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Under Pressure, Cali Cartel Kingpin Offers Surrender

October 24, 1995

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ He has a $1 million price on his head. His farms have been seized. His sister is in jail. Harried and on the run for months, the last of seven drug kingpins still at large appears ready to surrender.

The long and lucrative reign of Helmer Herrera, one of Colombia’s most powerful drug traffickers and the reputed head of the Cali cartel’s military wing, is in peril.

Police say his arrest is imminent. Six other alleged leaders of the world’s largest cocaine gang, identified on wanted posters along with Herrera, are behind bars.

``Only one left,″ say the nationwide television ads offering a reward for Herrera’s capture.

In a possible sign that he is feeling the pressure, Herrera granted two lawyers authority to negotiate his surrender in a letter released to the media this week. The letter carries his signature and fingerprint.

Prosecutor General Alfonso Valdivieso, however, is skeptical. He says he hasn’t received the letter.

``How many times have we heard similar announcements about surrenders that never happened?″ Valdivieso said Tuesday.

He recalled two years of failed surrender negotiations with Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, reputed founders of the Cali cartel. The Rodriguez brothers were arrested this year in a police crackdown pushed for by the United States.

The pressure on Herrera, 44, has been intense.

Police routinely raid his farms and businesses around the southwestern city of Cali, the cartel’s headquarters. His sister, Stella Herrera, was arrested last weekend on suspicion of managing his illegally funded businesses. Arrest warrants are out for other family members. The family has long been involved in smuggling.

U.S. drug agents fear Herrera could consolidate his hold on the cartel if Colombia eases its crackdown on drug traffickers. Colombian police say Herrera has even found time to strike back at his pursuers.

Earlier this month, 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 carry out retaliations.

Herrera 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, where 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.

Because Herrera could receive a lighter sentence if he surrenders, police are keeping up the hunt.

``That’s what we want _ to capture him before he surrenders,″ said Maj. Victor Pinzon of the national police.

Update hourly