"He used to be Jorge Salcedo."
THE official end of the notorious Cali cocaine cartel came late last year here with little more commotion than the rap of a judge's gavel.This is the beginning of a long and interesting story. Corruption and a breakdown of the rule of law played its part. There is also a lesson for Mexico and other places plagued by the narco terrorist. Export the criminals to US penitentiaries.
The Colombian drug lords Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, 63, and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, 67, entered guilty pleas and were ushered off to federal prison for the next 30 years — no Miami Vice-like dramatics, no bodies riddled with gunfire in the manner of Medellin rival Pablo Escobar.
But behind the bloodless fall of the ruthless Orejuela brothers and collapse of their $7-billion-a-year empire lies a little-known story of daring and betrayal.
Aiding U.S. drug agents unexpectedly and at great risk was a senior cartel official, the head of security and intelligence for the syndicate. For years he had protected the bosses, their wives and children. Then, he crossed them.
"It was very risky, but I was trapped in a nightmare, in a totally corrupt environment. I had to escape," he explained.
Federal prosecutor Edward R. Ryan called the defection a shock and "a very personal betrayal" to the Cali bosses, leaving the man marked for death. He is still "No. 1 to be killed," Ryan said.
The man has lost much of what he once took for granted: his home, his country, his name, even his past.
From somewhere deep inside the federal witness protection program that harbors him and his family, he has shared pieces of his story in sporadic telephone conversations with a reporter.
"Obviously, I'm not looking for celebrity — it would jeopardize our safety," he told The Times. "But people should know what I know now. My story should start by saying, if you are invited into such an organization, stop — stop and run away.
"Don't think you can ever fully escape."
He used to be Jorge Salcedo.
THE wonkish, soft-spoken family man was an unlikely drug gang recruit. He held university degrees in mechanical engineering and industrial economics. He started his career designing forklifts and other machinery. Later he ran an oil recovery business.
His father was a retired Colombian army general and respected diplomatic figure. The son was an officer in the army reserves, but he regarded himself more as an engineer than a soldier. He became proficient in electronic surveillance, which increasingly drew him into counter-terrorism assignments.