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|Founded by||Pablo Escobar, Gustavo Gaviria, Jorge Luis Ochoa Vásquez, José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, Carlos Lehder|
|Founding location||Antioquia Department, Colombia|
|Territory||Colombia, México, New York, Florida|
|Ethnicity||Colombians and international people out of Colombia.|
|Criminal activities||Drug trafficking, arms trafficking, assassinations, bombing, terrorism, bribery, kidnapping, extortion, money laundering, murder, political corruption, racketeering|
|Allies||Guadalajara Cartel (defunct)|
La Corporación (defunct)
Cuban government (alleged)
|Rivals||Cali Cartel (defunct)|
Los Pepes (defunct)
The Medellín Cartel (Spanish: Cartel de Medellín) was a highly organized and much-feared Colombian drug cartel originating in the city of Medellín, Colombia. The drug cartel operated throughout the 1970s and 1980s in Bolivia, Colombia, Panama, Central America, Peru, and the United States, as well as in Canada and Europe.
At the height of its operations, the Medellín Cartel smuggled tons of cocaine each week into countries all over the world and brought in up to 60 million dollars daily in drug profits. For a time, the Medellín Cartel supplied at least 80% of the United States' cocaine market.
In the late 1970s, illegal cocaine trade took off and became a major source of profit. Drug lord Griselda Blanco distributed cocaine for the Cartel in New York City and later Miami, establishing a crime network that at its height trafficked around 300 kilos per month. By 1982, cocaine surpassed coffee. Private armies were raised to fight off guerrillas who were trying to either redistribute their lands to local peasants, kidnap them, or extort the gramaje money FARC attempted to steal. 
At the end of 1981 and the beginning of 1982, members of the Medellín Cartel, the Colombian military, the U.S.-based corporation Texas Petroleum, the Colombian legislature, small industrialists, and wealthy cattle ranchers came together in a series of meetings in Puerto Boyacá and formed a paramilitary organization known as Muerte a Secuestradores ("Death to Kidnappers", MAS) to defend their economic interests, and to provide protection for local elites from kidnappings and extortion. By 1983, Colombian internal affairs had registered 240 political killings by MAS death squads, mostly community leaders, elected officials, and farmers.
The following year, the Asociación Campesina de Ganaderos y Agricultores del Magdalena Medio ("Association of Middle Magdalena Ranchers and Farmers", ACDEGAM) was created to handle both the logistics and the public relations of the organization, and to provide a legal front for various paramilitary groups. ACDEGAM worked to promote anti-labor policies, and threatened anyone involved with organizing for labor or peasants' rights. The threats were backed up by the MAS, which would attack or assassinate anyone who was suspected of being a "subversive". ACDEGAM also built schools whose stated purpose was the creation of a "patriotic and anti-Communist" educational environment, and built roads, bridges, and health clinics. Paramilitary recruiting, weapons storage, communications, propaganda, and medical services were all run out of ACDEGAM headquarters. 
By the mid-1980s, ACDEGAM and MAS had experienced significant growth. In 1985, the powerful drug traffickers Juan Matta-Ballesteros, Pablo Escobar, Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, Carlos Lehder, and Jorge Luis Ochoa began funneling large amounts of cash into the organization to pay for equipment, training, and weaponry. Money for social projects was cut off and redirected towards strengthening the MAS. Modern battle rifles, such as the AKM, FN FAL, Galil, and HK G3, were purchased from the military, INDUMIL, and drug-funded private sales. The organization had computers and ran a communications center that worked in coordination with the state telecommunications office. They had 30 pilots, and an assortment of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. British, Israeli, and U.S. military instructors were hired to teach at paramilitary training centers.
Once authorities were made aware of "questionable activities", the group was put under Federal Drug Task Force surveillance. Evidence was gathered, compiled, and presented to a grand jury, resulting in indictments, arrests, and prison sentences for those convicted. However, very few Colombian cartel leaders were actually taken into custody as a result of these operations. Mostly, non-Colombians conspiring with the cartel were the "fruits" of these indictments.
Most Colombians targeted, as well as those named in such indictments, lived and stayed in Colombia, or fled before indictments were unsealed. However, by 1993 most, if not all, cartel fugitives had been either imprisoned, or hunted and gunned down, by the Colombian National Police trained and assisted by specialized military units and the CIA.
