CBC Digital Archives

Cocaine cartels trafficking batters Colombia

Rum runners. Heroin connections. Ecstasy labs. All part of a long line of criminal dealings in the service of international drug trafficking that smear Canada's squeaky-clean image. As the international community began to regulate intoxicating drugs in the 20th century, drug traffickers forged global routes through Canada in a vicious and wildly lucrative case of supply and demand. CBC Digital Archives looks back at Canada's unique place in this perilous trade as a customer, conduit and producer of illegal drugs.

Colombia is under siege. International drug trafficking cartels, processing and smuggling cocaine by the tonne into the lucrative U.S. market, have transformed the country into a war zone where the government is losing. In this astonishing 1989 report from the CBC Television's The Journal, the rise of drug billionaire Pablo Escobar, notorious leader of the Medellín cartel, puts a face and name on the devastation. The emergence of the cartels, the paramilitaries and an epidemic of murder and kidnapping show just what the international drug trade leaves in its wake.
• The cocaine cartels that arose in the 1970s operating out of Colombia quickly became some of the most powerful organized crime empires in the world. Pablo Escobar, the kingpin featured in this clip, reportedly began his ascent in the mid-1970s with a planeload of cocaine flown directly into the U.S. With cocaine selling for over $35,000 a kilogram at the time, Escobar is said to have become a millionaire in just a few trips. He parlayed this first success into a vast fortune using an incomparable scale of violence. Working in collaboration with five or six other cocaine producers in Medellín, Colombia, Escobar formed the infamous Medellín drug cartel. The BBC reported that the number of deaths attributable to Escobar may have been as high as 4,000. • Escobar was eventually imprisoned in Colombia, in a 1991 deal with the government that ensured that he would not be extradited to the U.S. The arrangement allowed him to build a luxurious prison and select his own guards. Not surprisingly, he maintained control of his empire from prison. However, the deal fell apart just months into his five year sentence, and fearing extradition he went on the lam. Almost a year and half later, Escobar was killed in a shootout with police on Dec. 3, 1993. The Medellín cartels largely collapsed with his passing, only to be replaced their competitors the Cali cartels, until they too were dismantled in the mid-1990s.

• Cocaine production reached its highest point in the late 1990s, with cultivation centred in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. In response to successful campaigns against the cartels, production and export of the drug shifted from the large cartel-style organization to smaller, more compartmentalized units dispersed throughout Colombia. In the absence of strong Colombian players, Mexican cartels began their assent in the early 2000s. As of 2008, it was estimated that 90 per cent of the cocaine that entered the U.S. market seeped in through Mexico.

Medium: Television
Broadcast Date: Oct. 24, 1989
Program: The Journal
Reporter: Terence McKenna
Guests: Nora Geraldo, Roberto Duque, Hymie Santa Maria, Alfredo Vasquez, Juan Manuel Lopez, Juan Gomez Martinez, Maza Marquez, Antonio Suarez
Duration: 30:14

Last updated: March 28, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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