From the trail of Pablo Escobar to the hunt for ‘El Chapo’

Colombian generals who busted Medellín cartel join search for fugitive drug lord

Police view the body of Pablo Escobar after he was gunned down by Colombian authorities in 1993. / EPA

 Three retired Colombian generals who played key roles in the downfall of Medellín cartel boss Pablo Escobar have joined Mexican authorities in the search for the notorious drug kingpin Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, who made a daring escape from prison on July 11.

The three former officials – Rosso José Serrano, Ismael Trujillo Polanco and Luis Enrique Montenegro – traveled to Mexico City this past week to share their experiences in private with the Mexican federal police and army about how they were able to corner and take down the man who, at the time, was considered the world’s most successful drug trafficker.

Mexico did not confirm the meeting but said it was cooperating with Colombian authorities

The Mexican government has not confirmed the meeting but it did acknowledge that it was cooperating with the Colombian authorities.The three generals have since returned to Bogota.

According to sources, a team of Colombian drug agents is still in the country to help authorities in their search for the Sinaloa cartel leader.

El Chapo fled his jail cell at the maximum security El Altiplano prison by climbing down a hole underneath a grate in his shower stall, which led to a 1,500-meter tunnel dug under the penitentiary complex. He is thought to have had help from prison staff, and other figures.

Mexico has deployed more than 10,000 federal police officers across the country to search for the drug lord. It has also pledged a $3.8-million reward for information leading to his capture.

The spectacular escape has become a major embarrassment for the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, especially after Mexican authorities reportedly didn’t move on a request in June by the United States to extradite El Chapo to face charges in various US jurisdictions.

Mexico has denied receiving such an extradition petition.

According to a US Congressional Research Service report, issued on July 21, El Chapo is thought to control 40 to 60 percent of Mexico’s drug trade.

‘El Chapo’ is thought to control 40 to 60 percent of Mexico’s drug trade, says a US Congress report

The three retired Colombian generals, who were also responsible for the capture of the leaders of the Calí cartel, are close aides to Colombia’s legendary former police chief, retired General Óscar Naranjo, who at one time also served in the Peña Nieto government.

As the former head of Colombia’s national police, Naranjo led a tough fight against drug trafficking and guerrilla insurgencies in his country during the 1980s and 1990s. He now represents the government of President Juan Manuel Santos at the peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which are currently taking place in Havana.

When Peña Nieto was running as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presidential candidate in 2012, he contracted Naranjo to advise him on security matters and later brought him on board to join his administration. The Colombia official served as his special advisor until last year when he joined the peace process.

General Óscar Naranjo was credited in cleaning up Colombia’s corrupt police force in the late 1980s

During his time in Mexico, Naranjo tried to downplay use of the phrase “war on drugs,” which had been employed many times by Peña Nieto’s predecessor Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). Calderón’s battle with the cartels has cost an estimated 70,000 lives, according to some human rights groups.

The Mexican navy, which was responsible for El Chapo’s capture in 2014, was uneasy with Naranjo’s role as a presidential advisor.

But Naranjo has always had a solid reputation. With the backing of General Rosso José Serrano, he began cleaning up corruption in the police force during the late 1980s. More than 300 top officers and 2,500 of their assistants were fired after they were discovered to have links with drug traffickers.

Naranjo later served as head of the anti-drug trafficking division from 1995 to 2000, and his work has gained him worldwide attention for helping bust both the Medellín and Calí cartels.

In 2010, he was recognized as the best law-enforcement official in the world by the International Association of Police Chiefs.