Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, Colombian Drug Lord, Dies at 83

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Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, who with his younger brother Miguel built and operated a globe-spanning cocaine empire from their hometown of Cali, Colombia, until their arrest and extradition to the United States in the early 2000s, died on Wednesday at a federal prison in Butner, N.C. He was 83.

His lawyer, David O. Markus, confirmed the death but did not state a cause.

Many people associate the Colombian drug trade with the Medellín cartel and its brutal, flamboyant leader, Pablo Escobar. But even as the Medellín organization grew in scope and notoriety in the 1980s, the Rodríguez brothers were quietly assembling an operation that would soon far exceed it.

Mr. Escobar preferred often spectacular violence to get his way, including bombings and public assassinations. Mr. Rodríguez opted for bribery and business alliances. Most of Cali’s drug income was laundered and then reinvested into a bulging portfolio of banks, drugstores and a soccer team, all of which he used to gain more power.

He also operated a vast network of spies, employing hundreds of taxi drivers, hotel clerks and construction workers to keep eyes on law enforcement, and even tapped the U.S. Embassy’s phones. In 1994, he and his brother gave millions of dollars to the Colombian presidential campaign of Ernesto Samper Pizano; Mr. Samper, who won the race, denied knowing about the money.

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