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EL ESPECTADOR

Cali Murder Inc, A Colombian Drug Cartel War May Be Back

Expected to return to Cali after serving prison time, some old gangsters will find a 'new generation' of criminals running businesses in town. Will that mean trouble,

Packing marijuana in Toribio, Valle del Cauca, in the Cali region, Colombia
Packing marijuana in Toribio, Valle del Cauca, in the Cali region, Colombia
Boris Salazar

CALI — Does a recent spike in murders in the western Colombian city of Cali — 19 in one April weekend alone — mean the return of organized crime and drug trafficking to this city with a troubled past? Colombian Vice President Óscar Naranjo, a former police general, warned there could be an increase in murders in certain parts of Colombia, as 25 drug lords move home after a decade or more in prison in the United States.

Will Cali's new and old criminal gangs work together or initiate an even bloodier turf war?

This is a necessary warning as criminals do often return home and finish, well, unfinished business. Cali has an epicenter of drug trafficking in South America and has been home to organizations like the Cali Cartel dating back to the 1970s. The fall of the big cartels around the turn of the century paved the way for successor gangs who engage in both criminal and "respectable" activities: peddling drugs, as well as buying real-estate selling high-end cars, and loaning money.

Woman cutting buds of marijuana in order to prepare it for consumption — Photo: Nicolas Enriquez/ZUMA

It's believed this expansion of industry is reflected in the wider age range of recent victims. Before, crime victims were usually impoverished youths, but recently they have included professionals in their 30s or even older. Even still, much of the trouble is still centered around youth, sparking an effort from the city to place "vulnerable" youngsters into jobs or school and dismember gangs through its Strength Plan (Plan Fortaleza), which boosts police personnel, training and equipment. A big challenge remains in breaking the links between criminals' legal and illegal activities.

Meanwhile, as the authorities brace for a recurrence of killing sprees, the question remains: will Cali's new and old criminal gangs work together or initiate an even bloodier turf war?

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