine and some countries here have introduced decriminalisation. In places such as Holland and Portugal, drug use is not penalised. The author explores how users are affected by the drug and explores addiction, in particular the problems of crack cocaine. In the final part of the book we look at possible legalisation solutions although, despite Feiling’s enthusiasm for this to happen, I fear it will be many generations before this becomes politically possible. Perhaps with potential cannabis decriminalisation and legalisation on the agenda, it will open up the doors for other narcotics to follow suit? I enjoyed the book and it really does go into detail on what is an interesting subject and a truly global industry.