All posts by Colin

Book Review: “I Couldn’t Stop Reading…”

The first book review for Mad Outta Me Head comes from a personal friend of mine, James Leonard:

This book follows the life of an Irishman named Christopher, which can only be described as “unbelievable”. Christopher endures hardship after hardship – much owed to his own choices – in this captivating story of what life is really like living in the crime and drug-ridden underbelly of South America. I read this book in three sittings because it was so hard to put down. This is not my typical genre of literature, yet I’m glad I didn’t allow that to keep me from giving it a read. Highly recommended!

See all book reviews for Mad Outta Me Head.

Alejandrina la Salsera

Photo credit: El Universo
Photo credit: El Universo

From the 2011 El Universo article, “Alejandrina Hernández, una voz que te alucina en Hachís Bar” (Alejandrina Hernandez, a Voice that Amazes at Hachis Bar):

I swear it. If you listen to Alejandrina Hernandez sing and watch her on stage, you will be amazed. She seduces you with her voice of flowers and thorns. It happened in Montañita, a bar of high waves, wind, and magic.

That night I greeted my friends at the iconic Hachis Bar without one drop of liquor in my blood. In that bar is where the Hachis All Stars, the resident band, began to sing “El cuarto de Tula” and a black singer, after warming up with a shot of tequila, sang that Cuban anthem with passion before changing to a blues song of anguish.

In that vein a night of blues, salsa, and bolero wore on. The people at Hachis Bar were amazed not only by her voice, but also by the expressive power of her stage presence. For that authenticity you get your fill of happiness and nostalgia, caresses and broken hearts.

The next afternoon I spoke with Alejandrina, who was born in Esmeraldas, prefers not to disclose when. His parents were from Tumaco, an Afro-Colombian city.

“My life was never easy,” she admits. “It was really difficult to get into music because as a child I had to work. Work or sing.” She remembers when she was very young, at 6 p.m. every night it was magic listening to distant boleros from the jukeboxes in the bars of her Esmeraldas neighborhood. In Guayaquil at age 13, she dared to sing on Radio Cristal in an amateur competition. She sang Desden and won second prize.

Living in Cali at 18, she sang ballads on some radio stations. But it was never easy to survive as an artist, so she studied cosmetology.

Her life has been coming and going between Ecuador and Colombia. In 1987, after living with her daughters far from music on the islands of San Andres, Colombia, she decided to move to Bogota to present her blues which she only sang to her daughters. She worked at a hair salon and frequented a bar in the Zona Rosa until 1992, when the reggae band Mango invited her to sing.

There she met keyboardist Carlos Vives, who also had his band, Distrito Especial. He invited her to sing in his show. “That night I was nervous. The bar almost did not let me enter because they thought I was begging,” she says. “The show started. I said I sang reggae music and started with a ballad from Donna Summer. I let loose. I don’t know where the inspiration came from, but the people were enchanted. ”

That night opened new doors for her. She acted in a musical at the TTB theater in Bogota. He sang ballads on the soap opera, En Cuerpo Ajeno, which starred Amparo Grisales.

She started singing at various venues and even had her own bar, Subterraneo, and band of reggae, Cuban, and Colombian music. After singing in El Zaguan del Viejo Conde with Gerardo de Francisco and his wife Margarita FranciscoLa Gaviota from the soap opera, Cafe, con aroma de mujer – she was invited to work on the group’s CD that was being recorded. Everything was fine but that project was discontinued suddenly, along with Alejandrina’s will to continue.

“One day in 1996 I felt very sad and said, I do not want to keep singing.” Then she became a craftswoman and began to travel Colombia. She settled on the island of Jambelí, El Oro, where she lived until recently at the La Casa de la Luna hostel. Now, she is again on tour singing because she wants to record a CD and also write songs for other performers. For six months she has been in Montañita singing her covers, and also the blues which are a portrait of her life.

“I have a strong story to tell that puts any soap or film to shame, for the experiences that I have overcome to succeed. But I never let the pain, sadness, abandonment, anger, or others’ hatred or aggression stop me. I always said, ‘One day will be my day’. And when I was sad, I sang. Music is a therapy that cleanses my soul. My life is music,” says Alejandrina with a smile that highlights the wrinkles on her dark face.

Every weekend Alejandrina Hernandez enchants people at Hachis Bar. Especially when singing her Walkin’ blues: “Errante vagabunda por el mundo voy/ Sin puerto que me ate/ Siempre libre soy/ Peregrinando por la vida/ Dejé de lado los dolores/ Y he guardado los placeres en un rincón del corazón/Llevo la música en el alma/ Y un buen blues para cantar/ Y también llevo marihuana por si me tocara llorar/ Oh sí, alegre por la tierra voy/ Oh sí, cantando alegre estoy/ El camino que ha quedado atrás/ No lo puedo encontrar jamás/ El camino que quedó de lado/ Hoy no lo puedo recuperar.”

I swear Alejandrina Hernandez’s voice enchants you. If you do not believe me, go to Montañita and, once you are hypnotized, drink a beer in my name.

En Cuerpo Ajeno theme song

“Gaviota”, theme song from Cafe, con aroma de mujer

Alejandrina singing in Montañita, Ecuador

See more of Alejandrina singing in Montañita.

Puente Aranda Fire

Photo Credit: Asobel
Photo Credit: Asobel

This article is reprinted here because it could not be found on the Associated Press archives website. I own no rights, and once it is published in the AP archives I will link to its new home from the book.

