Killing of Trafficker Represents Major Blow to Cartel
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A drug cartel leader killed by police was responsible for coordinating terrorist attacks in Colombia and shipments of cocaine to the United States, police said Sunday.
Gustavo de Jesus Gaviria, the 41-year-old cousin of the Medellin cartel’s leader, Pablo Escobar, was fatally shot Saturday in a shootout with anti- narcotics police raiding his apartment in southern Medellin, according to an official police statement.
Gen. Octavio Vargas, the operations chief of the national police, said Escobar delegated Gaviria to manage the cartel’s terrorist bombings and assasinations and its shipments of tons of cocaine to the United States and Europe.
″The damage caused to the cartel by the elimination of Gaviria is incalculable,″ Vargas said in a telephone interview.
Vargas, who planned Saturday’s raid, said Medellin residents angered by the cartel’s attacks had tipped police off to Gaviria’s whereabouts two weeks ago.
In the last year the cartel carried out nearly 300 bombings that left 301 people dead. Early this year, the traffickers’ began gunning down Medellin police, killing 178 of them before the cartel declared a unilateral truce last month.
The truce is apparently intended to convince President Cesar Gaviria, inaugurated Tuesday, to abandon the government’s crackdown on traffickers. President Gaviria is not related to Gustavo Gaviria.
Vargas said police had taken special care to study the layout of Gustavo Gaviria’s luxury apartment, equipped with bullet-resistant windows and a closed-circuit television monitoring system.
Gaviria, wanted in both France and the United States on cocaine trafficking charges, battled police with his Uzi submachine gun and an M-14 automatic rifle, Vargas said.
Witnesses quoted by newspapers said the gunbattle between Gaviria and police lasted about 15 minutes.
Police also captured one of Gaviria’s associates, Alexandra Tapias, in the raid, Vargas said. The police statement said that another woman was also detained. She was not identified.
Vargas said Gaviria’s sister had claimed the suspect’s body, which was to be buried in a Medellin cemetary.
In the last eight months, authorities have killed two other cartel leaders in gunbattles. Police killed Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha in December and John Jairo Arias earlier this year.
Medellin police remain on alert, fearing that the killing may prompt the cartel to carry out retaliatory attacks, the police statement said.
Gaviria’s name first entered police records in 1976, when he was arrested along with Escobar and charged with transporting 40 pounds of cocaine in a car tire.
A judge subsequently freed the two men without explanation. Four years later the suspects were considered two of the richest, most powerful drug barons in the country.
In 1987, authorities accused Gaviria of responsibility for the assassinations of two Colombian intellegence police officers. A judge found him innocent, citing a lack of evidence.
Last year, a French court convicted Gaviria of smuggling nearly 1,000 pounds of cocaine into the country and sentenced him in his absence to 20 years in prison.
The United States has requested Gaviria’s extradition on charges of cocaine distribution and money laundering. In recent years, Florida authorities have confiscated two of Gaviria’s luxury apartments in Dade County and Miami Beach, according to a report in Bogota’s El Espectador newspaper.
The Medellin cartel and a rival group in the city of Cali are responsible for processing and smuggling 80 percent of the cocaine sold in the United States, U.S. authorities have said.
Police have called Gaviria the third most important member of the Medellin cartel, led by Escobar and another trafficking suspect, Jorge Luis Ochoa.