Updated Wednesday, June 1, 2022 –

He and his brother were staunch enemies of Pablo Escobar, they contributed to his defeat and to their killing him

Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, in a photo from 2004.EFE

He has died at the age of 83, when he still had 12 years in prison. Ill with terminal cancer, gout and psychiatric disorders, he tried to convince the American justice system to allow him to spend the last years of his life in his native country, together with his family. But he weighed more the long and bloody history of the boss of the Cali cartel, responsible for shipping 80% of the cocaine consumed in the world, and remained in the Butner Federal prison in North Carolina.

His brother Miguel, with whom he pulled the strings of drug trafficking in the 1980s and early 1990s, is serving his 25-year sentence in another North American prison.

In addition to being the head of a criminal gang, the Rodriguez Orejuela they became famous for financing Ernesto Samper’s political campaign in 1994. Although the evidence showed that his money bought the second round of elections, the former president managed to come out unscathed by the corruption that was eating away at the Legislature at the time.

“I am aware that all of us who have had some relationship with the political, economic or military power bear the greatest guilt for the tragedy that the Colombian people have experienced in the last 50 years,” Gilberto wrote to the Truth Commission. “Therefore, going before you to contribute my guilt, and with what I know of what happened in Colombia with the historical truth, is a moral imperative that obliges me, as a Colombian, as a human being and as a son of God” .

He did not have time to keep that appointment and it was not clear that he wanted to tell the truth about what happened. On occasions, both he and his brother, through letters, have changed the versions of him and it will no longer be clear which of all is the real one.

The ‘chess player’

Gilberto, who was nicknamed the chess player by his intelligence and ability To anticipate the moves of his enemies, he was the eldest of the couple who founded one of the two most powerful cartels in Colombia. Bitter enemies of Pablo Escobar, they contributed to his defeat and death. They helped the government of the time to fight it with its own weapons because the Cali cartel had brought the State to its knees with brutal narco-terrorism.

He was born in 1939 in Mariquita, a prosperous and hot town in Tolima, in central Colombia. At the age of 13, he was already working taking medicines from a pharmacy on a bicycle. When the family moved to Cali, he continued to work as a messenger when his studies allowed him until he grew up and one day he founded his own pharmacy. Time later and without his family noticing it at first because led a double lifeHe made the leap to drug trafficking.

“I started in drug trafficking in 1975 through personal friends that I don’t want to mention. Not out of rebellion against you or against justice, but simply because I have a family that includes more than 100 people including children, nephews, , grandchildren, siblings, and these will be in serious danger of death at the time I get to point out some of these people with their own names,” he told the prosecutor in 1995, when he was arrested. But he only received a twelve-year sentence that a judge reduced to seven. In 2002 he was released.

Entrepreneurial at heart, income from sending thousands of tons of cocaine camouflaged in shipments of wood or fruit, among others, invests them in creating and multiplying the branches of Drogas La Rebaja and in banking. Also in the automobile sector and chaired Chrysler Colombia from 1979 to 83.

Unlike Escobar, he did not have armies of hit men and he thought it wiser to associate with the corrupt powers of state. But by finishing off his rivals in Medellin, he became a priority target for Washington. Considered at the time as one of the ten richest men on the planet, during the two years he was released, he was able to enjoy his eight children and the thirty grandchildren he had at the time. But they arrested him again and in 2004 he was extradited to the United States. It was impossible to escape his past.

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