The Associated Press
December 14, 1982

Two burning storage tanks that held four million gallons of gasoline forced the evacuation of 8,000 people from nearby homes and a military base Tuesday, but the government said later the fire was under control.

President Belisario Betancur’s office issued a statement Tuesday night saying fire fighters had brought the huge blaze under control, and they were spraying other tanks to keep them cool while the fire burned itself out.

“Residents in the area of Puente Aranda can be calm because there is no need for alarm or concern for their personal safety,” the statement said. It added that a safety ditch surrounding the storage facility used by Esso and Texaco also would keep the fire from spreading.

The Modelo prison, which is about 500 feet from one of the burning tanks and holds some 3,000 inmates, was not evacuated. Earlier in the day, many prisoners screamed to be let out and military police were sent in to prevent a riot, radio stations reported. They said military police also were patrolling abandoned residential areas to prevent looting.

Betancur’s statement said there was sufficient gasoline for motorists, but long lines of cars formed at service stations and many stations closed when their supplies ran out.

Fred Jacobsen, director of public relations for Esso, said trained fire fighters were battling the blaze and they had “a plan of action … for using chemical spray to combat such a fire.”

“There is a possibility that the walls of the tank might give way a little, opening cracks and allowing the flaming material to fall upon the surrounding area,” he said. “However, this would not be serious since the problem could be attacked immediately.”

The fire, sending flames and smoke high over the city, will be allowed to burn itself out and could last through Wednesday, the minister of mines and energy, Carlos Martinez, said in a broadcast interview.

The cause of the fire was not known. The Bogota daily El Tiempo quoted army Gen. Bernardo Lema as saying sabotage by leftist guerrillas may have been the cause.

But officials said the blaze may have started when a passing army truck backfired, with a puff of flame from the exhaust touching off a fire at a tanker truck loading near one of the storage tanks that burst into flames. They said the tanker truck also burned.

Eight employees at the storage facility were injured when one of the Esso tanks burst into flames at 11 p.m. Monday, the Bogota Fire Department said in a news release.

The second tank, about 180 feet from the first tank and also belonging to Esso, burst into flames about an hour later. There are 10 tanks in all at the facility, each with 2 million gallons of gasoline. The area also includes about a dozen big tanks of propane gas.

About 3,000 soldiers and their their families at an army base adjacent to the tank farm were evacuated. Police forced an estimated 5,000 people in nearby houses to leave the area during the predawn hours.

The storage tanks are at Puente Aranda, about five miles east of El Dorado International airport and about three miles west of the downtown area of this city of 5 million people.

Read more about the fire in Spanish:

Justice is Slow in Colombia — Not Enough Judges

palacio justicia bogota colombiaThis article is reprinted here because it could not be found on the Associated Press archives website. I own no rights, and once it is published in the AP archives I will link to its new home from the book.

The Associated Press
July 13, 1981

Justice Is Slow In Colombia — Not Enough Judges

BYLINE: By TOM WELLS, Associated Press Writer

Colombia has about 30 million people and only 1,000 judges. Justice, therefore, is slow and it is not uncommon for people to spend years in jail just waiting for a trial.

A case was disclosed two years ago of a man who waited 10 years in jail only to be found innocent in the end.

As of last Jan. 1, about 1.8 million people were in jails waiting to be charged or waiting for trial, the assistant minister of justice, Santiago Diago, was quoted as saying in a locally published interview earlier this year.

The problem of slow justice recently came to the fore in the publication of an open letter from prisoners of a Bogota jail, saying they’d prefer the death sentence to their present condition.

The fact that the country has only 1,000 judges means that each judge has an average of 1,800 cases, making it impossible to deal out “swift and sure justice” as the constitution requires.

Like most Latin American countries, Colombia has a form of Roman law, under which a person who is arrested is presumed guilty until proven innocent — the opposite of English common law followed in the United States and other Western nations.

It is not uncommon for the driver of a car to be jailed arbitrarily if involved in a traffic accident in which someone died. It is of no concern to the police or the system of justice right away that the jailed person may have done nothing wrong.

Under Colombia’s system a judge has up to six months to decide whether someone should be charged or not. Some lawyers say privately and anonymously — they do not want to antagonize judges — that the six months rule is not adhered to.

Once a person is actually charged, he faces a long period, perhaps years, in jail waiting for a trial by a jury of three.

Presently there is no bail in Colombia. This is because judges, lawyers and even defendants understand that once let out on bail the accused would never show up for trial.

Next year, under a new criminal code, judges will be allowed to set bail. But lawyers claim privately that what bail means is that the wealthy or at least those able to afford bail will go free, and that the poor will remain in jail waiting for trials.

The open letter published by Bogota newspapers was signed by more than 100 prisoners in Bogota’s Modelo Prison who said the death sentence would be preferable to indefinite waiting for their cases to come up.

There is no death penalty in Colombia. The Modelo Prison (Spanish for Model Prison) has been described as overcrowded and filthy. Allegations of brutality have been made against some of its security personnel.

“Here in this jail there is the most horrible human degradation,” the prisoners’ letter claimed. “Ninety percent of the people jailed here have not been tried. It would be better to impose the death penalty to end the agony.”

Few Colombian lawyers want to become judges because of low pay — averaging the equivalent of about $500 a month.

