Context: Research for Cocaine: An Unauthorised Biography
Location: via telephone
Date: August 26th 2000
Interviewee: Senior DEA Agent
This interview, with a senior DEA agent who will no doubt wish to remain anonymous (if you’re reading this, recognise yourself, and would like me either to name you or to remove the transcript altogether, let me know!), took place in August 2000. The agent was one of the key players in the Agency’s Colombia office for a number of years during the 1980s. He is especially interesting on the relationship between Los Pepes and the Colombian establishment, the rise of the Cali cartel, and on the relationships between drug money and Colombian authorities – from chiefs of police all the way to the presidency
Download: Download Interview (PDF)
What drugs were prominent when you started your career in law enforcement? Marijuana?
Yes. We would make a case that led to a seizure of 5lbs of marijuana and we would get excited about it. I was in San Diego. By the time I left San Diego – 1971 – I went to Rome. By that time we had made a couple of cases where ton quantities were involved.
Were other drugs around at the time, too?
Marijuana was obviously the drug of choice but there was also brown heroin and also a little cocaine from South America. Most of the cocaine at that time was coming from Chile.
When did you start noticing cocaine in the US?
Around 1968, 1967. Small quantities, ounce quantities. In all the time I was in San Diego we never made a seizure of a pound of cocaine at that time. It was just ounces.
When did you start picking more up?
Towards the end of the ’70s there was a huge increase. When [Salvador] Allende went down in Chile the government purged the drug traffickers and Chile stopped being a major player in the cocaine business – and that’s when Colombia became a major player. The opportunity was there and Colombia became the cocaine maker of the world. That’s important because that’s when the Cali and Medellin cartels had an opportunity to take over the cocaine world. … [but] I had never heard of Pablo Escobar until the late 1970s, maybe. Perhaps the beginning of the ’80s.
When was Colombia obviously a problem?
Not long after the Chile thing. By the late 1970s. What happened was we started noticing Colombia. The traffickers in Colombia were smuggling cocaine into the country through couriers and they would bring small amounts of coke with them – a pound, two pounds at a time at the most. Most of them were pickpockets. Suddenly we saw an incredible influx of Colombian pickpockets in the United States, and it was tied into the amount of cocaine that was coming in. We started picking up pickpockets at ports of entry – with cocaine. So it became evident that somehow the cocaine traffic had shifted from Chile to Colombia. Also, there was a time when Chile was prominent that Paraguay was also very prominent. Paraguay was the smuggling capital of Latin America and they got involved. They also played a small role for a while, even when the Colombians were involved – but then they just disappeared.
Basically I think the Paraguayans were not really narcotics smugglers, they were just smugglers. They knew the routes, they had the infrastructure for smuggling anything. They were smuggling refrigerators – everything. They had the aeroplanes and the routes so they were used as the conduit for a while. But I would imagine that the traffickers in Colombia at one point thought ‘Hey, we can do this ourselves!’ and cut them off the loop. That’s the only explanation I can think of.
Mostly centred in Miami. But I never worked there myself so I don’t know to what extent.
Do you recall the famous cocaine White Paper during the Carter administration? I’m guessing that led to some degree of disillusion inside DEA?
Yes, we were [disillusioned]. 1976 was a tough year. There were a few years there where we were wondering what was going to happen as far as drugs were concerned. So there was a certain amount of disillusionment. I don’t think we really recovered from this until Reagan…