Colombia has been a very unstable country for the past fifty years. Beginning in the
1960s Marxist guerilla groups formed. The two strongest groups called themselves the National
Liberation Army (ELN) and the other was the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC). Making things worse, in the 1970s drug trafficking became a huge problem for
Colombia. Drug cartels pretty much controlled the country starting in the mid-1970s. By the
1990s right-wing paramilitaries had formed. They were made mainly of drug traffickers and
landowners. The main paramilitary group called themselves the United Self Defense Forces of
Since the 1970s, Colombia has been home to some of the most violent and sophisticated
drug trafficking organizations in the world. What started as a small cocaine smuggling business
has, in the last thirty years, blossomed into an enormous multi-national cocaine empire. Starting
in the mid-1970s, marijuana traffickers in Colombia began exporting small quantities of cocaine
to the United States hidden in suitcases. "At that point, cocaine could be processed for $1500 a
kilo in jungle labs and could be sold on the streets of America for as much as $50,000 a kilo"
Today, Colombia supplies up to 80 percent of the world's cocaine, and about 70 percent
of the cocaine that enters the United States. "Production has been steadily rising, it is up 20
percent in the past fifteen years" (Grossman). Illegal crops remain, by far, the most lucrative of
all the agricultural products in Colombia. The narcotics industry accounts for about three
percent of Colombia's gross domestic income.
The majority of the coca leaves are grown on large plantations in southern and central
Colombia, most of which are under the control of large drug cartels. "Recently, coca growers have burned 2.4 million hectares of rain forest to clear for new areas of cultivation" (Grossman).
Poor peasants are recruited to work the land and harvest illicit crops as their major source of
income. In other cases, the FARC forces farmers to pick coca fields.
With its convenient access to the Caribbean Sea, the Isthmus of Panama, and the Pacific
Ocean, Colombia is well equipped to serve as a major exporter of illicit drugs north towards the
U.S. Highly organized smuggling cartels based in cities like Cali, Medellin, and Bogota arrange
for the export of narcotics by the bulk, primarily to the United States.
Narcotics can be shipped from ports along South America's coastal regions or
transported via ground routes running through Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Traffickers use fishing vessels, commercial cargo ships and stealthier speed boats to smuggle
massive amounts of cocaine from Colombia to Central America, Mexico and several Caribbean
countries. From there they make their way to the U.S. mainland.
In the history of Colombian drug cartels there are two names that will most definitely be
acknowledged, the Medellin cartel and the Cali cartel. These are the most notorious groups of
drug traffickers in the history of Colombia, even perhaps in the world.
The Medellin cartel started off with six members. The leader of this group was Pablo
Escobar, the others were Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacho, and brothers Jorge, Fabio and Juan
"Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacho had roots in Colombia's somewhat murky emerald trade.
The Ochoa brothers were from a well respected ranching and horsing family. And the violent leader, Pablo Escobar, was a common street thief who masterminded the criminal enterprise that became known as the Medellin cartel" (pbs.org-Cartels).
The men from Medellin joined together with, marijuana smuggler, Carlos Lehder, who convinced them that they could fly cocaine in small airplanes directly into the United States, avoiding...
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