So those lawyers taking judgeships are usually those with down-and-out practices, lawyers maintain. Six judges have been murdered by gangsters in the last year, apparently for leaning too hard on Colombia’s illicit sale of marijuana and cocaine to dealers from the United States.

Diago, the assistant minister of justice, was quoted as saying in the interview that there is actually an oversupply of lawyers in Colombia, but that few are to be found in provincial towns where they are badly needed.

Many lawyers hope to rise in politics, and there is not much chance of them doing that away from the big cities.

Christopher Kavanagh Goes to Jail

Here are the Irish newspaper articles about Christopher’s 1979 bust with 15 kilos of hash in Rosslare Harbour (click to enlarge images in new tab):

Charged with importing drug - 1979 Irish Independent
Charged with importing drug – 1979 Irish Independent
Dublin man remanded on drugs find - 1979 Irish Press
Dublin man remanded on drugs find – 1979 Irish Press
Dubliner on drugs charge - 1979 Irish Press
Dubliner on drugs charge – 1979 Irish Press
Trafficker is jailed - 1979 Irish Independent
Trafficker is jailed – 1979 Irish Independent

Colombian Skinheads

colombian nazi skinheads
Photo credit: Semana

Here is a video on the different factions of the skinhead scene in Bogota:

Christopher would not have known which breed of skinheads he had his encounter with. But what garners the most curiosity from gringos about the Colombian skinheads are the racist, neo-Nazi skinheads. Here is the 2011 Semana article, “La noche de los nazis criollos” (Night of the Creole Nazis), translated from Spanish:

With swastikas, effigies, hymns, and threatening speeches, 122 people gathered in a hall in downtown Bogota to commemorate the 122nd birthday of Adolf Hitler. A SEMANA team spent three hours of madness and fanaticism with them.

The meeting is at the entrance to the National Library, amidst the typically lonely weekends of Bogota’s central district of Las Nieves. While the Catholic majority of the city prepares for Palm Sunday, guests arrive to commemorate the birthday of Adolf Hitler.

They call themselves Tercera Fuerza (Third Force) . They dress in dark clothes; some wear coats to protect against the persistent drizzle and cold of Bogota. With shaves heads and polished boots, which do not hide their apparent militia status, one of the leaders admits SEMANA journalists to enter the lounge of a hotel only accessed by invitation and which is guarded by police.

His name is Diego and they call him “Comandante”. The man takes his role to heart and does not allow the photographer to do his work until everything is ready. He is young with a shaved head, manicured hands, a tiny mustache, and a strong smell of aftershave that reminds of the old barbershops. “It’s a tribute to the birth of our great leader,” he proclaims, and then answers a call on his cell phone. “Yes, ‘Cuchito’, yes, yes, everything is ready,” he says with almost reverent respect.

On either side of the enclosure a couple of pictures of Adolf Hitler rise, accompanied at the bottom with the slogan of Nazi Germany: “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” (One people, one empire, one leader). 122 years have passed since his birth, the same number of guests at the meeting. Two red flags flanking his figure with the unmistakable swastika in a white circle.

Creole nationalism

Diego wears his black uniform, adorned with various logos, with obvious pride. One is the imperial eagle of the now-defunct National Socialist Workers Party. Moving up is the Third German Reich. On another are the letters T and F, also with the old German script.

He says they are “a cultural association” that defends “a cultural heritage and ethic, love for our nation, and belonging to the National Socialist family”. He clarifies that they only use violence to “defend the ideal, not to impose it.” They describe themselves as anti-capitalist and anti-left, “hence we are the Tercera Fuerza”, he concludes.

They are not considered illegal. They benefit from Articles 19 and 20 of the Constitution, which guarantee freedom of opinion and the right to express thoughts and opinions. That allows them greater freedom to be associated with National Socialist groups in Latin America, unlike Nazi supporters in the south of the continent, where restrictions are much stronger.

They are ruled by a triumvirate that makes decisions and organizes them into various departments. They develop projects on different fronts: propaganda, economy, defense, recruitment, and selection. El Comandante says they have 8,000 members – a clearly exaggerated number – in Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Pasto, Barranquilla, and Bucaramanga.

The leadership meets twice a week and indoctrination is done with readings and film review. They also have military-style physical training held in parks or through activities such as hiking and camping. La Orden (The Order), as they also call themselves, sustains itself with fixed monthly dues charged to its members.

Prospective members must complete an entry form (in which the picture, of course, is required). They claim only to accept those profiles from “the right people, free of vices, who lead honorable lives – at least working or studying – with no criminal record or having caused public scandals.”

But who is Comandante? A legal expert who works as his company’s security coordinator. He works his hours, is unmarried with no children, and lives with his mother.

From 5 to 80

The doors to the hall open and the audience gradually arrives. The vast majority who pass through the door are no older than 25. Some men attend in suits and dark ties, and most wear red swastika armbands. Women wear elegant dresses, with lots of straight hair dyed in bright colors in unconventional cuts.

Children also attend, holding their parents’ hands. “We are people of a community participating in our activities. We are more comfortable if we let our own children get together, as opposed to playing with the kids of strangers,” says Diego.

Then “Cuchito” appears, who refuses to reveal his identity. “Isn’t it amazing to see so many young enthusiasts?” He is pleased. He explains that these people are mostly middle- to upper-class with higher education. “They are honorable and from a good socioeconomic background, although we do grassroots outreach in neighborhoods of all economic levels,” he says.

