Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Some Thoughts on the Arrest of Diego Montoya and the Northern Valley Cartel
This week brought the welcome news of the arrest of Diego Montoya, one of the world's largest drug traffickers and most wanted criminals. His organization worked both with right-wing paramilitary squads and the Marxist FARC rebels to move tons of cocaine to the United States and Europe.

Montoya, before he had a $5 million bounty on his head, was an old nemesis of mine, along with his co-founders of the Valle del Norte cartel, operating out of the lush valleys north of Cali. I was the first journalist to write about him, in 1992, and was then cordially invited to visit with him on the farm of one of his best friend and fellow cartel leader, Ivan Urdinola. They offered to provide hospitality for me and my family, or, if I preferred, to provide any entertainment I might desire should I choose to go alone.

For some reason, the thought of breaking bread with men best know for using chainsaws to hack their enemies to pieces did not appeal to me. Authorities say Montoya's organization killed some 1,500 people. He penchant for gratuitous, vicious killing was well-known, and anyone suspected of betraying him or his organization could look forward not only to an unbelievably cruel
death, but also to the same fate for his or her entire extended family.

Montoya, like Pablo Escobar and the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers before him in the Medellin and Cali cartels, is a serious player not only in funneling cocaine to the streets of the United States and Europe, but a major cause of instability in Latin America.

The magnitude of the threat from Montoya (and before the Urdinola brothers and others) is demonstrated by the purge of hundreds of senior military officials for their ties to drug cartels. Not only have the cartels bought and sold politicians, cops and army officers, they have posed a direct threat to U.S. security.

Last year Montoya's organization, allied with right-wing paramilitary forces, acquired from corrupt military officials the exact position of U.S. and British warships off the northern coast of South America. Imagine how valuable that could be to terrorist groups seeking a vulnerable target!

This is a particular vulnerability given Montoya's dealings with the FARC as well, and the reported presence of some of his senior lieutenants in Venezuela.

While decapitating the Montoya organization will unlikely make much of a mid or long-term dent in cocaine trafficking, it does have the benefit of taking out a central player on whom a significant organization relied for its decision making. It was also an organization with enough centralized capacity to corrupt the upper echelons of the state.

That is not an easy thing to replicate, and at least helps re-establish some credibility of the state. My old friends Juan Manuel Santos, Francisco Santos and others had the courage to carry out the necessary purges.

The Montoya organization will likely devolve into several small, less influential cartels, until the next aggregator comes along, ruthless enough to attempt another bloody takeover.
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