The last of Escobar's lieutenants to be assassinated was Juan Diego Arcila Henao, who had been released from a Colombian prison in 2002 and hidden in Venezuela to avoid the vengeance of "Los Pepes". However he was gunned down in his Jeep Cherokee as he exited the parking area of his home in Cumaná, Venezuela, in April 2007.
While it is broadly believed that Los Pepes have been instrumental in the assassination of the cartel's members over the last 17 years,[when?] it is still in dispute whether the mantle is just a screen designed to deflect political repercussions from both the Colombian and United States governments' involvement in these assassinations.
Perhaps the greatest threat posed to the Medellín Cartel and the other traffickers was the implementation of an extradition treaty between the United States and Colombia. It allowed Colombia to extradite to the US any Colombian suspected of drug trafficking and to be tried there for their crimes. This was a major problem for the cartel, since the drug traffickers had little access to their local power and influence in the US, and a trial there would most likely lead to imprisonment. Among the staunch supporters of the extradition treaty were Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara (who was pushing for more action against the drug cartels), Police Officer Jaime Ramírez, and numerous Colombian Supreme Court judges.
However, the cartel applied a "bend or break" strategy towards several of these supporters, using bribery, extortion, or violence. Nevertheless, when police efforts began to cause major losses, some of the major drug lords themselves were temporarily pushed out of Colombia, forcing them into hiding from which they ordered cartel members to take out key supporters of the extradition treaty.
The cartel issued death threats to the Supreme Court Judges, asking them to denounce the Extradition Treaty. The warnings were ignored. This led Escobar and the group he called Los Extraditables ("The Extraditables") to start a violent campaign to pressure the Colombian government by committing a series of kidnappings, murders, and narco-terrorist actions.
In November 1985, 35 heavily armed members of the M-19 guerrilla group stormed the Colombian Supreme Court in Bogotá, leading to the Palace of Justice siege. Some claimed at the time that the cartel's influence was behind the M-19's raid, because of its interest in intimidating the Supreme Court. Others state that the alleged cartel-guerrilla relationship was unlikely to occur at the time because the two organizations had been having several standoffs and confrontations, like the kidnappings by M-19 of drug lord Carlos Lehder and of Nieves Ochoa, the sister of Medellín Cartel founder Juan David Ochoa. These kidnappings led to the creation of the MAS/Muerte a Secuestradores ("Death to Kidnappers") paramilitary group by the Medellín Cartel. Former guerrilla members have also denied that the cartel had any part in this event. The issue continues to be debated inside Colombia.
As a means of intimidation, the cartel conducted hundreds of assassinations throughout the country. Escobar and his associates made it clear that whoever stood against them would risk being killed along with their families. Some estimates put the total around 3,500 killed during the height of the cartel's reign, including over 500 police officers in Medellín, but the entire list is impossible to assemble, due to the limitation of the judiciary power in Colombia. The following is a brief list of the most notorious assassinations conducted by the cartel:
In 1993, shortly before Escobar's death, the cartel lieutenants were also targeted by the vigilante group Los Pepes (or PEPES, People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar).
With the assassination of Juan Diego Arcila Henao in 2007, most if not all of Escobar's lieutenants who were not in prison had been killed by the Colombian National Police Search Bloc (trained and assisted by U.S. Delta Force and CIA operatives), or by the Los Pepes vigilantes.
La Oficina de Envigado is believed to be a partial successor to the Medellín organization. It was founded by Don Berna as an enforcement wing for the Medellín Cartel. When Don Berna fell out with Escobar, La Oficina caused Escobar's rivals to oust Escobar. The organization then inherited the Medellín turf and its criminal connections in the US, Mexico, and the UK, and began to affiliate with the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, organising drug trafficking operations on their behalf.
The cartel is either featured or referenced in numerous works of popular culture.
Arnaldo Ochoa knew that Fidel secretly exchanged weapons with the Medellin Cartel for money and drugs. And this turbulent partnership included the authorization for the landing of planes in Cuba and loaded with cocaine to be transferred then and speedboats to the US. Fidel had appealed to this source of income to compensate for the reduction of the Soviet subsidy. And illegal trade, Castro delivered Kalashnikov rifles, ammunition and other supplies brought as loot of war from Africa.
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