“We hope to have 100,000 members in five years, so we can establish a political party. Otherwise, we’ll just keep spreading our message,” he says, without shame.

The ‘denial’

A screen that serves as a backdrop to the meeting projects some of the Führer’s speeches in German, translated in barely visible subtitles.

There are only white people in the hall. Cuchito scrambles to explain the blatant racism. He says that is “racialism”, in which he says all the races are battling the Jews. And then he expounds his anti-Semitic position with the “denial” argument, that the Holocaust was exaggerated. He contemptuously calls the murder of six million Jews in the Hitler’s Nazi concentration camps “Holocuento” (Hollow-story).

This convention is not new. In fact, it is the third such reunion in the same place. “These are people who rent the room three hours, drink a glass of wine, and eat a few snacks. But when they get started, the atmosphere gets heavy,” says one of the waiters. Just then the first “Heil Hitler” greetings echo.

And while it is not the the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich, Germany, where Hitler attempted his first coup d’etat, it is in spirit. It is in the hymn, “The Flag on High“, it is in the appearance of some of the attendees and the rather gloomy background, an atmosphere that recalls those chilling times of the twentieth century when Pan-Germanism and the messianic anti-Semitic vision of a diabolical leader led humanity to a war that killed 60 million people.

Immediately afterwards they sang with fervor the verses of “Cara al Sol” (Face to the Sun), anthem of the Spanish Falange, which many know by heart. And after a resounding “Heil Hitler”, they toast glasses of sweet Spanish wine with an ice cube.

Procedures last for about two hours. A new recruit, with the naive candor of a freshman, talks about how proud he is to be in the movement and the support he will give to his son, “a white baby”.

A youth also addresses the audience and salutes the image of the Führer, while another questions the role of equality assumbed by women today who, according to him, naturally should be caring for the home. In another speech, even the Nule brothers are criticized. A triple “Sieg Heil” answers the audience, out of rhythm.

A new cry is shouted: “¡Viva Colombia! ¡Viva España!” (Long live Colombia, Long live Spain!) The proclamation comes from veteran Spanish journalist, Fabio Roca Vidales, a 78-years-old Falangist militant. Later he is given the honorary title of Commander-in-Chief of the association. He enthusiastically accepts before exclaiming “Heil Hitler”.

In closing, Comandante releases his fiery oration. Our movement is “peaceful but not pacifist,” he warns. And he finishes: “If laws, certain politicians, and dark forces of power censor us and silence our voice, as has happened in many other countries to our comrades, TF is willing to take up arms, go underground, and die together as National Socialists, in a trench with a rifle on our shoulders.”

The curtain comes down. It is ten o’clock at night. For three hours Hitler had room to return from beyond. An opportunity that in several countries would not only be a scandal, but a crime.

Watch Semana’s video of the event here:

In 2014, “El Comandante” was murdered. From the El Espectador article, “Asesinan líder neonazi en Bogotá” (Neonazi leader murdered in Bogota):

Alfredo Devia, aka “El Comandante”, was killed last Tuesday night in the Santa Isabel de Bogota. Devia was the leader of the neo-Nazi organization, Tercera Fuerza. According to the las2orillas website, he was killed “in retaliation after collecting extortion money from a small business in the area.” Apparently, the deceased was linked to illegal group, Los Rastrojos.

The body of “El Comandante” was found inside a Mitsubishi Nativa SUV along with another man who has not been identified.

Devia is credited with the creation of the Tercera Fuerza, a group inspired by skinhead movements in England, made up of young nationalists who have been involved in several episodes of violence in Bogota.

Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

juan ramon matta ballesterosJuan Matta Ballesteros bribed enough guards to open seven gates to escape Bogotá’s La Modelo penitentiary the same day Christopher arrived. He witnessed the ruckus as he was arriving.

From the 1985 New York Times article, “Colombia Seizes Suspect in U.S. Drug Aide’s Death” (before Matta Ballesteros bribed his way out of La Modelo):

A man believed to be the leader of a major cocaine trafficking ring, who is also a key suspect in the killing of a United States drug enforcement agent in Mexico, was arrested in Cartagena, Colombia, on Tuesday, drug officials announced here today.

John C. Lawn, the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the man arrested by the Colombian National Police, Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, was one of four top suspects in the murder of Enrique Camarena Salazar, the American drug agent abducted in February in Guadalajara.

Two other suspects, Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carillo, were arrested last month. Mr. Lawn said the fourth suspect, Miguel Felix Gallardo, who is still at large, was a ”subordinate to Ballesteros” and had been ”directly linked” to the drug agent’s murder.

Mr. Lawn said at a news conference today that Mr. Matta Ballesteros was one of the ”most significant cocaine traffickers in the world” and the head of the so-called Padrino trafficking organization, which supplies cocaine to the United States, especially the Southwest. It operates in Peru, Mexico, Colombia and Honduras, he said.

Escape From U.S. Custody

A Honduran national, Mr. Matta Ballesteros has been wanted by the United States law enforcement authorities since 1971, when he escaped from the Federal prison camp at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He had been serving a three-year sentence for passport violations and illegal entry into the United States, Mr. Lawn said.

Drug agency officials said Mr. Matta Ballesteros was also wanted in New York on Federal charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine. According to an arrest warrant and complaint, he took part in a conspiracy between 1976 and 1982 to import five shipments of at least 660 pounds each from Colombia to the United States by way of Guadalajara.

