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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Drug lord on most wanted list captured

BOGOTA, Colombia – Soldiers swarmed onto a farm yesterday and captured one of the world’s most wanted drug lords hiding in bushes in his underwear. Colombian officials called it their biggest drug war victory since the 1993 slaying of Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar.

Diego Montoya, who sits with Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted list and has a $5 million bounty on his head, allegedly leads the Norte del Valle cartel. It is deemed Colombia’s most dangerous drug gang and is accused of shipping hundreds of tons of cocaine to the U.S. since the 1990s.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told a news conference at Bogota’s airport that Montoya was responsible for 1,500 killings in his career.

“Drug traffickers take note: This is the future that awaits you,” Santos said before the heavy-set, 49-year-old Montoya limped out of an air force plane wearing plastic handcuffs and escorted by five commandos.

Montoya put up no resistance when the army finally cornered him in the cartel’s stronghold of Valle del Cauca state in western Colombia, officials said. He is to be questioned before being extradited to the U.S., a process that Santos said would take at most two months.

After months of planning, elite commandos raided the small farm before dawn yesterday and nabbed Montoya along with his mother, an uncle and three other cartel members, said the army chief, Gen. Mario Montoya, who is not related.

The government has been closing in on the cartel since last year, when soldiers killed eight members of a private militia believed to be protecting Montoya. But a wide network of cartel informants had frustrated the search for the alleged drug boss himself. Local media have recently carried stories on the cartel’s alleged infiltration of Colombia’s army and navy.

Santos said the operation was kept top secret to avoid leaks and was run entirely by an elite army commando unit that works with prosecutors to bring down the cartel.

Washington welcomed the news. “Colombia’s capture of cocaine kingpin Diego Montoya shows what can be accomplished by a government that is relentless, focused and skilled in the effort to dismantle threats to its democracy,” said White House “drug czar” John P. Walters.

Better known as “Don Diego,” Montoya is said to be in a bitter turf war with his cartel’s other leader, Wilber Varela, who goes by the nickname “Jabon,” or “Soap,” and is reported to be living in Venezuela. Hundreds have died in fighting between their rival armed bands along Colombia’s Pacific coast.

A U.S. indictment unsealed in 2004 against Montoya and Varela said that over the previous 14 years, their cartel had exported more than 1.2 million pounds – 600 tons – of cocaine worth more than $10 billion from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately to the United States for resale.

Colombia’s government has made major gains against the cartel this year.

Montoya’s brother, Eugenio Montoya, was captured in January. Former cartel leader Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante, known as “Rasguno” or “Scratchy,” was extradited to the U.S. in July after pledging to cooperate with U.S. authorities. The gang’s alleged money-laundering chief, Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, known as “Chupeta” or “Lollipop,” was arrested last month in Brazil.

Colombia is the source of 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States. Supply has remained robust despite record extraditions to the U.S. and eradication of coca crops. And despite Montoya’s capture, recent history indicates it probably won’t take long for someone to take his place.

The Norte del Valle cartel rose in the mid-1990s from the ashes of the once dominant Medellin and Cali gangs, paying for drugs and protection from both far-right paramilitaries and leftist rebels. The latter two forces have squeezed the drug gangs out of much of Colombia’s countryside and finance their armed struggle by selling drugs to the new criminal groups and exporting cocaine themselves.

The United States is funneling more than $700 million a year to Colombia in anti-narcotics and military aid.

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