A top leader of the world’s biggest drug gang, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, was arrested Friday in a raid in the southwestern Colombian city of Cali, and one report said he was found hiding in a closet.
Rodriguez Orejuela, along with his brother Miguel, heads the Cali cartel, which supplies 80 percent of the world’s cocaine. His arrest came amid increasing pressure from the United States to crack down on the cartel.
The United States, citing widespread corruption in Colombia’s government and security forces, has repeatedly accused Colombia of being lax in the fight against drugs.
There are indictments against both brothers in several cities in the United States. Colombia, however, forbids extradition of its citizens.
In Washington, President Clinton congratulated the Colombian government, and his spokesman called the arrest “another victory for the Colombian people.”
“This arrest should send a signal to other narco-traffickers that their insidious crimes will not be allowed to destroy the fabric of our people,” said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
Rodriguez Orejuela’s capture is a major blow to the Cali cartel, which makes billions of dollars every year and ships thousands of tons of cocaine annually to the United States and Europe.
He was arrested during a police raid in Santa Monica, an affluent neighborhood of Cali, police Capt. Ricardo Blanco said. RCN radio said he was found sitting in a closet in an apartment building.
Television footage showed heavily armed police agents hustling a bearded Rodriguez Orejuela in handcuffs out of a helicopter in Bogota.
“This is the beginning of the end of the Cali cartel,” President Ernesto Samper said on national radio. “We’re not going to stop until this problem is wiped out. The entire world can be sure we’re going to continue in this struggle.”
At the urging of the United States, Colombian authorities had increased pressure on the cartel, raiding safehouses in Cali and distributing flyers offering million-dollar rewards for their capture.