”From Guadalajara, the Padrino organization funneled the cocaine into New York, Miami and Los Angeles,” the Drug Enforcement Agency said.

Mr. Lawn said Mr. Matta Ballesteros had offered the Colombian police who arrested him a payoff of $450,000 to ”unarrest him,” which they declined.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, which Mr. Lawn said provided the Colombians with information that helped lead to the arrest, is working with the Justice Department to seek extradition. Other nations, he said, will also seek Mr. Matta Ballesteros’s extradition on different charges. The D.E.A. is also investigating bank accounts around the world where Mr. Matta Ballesteros is believed to have deposited drug money. 3,600 Pounds of Cocaine Seized In the last nine months, drug agency officials said, they have seized 3,600 pounds of cocaine, $16 million in cash, three properties and several planes from the Padrino organization. They believe the ring is able to smuggle up to 60,000 pounds of pure cocaine into the United States annually. In addition, they said, the Internal Revenue Service has outstanding liens on the group worth $26 million.

Drug officials have said that one week after Mr. Camarena and his Mexican pilot were reported missing in February, they gave the Mexican authorities information that Mr. Matta Ballesteros was in an apartment in Mexico City and that they sought Mexican help in arresting him. But the Mexicans delayed acting for two days, they said, and Mr. Matta Ballesteros escaped, probably because of a tip.

Mr. Lawn said today that he was initially disturbed by Mexico’s failure to cooperate, which he termed ”at best, inaction – at worst, complicity,” but that he was encouraged by recent efforts by the Mexicans to help.

In testimony today before the House Judiciary Committee’s crime subcommittee, Mr. Lawn acknowledged that corruption had impeded efforts to attack drug trafficking in Mexico. As as example, he said, Mr. Caro Quintero – who has provided the Mexican authorities with information since his arrest – had said he had 700 to 800 local, state and Federal officials in Mexico on his payroll.

1986 Washington Post article, “Colombia Keeps Up Fight Against Traffickers; U.S. Antidrug Cooperation Expected to Continue as Power Shifts in Bogota”:

Paying about $2 million, Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros bribed 18 prison guards and walked to freedom through seven doors of a Bogota prison in March. Accused of narcotics trafficking in the United States, and wanted as well in Mexico for the murder last year of a U.S. narcotics agent, Matta Ballesteros had been the most important accused drug dealer that Colombia had managed to put behind bars.

His escape to Honduras — his native country and one that does not permit the extradition of its nationals — set back Colombia’s antidrug effort and triggered the resignation of the director of prisons.

The Matta Ballesteros episode underscored what Colombian authorities are up against as other major traffickers continue to evade the law’s grip here by using bribes, intimidation, cunning or assassination…

After escaping from La Modelo and slipping out of the country, Matta Ballesteros was quickly apprehended in Honduras. From the 1986 New York Times article, “Suspect in Murder of Drug Agent Is Seized in U.S. Trap in Honduras”:

Springing a trap at dawn in Honduras, the United States today arranged the capture and arrest of a key suspect in the murder of an American drug agent in Mexico, law enforcement officials said tonight.

The suspect, Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, is viewed by law enforcement officials as a leading international drug trafficker with close links to the Medellin organization in Colombia.

”This is one of the most significant fugitive arrests in recent years,” said Stephen Boyle, a spokesman for the United States Marshals Service. Mr. Matta, he said, had proven to be a prized and elusive target.

Concern Over Military Corruption

The arrest is also significant because it was made at time of mounting concern about corruption in the Honduran military. The New York Times reported in February that the Honduran Army was involved in drug trafficking and that Mr. Matta, who is Honduran, maintained close ties to senior military officers.

A reputed multibillionaire, Mr. Matta had escaped from an American prison and bribed his way out of a Colombian jail. He has been lively freely in Honduras, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

But his freedom abruptly came to an end this morning in front of his house in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, when he was seized by Honduran military officers. The officers later forced him onto a plane bound for the Dominican Republic.

Arrest in U.S. Airspace

The Marshals Service announced tonight that the Dominican Republic immediately put Mr. Matta in the custody of marshals and that he was put on a commercial flight for New York. Officials said he would be formally arrested when the plane entered American airspace and then held in custody for arraignment in Federal court. It is unclear what charges he will face or where or when the arraignment will take place.

Administration officials said in February that the Honduran military was stung by American criticism, and that the chief of the Honduran armed forces, General Humberto Regalado Hernandez. protested to American officials, arguing that the military as an institution was not corrupt.

Soon after, American officials challenged General Regalado to back up that assertion with concrete action: a move against Mr. Matta.

An Administration official said the issue of arresting Mr. Matta had been under discussion with Honduran authorities since last year. He said, however, that the talks gained momentum after the press reports on corruption in the Honduran military.

Abrams Praises Honduras

Elliott Abrams, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, praised the Hondurans tonight for their role in the arrest and said, ”This could not have happened without General Regalado and it was a brave thing to do.”

Mr. Matta, Mr. Abrams added, ”is tied into the Medellin cartel, he’s a billionaire and he kills people.”

Mr. Abrams said that in the last two years, General Regalado had pressed the United States to reopen its Drug Enforcement Administration office in Tegucigalpa. The office was closed in 1983, but the agency is now moving to return to the country.

