John Vizcaino / Reuters
Police take away Erickson Vargas Cardona after a shootout Wednesday in Girardota, Colombia, near Medellin.
Erikson Vargas Cardona, the head of what remains of the murderous cartel founded by the late druglord Pablo Escobar, has been arrested and will be extradited to the U.S., Colombian authorities said Wednesday.
President Juan Manuel Santos announced the arrest of Vargas, who is known by the nom de guerre "Sebastian," on his Twitter account Wednesday. Adopting Olympian metaphors, he called the arrest a "triple jump" against crime and awarded symbolic gold medals to the police.
Police acting on a tip found Vargas in Girardota, near Medellin, ground zero for Colombia's deadly drug trade, said Gen. Jose Roberto Leon Riano, chief of the national police. Riano said Vargas would be extradited to New York, where he is wanted on drug trafficking charges.
One of Vargas' bodyguards was killed and another was captured in a shootout with police, the Colombian newspaper La Republica reported.
Authorities said the capture of Vargas could signal the beginning of the end for La Oficina de Envigado, which Vargas took over when his predecessor, Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, also known as Valenciano, was arrested last year. Bonilla, too, was extradited to the U.S.
"No one can escape," Santos said later Wednesday at a news conference in Bogota, according to the Prensa Latina news agency. "Everyone is going to fall, as they have been falling, one after the other. Those who thought they were untouchable are in prison or in the grave."
La Oficina de Envigado represents the remnants of the Medellin Cartel, the ruthless drug empire built during the 1980s by Pablo Escobar — an operation so widespread that Forbes magazine once estimated his worth at $24 billion, making him the seventh-richest man in the world at the time.
After Escobar was killed by police in 1993, the cartel fractured, eventually re-coalescing in recent years under the leadership of Bonilla and Vargas, a resurgence that Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón attributed in part to an alliance with the Los Zetas cartel in Mexico.
"It's important to note that this is beneficial not only for Colombia, but it also has an international impact," Pinzón said.
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