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Colombian Drug Patriarch Dies

February 18, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Fabio Ochoa Restrepo, the patriarch of one of Colombia’s most important drug trafficking families, died Monday of kidney failure. He was 78.

Fabio Ochoa, whose sons were top lieutenants in Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel, was never accused of drug trafficking, but he always defended his family’s reputation.

His oldest son, Jorge Luis Ochoa, told RCN television that his father, who had been overweight and in ill health for much of his adult life, suffered a blood infection last week. Fabio Ochoa was a renowned horse breeder.

Most of the family gathered at the La Loma ranch Monday, though Jorge Luis Ochoa noted that his father’s namesake and youngest son, Fabio Ochoa Vasquez, could not attend because he is in jail in the United States on drug trafficking charges.

The Medellin cartel turned drug trafficking into a multibillion dollar industry. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Escobar unleashed a campaign of bombings and assassinations in an attempt to intimidate the state into abolishing extraditions.

The Ochoa family chose a more peaceful approach, and Ochoa Vasquez was the first major trafficker to turn himself in to authorities in exchange for a promise he wouldn’t be extradited for past crimes. His surrender opened the way for his two older brothers and other traffickers to also turn themselves in.

The deal, and a subsequent constitutional reform outlawing extradition, were struck in hopes of ending the violence, which finally abated when police killed Escobar in 1993.

A December 1997 constitutional change reinstated extradition, but only for crimes committed after that date. The three brothers spent five years in Colombian jails and vowed not to get involved in drugs again when they were released in 1996.

However, Ochoa Vasquez was indicted in federal court in Florida on charges that after 1997 he resumed trafficking to the United States via Mexico.

The elder Ochoa defended his son until the end, insisting that Ochoa Vasquez was innocent the day before he was extradited to the United States last year.

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