Law enforcement officials said that Howard Safir, associate director for operations at the Marshals Service secretly traveled to Tegucigalpa to negotiate the plan with senior Honduran military officers. The matter was diplomatically sensitive because the Hondurans are intensely protective of their sovereignty.

Last-Minute Hitch

According to law enforcment officials, the plan to arrest Mr. Matta nearly came unhinged this morning when Honduran military officers arrived at his house to find he was not there. As they stood out front, one official said, they were surprised to see Mr. Matta returning from a weekend trip. He was promptly arrested.

American officials have been actively seeking Mr. Matta for years. Those efforts intensified after the killing in 1985 of Enrique Camarena Salazar, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Mexico. John C. Lawn, the head of the agency, said in 1985 that Mr. Matta was one of the four top suspects in the case.

Mr. Matta has not been indicted in the murder of Mr. Camarena, but American officials believe that he was one of those who had ordered the murder in response to damaging seizures and arrests put together by the American agent.

In May 1985, American officials believed that they were on the verge of bringing Mr. Matta to the United States to face Federal drug charges, but he was arrested in Colombia. Mr. Matta was later jailed, but is said to have escaped by paying a bribe estimated by American officials at $1 million to $2.5 million.

He then returned to Honduras, where he was also wanted on several charges, including murder. After a brief time in prison, he was set free in murky circumstances. Shortly afterward, he bought a house in Tegucigalpa, where he has moved about openly and befriended senior military officers and politicians.

Denies Drug Involvement

Since press accounts of his activities appeared this year, Mr. Matta has given several interviews in which he denied any involvement in the drug trade.

In 1985, Mr. Lawn said that Mr. Matta was the head of the Padrino organization, a cocaine smuggling organization that he said was moving 60,000 pounds of pure cocaine into the United States each year. At the time, he said, the Internal Revenue Service liens against the group amounted to $26 million.

Mr. Matta first became a fugitive from American charges in 1971, when he escaped from Eglin Air Force base in Florida while serving a three-year sentence for passport violations. More recently, he has been indicted on drug charges by Federal grand juries in Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego.

The arrest of Mr. Matta by Honduran authorities was known early this morning. But the involvement of the Marshals Service and the plan to spirit him to the United States were a secret.

This afternoon, Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, praised the Hondurans’ action at a hearing on drugs and foreign policy.

At the hearing, the committee also heard testimony from Osvaldo Quintana, a Miami businessman who is chief witness in the Federal drug charges against Colonel Jean-Claude Paul of Haiti.

Mr. Quintana said that Colonel Paul had been involved in a failed drug deal with him, and that the colonel had once taken a sample of cocaine through customs at a Haitian airport.

Watch Drug Wars: The Camarena Story:

Los Priscos

Christopher was locked up in La Modelo with Los Priscos, the paisa gang of assassins who carried out the Medellin Cartel’s most high profile murders in Bogota.

Click the pics to enlarge.

Los Priscos - bosses and managers
Los Priscos – bosses and managers
Los Priscos – jailed assassins
Los Priscos – dead assassins

This from Semana’s “Como Los ‘Pescaron'” (How They Caught Them):

The country, which seemed resigned to impunity for motorcycle murders, was surprised last week with a story that sounded like a burst of bullets. The investigation into the murder of Justice Hernando Baquero Borda has succeeded and, finally, there are arrests.

Although the criminal mastermind was obvious from the beginning (the member of the Supreme Court had coauthored the Treaty on Extradition), national tradition signaled that, again, it would be months or years and the crime would fade into oblivion unpunished.

But even if there was no doubt given the motive, hope of capturing the perpetrators was remote. However, the audacity of the assassins, who left the crime scene littered with clues, encouraged investigators to launch an undertaking that soon had another asset. Public indignation led eyewitnesses, who in these cases are usually reluctant to give any information, helped develop sketches of the killers.

The investigation initially depended on two points. The cynicism of the gunmen, who felt safe in guaranteed impunity, was such that they did not use helmets or ski masks; one of them went walking around the neighborhood after the shooting and, during the escape, two of the motorcycles used in the crime were abandoned. That helped to build accurate verbal descriptions of those involved in the crime on July 31 in the north of Bogotá.

The shock of the murder and witnesses’ descriptions led to the creation of an investigative team. At first the investigation fell under typical criminal procedure, but given the complexity of what happened, a group quickly formed of DAS personnel and Justice Department investigators.

The origin of the motorcycles (one was left at the crime scene and the other found in a parking lot in front of the Shaio Clinic) led the investigation, first to Corozal and then to Cartagena. The first town was where the false paperwork led to the capital of Bolivar, where the two vehicles was bought. From there, the suspects’ track was found. Establishing points of sale and finding papers yielded the first names.

The first was that of a commercial establishment: the Maremoto warehouse of Cartagena, from where the Yamaha DT 175 cc bikes came from. The second name to appear was Jorge Ivan Montoya Toro, a former employee of the Belmotos parts store in Medellín, and the third was Castor Emilio Montoya Peláez, alias Quimilio, expert mechanics with criminal background. In phone calls between them, the motorcycles were organized. Montoya Peláez, from Medellín, asked Montoya Toro in Cartagena to buy them. They agreed on 720,000 pesos and both vehicles were sent to Medellín after formalities and paperwork were falsified.

For these tasks in Corozal, Montoya Toro contacted Luis Felipe de Oro Yepes and received two hundred thousand pesos, according to the record.


