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How did the Medellin Cartel become so powerful?

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How did the Medellin Cartel become so powerful?

The Medellin Cartel was among the most kingpins in the cocaine trade in the 1980s and is still one notorious example of drug trafficking in the world even to this day. Founded by Pablo Escobar, the cartel had an incredibly powerful reign which saw them generate an estimated of around $30 billion in revenue over less than a decade. So, how did the Medellin Cartel become so powerful?

The Early Days of Pablo Escobar

Before there was a Medellin Cartel, there was Pablo Escobar, a young Colombian from a working-class family who dreamed of becoming rich and famous. The first seeds of his success and allegedly illegal activities began in the early 1970s as he started to earn large amounts of money for small-time trafficking of contraband cigarettes. This earned him the attention of other drug trafficking bosses around Columbia, who then brought him into their industry.

Escobar quickly climbed the ranks and soon earned a reputation as one of the most fearsome and influential cocaine smugglers in the history of drug trafficking. He and his associates formed the Medellin Cartel and began their incredibly successful smuggling operations with ruthless efficiency.

Construction of Their Drug Network

The Medellin Cartel’s success as one of the most powerful drug syndicates in history largely came down to their construction of an incredibly complex international network. This included bribing government officials, paying off law enforcement officers and developing strong ties with other criminal organisations, such as the mafia, that allowed them to transport and sell their product around the world.

In terms of production, they established networks of drug labs that enabled them to refine and smuggle massive amounts of cocaine into first Colombia, and then other countries, without fear of arrest or interference from law enforcement.

Corruption of Governments and Law Enforcements

As their operations expanded and their distribution network reached its full potential, it became clear that the Medellin Cartel had achieved an impressive level of power and ability to essentially run free in Colombia. This was passively enabled by bribery, coercion and corruption in all levels of government as well as law enforcements.

On one hand, police officers were corrupted through pay-offs and on the other, government officials at all levels were convinced or forced to turn a blind eye to what the cartel was doing.

A Highly Profitable Business Model

Apart from their extensive network of drug labs and international contacts, another factor in their success was the manner in which they ran their business. Quickly recognising demand for their product in different countries, they worked to build an effective and profitable pattern through which they could transport their product from Colombia, through Central America and Mexico, before ultimately arriving in the US.

Furthermore, they employed clever strategies to avoid police surveillance by using small boats and light aircraft to transport shipments, thus allowing them to move large quantities of drugs quickly and with relative ease – avoiding detection. How much money did this all make? According to one study by Canopy Boulder, the cartel earned a reputed $30 billion in revenue over a nine year period between 1976 and 1985.


The ruthless effectiveness with which the Medellin Cartel managed to establish a successful drug trafficking organisation is still a subject for study even today. Through a combination of bribery and corruption at all levels, as well as establishing an intricate network of producers, smugglers, suppliers and buyers around the world, their number one priority was to make their business model highly successful. This is what enabled them to command attention from government officials as well as law enforcement officers, thus ultimately paving the way for them to establish such a powerful reign that lasted for almost a decade – all the while clinging onto power through fear and even bribery when necessary.

An Insider’s Guide to Medellin: Beyond the Cartel

Medellin, the second-largest city in Colombia, has long been overshadowed by its association with the Medellin Cartel. But beyond the infamous drug trafficking gang, this city is a vibrant and modern metropolis with stunning landscapes, rich cultural traditions, and warm and welcoming locals. Here’s an insider’s guide to exploring Medellin’s hidden treasures, delectable cuisine, unique culture, and captivating history.

Hidden Gems

While tourists flock to Pueblito Paisa and Parque Lleras, there are plenty of underrated attractions that locals consider must-sees in Medellin. For a glimpse into Medellin’s artistic side, head to the Barefoot Park or the Antioquia Museum of Modern Art. If you’re keen on nature, hike up the Andes Mountains to catch a stunning view of the city. And for a taste of traditional Colombian culture, visit the Casa Museo Otraparte – the former residence of philosopher Fernando González.

Dining Delights

Colombian cuisine boasts of a fusion of Spanish, African, and indigenous influences, and Medellin has a unique spin on the national dishes. For breakfast, try the arepa con queso – a delicious maize pancake stuffed with cheese. Come lunchtime, stop by the Mercado de la Tranquera for a filling bandeja paisa – a platter of beans, rice, meat, and avocado. And for those with sweet tooths, there’s nothing better than a mouth-watering tres leches cake or a refreshing chicha morada juice.

Cultural Experiences

Medellin is a city that lives and breathes culture. Every September, the city hosts the famed Feria de las Flores – a week-long festival celebrating Medellin’s flower-growing tradition. Meanwhile, the Alumbrados Navideños is an annual celebration of the city’s Christmas lights, where entire neighborhoods are illuminated in breathtaking displays. For a unique local experience, visit the Casa Teatro El Poblado – an intimate theater showcasing Medellin’s emerging artists and their thought-provoking works.

Captivating History

Contrary to popular belief, Medellin’s history goes beyond the Medellin Cartel. The city’s tumultuous past is highlighted in the Casa de la Memoria – a museum dedicated to preserving the memories and stories of conflict victims. Meanwhile, the Museo Casa de la Guayabera celebrates the city’s most fashionable export – the guayabera shirt, while the Museo del Agua offers insights into Medellin’s efforts to manage and conserve water resources.


To truly experience Medellin like a local, venture off the tourist trail with these unique activities. Take a salsa dancing class at the famed Santo Baile or attend a fútbol match at the Estadio Atanasio Girardot – where the passion and devotion of Colombian soccer fans are palpable. And for a truly unforgettable experience, go paragliding over Medellin’s stunning landscapes with a local guide.

Medellin is a city that will surpass your expectations at every turn. With its dizzying mix of culture, history, and natural beauty, it’s no wonder locals are proud to call this place home. So go ahead and discover the real Medellin – beyond the Cartel.

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How did the Medellin Cartel become so powerful?

Experience Adventure Like Never Before: Book Your Tour Today!