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Cali Cartel Leader Surrenders

September 2, 1996

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ After dodging some 400 police raids over the past 16 months, the last leader of the world’s largest cocaine cartel has surrendered.

Helmer Herrera turned himself in Sunday near the southwest city of Cali, after months of sporadic negotiations between prosecutors and his lawyers.

``I want to sort out the legal problems I have with the authorities,″ Herrera, 45, said at the headquarters of the Cali police’s anti-drug unit.

Six other leaders of the Cali cartel were arrested last year.

Herrera faces charges of illegal enrichment and drug trafficking, a spokesman for the prosecutor general’s office said on condition of anonymity.

Herrera dodged police raids on his farms and businesses even after the other drug kingpins were jailed in a crackdown pushed for by the United States.

For years, Herrera had been heavily involved in setting up and maintaining cocaine distribution networks in New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

``It’s very significant,″ DEA spokesman Van Quarles said of the arrest.

Last year the government mounted a crackdown on the Cali cartel. It offered rewards for the top seven cartel leaders. With Herrera’s surrender, all have either turned themselves in or been arrested. One of the kingpins, Jose Santacruz, was shot and killed in March after bribing prison guards and escaping from jail.

Police on Herrera’s trail arrested members of his family, but Herrera was elusive.

Authorities say he often shed his bodyguards and traveled alone, by bus or taxi, sometimes even disguising himself as a woman. He commanded loyalty among his gang members by taking a personal interest in their affairs and rewarding them.

U.S. drug agents had feared that Herrera could consolidate his hold on the cartel if he remained a fugitive long enough. Colombian police believe Herrera even found time to strike back at his pursuers.

Last year, suspected leftist rebels shot up the barracks of an elite anti-drug police force in Cali. Police said the guerrillas had been hired by Herrera to retaliate.

Herrera also played a key role in the Cali drug traffickers’ struggle against the rival Medellin drug gang.

The Cali cartel secretly allied itself with the government during the early 1990s to wipe out the more violent Medellin drug gang, authorities have said.

Herrera is believed to have been involved in a 1988 car bomb attack on a building in Medellin, in which the family of Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar was living. The family escaped.

On Sept. 25, 1990, Medellin hit men killed 19 people at a farm outside Cali in a failed attempt to kill Herrera.

The Cali cartel took over from the Medellin cartel as the world’s dominant drug trafficking organization in the 1990s, especially after Escobar’s death in December 1993.

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