Once the history of the motorcycles used in the crime was discovered, the next step was to look for their owners. Investigations in Cartagena and Corozal finished with the arrests of Montoya Toro and Oro Yepes, after which all suspicions pointed to Medellín. Meanwhile in Bogotá, police developed verbal descriptions of the murderers.

With the name of Castor Emilio Montoya Peláez and his alias, Quimilio, detectives began to search the slums of Medellín to get details on the man who, by phone, had requested the purchase of the two bikes. What they heard was bad and, for that matter, encouraging: “Quimilio is a gangster by anybody’s definition,” they said. And they knew he belongs to the gang called “Los Priscos”, whose kingdom is in Aranjuez, a neighborhood of winding streets and leafy trees whose innocence inspired the novel, “Yours is My Heart”, by sixties writer Juan Jose Hoyos.

Aranjuez today is not so beautiful but, among other problems, the headquarters of “The Priscos”, who became strong in a place known as “The Hole”, where investigators searched for those who shot Justice Baquero Borda.

The existence and danger of Quimilio was established, as well as his relation to David Ricardo Prisco Lopera. The latter, 29, a “laborer” according to his personal data, is actually the head of Los Priscos, a large gang of youths and category offenders with sophisticated weaponry for any mission, from kidnapping to robbery and motorcycle assassinations. The den of Los Priscos was an excellent strategy, which is why despite many raids by the police and army, its members have not been arrested.

Outside of The Hole is where Quimilio and Prisco were seen in a blue car, looking to hire assassins for an important job in late July, when the bikes were already en route to Medellín. Hired on behalf of Prisco by Quimilio, everything was pointing to Baquero Bordo in Bogotá, where bikes traveled aboard a truck with the four gunmen: Elkin de Jesús García, Gonzalo de Jesús Hernández, Luis Mariano Herrera Guzmán, and Victor Miguel Vásquez. The attack came just eight days after these four men arrived in Bogotá, during which they followed every step of the judge, until they felt ready to shoot.

The arrest of this last man (Víctor Miguel Vásquez) in Medellín yielded an orange jumpsuit and thick jackets in his home (witnesses mentioned ‘yellow rubber overcoats’) and, with the help of police sketches, investigations led to the names of all four gunmen.

However, only Vasquez could be arrested because his three partners were turning up dead in a series of murders interpreted as a reaction to roundup. When detectives began to get close to the crime bosses, the perpetrators started dying. Elkin de Jesús García, 23, who they called “Monín”, a dangerous boy recognized by gangs and whose skill on the motorcycle had made him a motocross competitor, was shot and killed October 4 in Medellín. Then followed Jesús Hernández and Luis Mariano Herrera, who were left in pastures on the outskirts of the city. That’s how the “kill and be killed” sentence was fulfilled to avoid them from talking. Víctor Miguel Vásquez was saved from that end, and he is now incarcerated in La Modelo prison in Bogotá.

The search for David Ricardo Prisco Lopera and Castor Emilio Montoya Pelaez is the next step of the investigation. They are so far the top bosses of the network. They seem to have the key to who is higher in this motorcyle murder, for which the successful investigation until this point has resulted in a surprise for a country cynical about gunmen impunity…

The book abbreviates the 1987 El Tiempo article, “La más temible industria del crimen”. This is the entire article translated:

With the death of the boss, José Roberto Prisco Lopera and 12 of his accomplices, along with the arrest of seven more, the terrifying Los Priscos organization has been dismantled. The assassin gang was responsible for multiple crimes such as journalist Guillermo Cano Isaza, Justice Hernando Baquero, and Coronel Jaime Ramírez Gómez.

DAS chief Miguel Alfredo Maza Márquez revealed that the investigation was such a success because the gang played an active role in those murders and was the most powerful organized crime industry in the country.

According to the organization chart, brother José Roberto and David Ricardo Prisco Lopera were the bosses of the gang, the first killed last week with three of his partners, Jaime Sánchez Salazar, Nelson Armando Pineda Delgado, and Luis Eduardo Bermúdez Arango, on Avenida 127 with Calle 43 in the north of Bogotá.

The middle managers were Jaime de Jesús Muñoz Garcés, alias “El Pillo”, and Castor Emilio Montoya Peláez, alias “El Chivo”, both of whom are hiding from authorities. Arrested and in jail are assassins Victor Manuel Vásquez, José E. Montoya, Irley Omar Gutiérrez, Mario H. Fernández Silva, Jhon Jairo Cortés, Pablo E. Zamora R., Javier Homero Gutiérrez, and the intermediaries Maria Ofelia Saldarriaga and Pablo Enrique Zamora, alias “El Rolo”.

Over the course of six months, after the assassination of Cano Isaza, a “settling of scores” occurred in the organization, in which Elkin J. García, Luis Restrepo A., Gonzalo Hernández Q., Harvey E. Gil M., Alvaro García, Luis M. Herrera G., Jaime Sánchez S., Nelson Pineda, Luis E. Bermúdez, Iván Dario Guisao, and Rubén Dario Londoño were killed.

The Los Priscos organization started to emerge after the murder of Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonillo. Coincidentally, one of the Los Priscos bosses was killed in the same setting on Avenida 127 in the north of Bogotá.

The occurrence of multiple crimes using the same methods told authorities of common elements and actors, enough to lead investigators to the theory that these were the same people in a string of crimes.

Authorities learned that, although many crimes occurred in different settings, the involvement of specific people and the typical procedures (motorcycles in broad daylight) pointed to coordination from Medellín by Los Priscos, who also operated as Los Quesitos and Los Magníficos.

One of the first conclusions was the verification of Los Priscos’ involvement given the similarity in which the murders were carried out.

There are other details like the organization and involvement of many people, as well as the standard procedures of assassins using motorcycles and cars for attacks in broad daylight.

The prudent preparation of the crime and setting, the sky-high bounties, the reliance on impunity, execution of great precision, assured means of escape for the assassins, and similar transport were the details that called the attention of the authorities.

From the surprising and cruel attacks from this organized crime, a detailed knowledge has developed from the techniques used by the criminals in every instance. The links uniting that tragic path are known: remote planning, the preparation of the scene, the selection of the shooters and reinforcements, the city where the attack was planned, the methods of disappearing, the acquisition of the criminal instruments, the location of the hotels, the techniques of getting close and identifying the target, the escape routes, and the ultimately bad luck of the killers (many of them were executed without mercy and abandoned on public roads).

In addition, there were coinciding points between the murders of Guillermo Cano Isaza, Hernando Baquero Borda, Tulio Manuel Castro Gil, Jaime Ramírez Gómez, Mauro Alfredo Benjumea, Alvaro Medina Ochoa, Gustavo Zuluaga Serna, and the attack on congressman Alberto Villamizar.

In all these cases Los Priscos set the stage, taking precautions not to leave any clue to give themselves away, such as gloves, bulletproof vests, hoodies, handbags, and backpacks.

In each case automatic weapons were used, especially the .45 caliber pistol and Uzi submachine gun along with grenades, all illegally brought into the country.

The vehicles were legally acquired at agencies or dealers and rented in other cases. The Mazdas and Yamaha 175 cc motorcycles were purchased in specific neighborhoods of Medellín with false documentaion.

Modus operandi

Ordinarily they spread out from Medellín toward the capital by plane, with layovers in other cities, before getting to know the routine and familiar settings the victims.

The key players stayed at hotels like Dann, Bogotá Plaza, Cosmos, and Continental, where they registered with false identities and documents. The shooters arrived in cars or motorcycles to stay at cheap, transitory hotels or rented apartments.

The attack on Alberto Villamizar was carried out by the brothers Javier Horacio and Yrley Omar Gutiérrez Uribe (both arrested), Luis Alberto Agudelo, alias “Dulcineo” (dead), Edison Harvey Gil Muñoz González, alias “Moquis” (dead), and Jhon Jairo Cortés Marin, alias “El Flaco”, the last two of whom are also linked to the murder of Cano Isaza.

In the cases of Hernando Baquero Borda, Alberto Villamizar, and Cano Isaza, an intermediary for buying cars and motorcycles was identified in Castor Emilio Montoya Peláez, alias “Quimilio”.

In the homicide of Hernando Baquero Borda, Elkin De Jesús García was deeply indicated as one of the most skilled assassins among Los Priscos, a motocross champion in various Medellín circuits.

His identification from witnesses and statements led to others involved in the crimes, such as Luis Mariano Herrera Guzmán (dead) and Gonzalo de Jesús Hernández (dead), who authorities established helped in acquiring motorcycles for Víctor Miguel Vásquez, Jorge Iván Montoya Toro, and Luis F. de Oro Yepes.

In the murder of Cano Isaza, Luis Eduardo Osorio Guisao, alias “La Guaca” (dead), and Alvaro García Saldarriaga, alias “El Zarco” (dead), were identified as masterminds with their accomplices Edison Harvey Gil Muñoz and Norbey de Jesús Alvarán Valencia.

The first two were killed, their corpses found outside Medellín handcuffed inside bags, the same fate which met with Alvaro García Saldarriaga, who shot Cano the night of December 17.

Cano’s killing

It was established that days before the crime a white motorcycle was seen parked at the El Espectador building at lunch hour, when Cano used to go out.

The driver of the journalist mentioned they were being followed by this motorcycle, but Cano dismissed it. The driver noted the face of the driver and ultimately gave a detailed description.

Another red motorcycle was seen by witnesses in front of the newspaper’s offices at Calle 22 with Avenida 68 hours before the attack.

From that motorcycle he shot Cano with an automatic weapon. These two motorcycles kept a permanent watch on Cano’s movements and, of course, they also had a Mazda to get them out of town.

The day before the crime, two suspicious young men with backpacks visited the newspaper headquarters. Employee descriptions established that they were Castor Emilio Montoya Peláez and Edison Harvey Gil Muñoz, who were also involved in the Baquero Borda and Alberto Villamizar cases.

With a base of operations in Medellín, where Cano’s murder was planned, it was verified that the author of the shootings was the assassin known as “El Zarco” or “Gigio”, who in real life was Alvaro García Saldarriaga, killed in Palmira (Valle) on February 18, 1987.

Additionally, the driver of the white motorcycle was identified as Luis Eduardo Osorio Guisado, alias “La Guagua”. His identification led to accomplices Norbey De Jesús Alvarán Valencia, Alvaro García Saldarriaga, and Edison Harvey Gil Muñoz.

Differences over money arose between “La Guagua” and “El Zarco”. The boss of Los Priscos chose to eliminate the rivals, who were killed in the Quimbayo de San Jerónimo hotel (Antioquia).