Former Cali cartel boss demands release for fear of coronavirus

Former Colombian drug lord Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela of the Cali cartel has requested his freedom for fear of dying from the coronavirus.

Former Cali cartel boss demands release for fear of coronavirus
Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, the former head of the Cali cartel, is in a North Carolina prison serving a 30-year sentence that ends in February 2030. Picture: Wikipedia

The former head of the Cali cartel, Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, has asked the U.S. government through his lawyer to release him immediately because of his age (81) and his poor health, factors that would put him at mortal risk of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Because there are already enough reasons to release him, and now this crisis (coronavirus) gives the court additional reasons to accede to his petitions," said his defense attorney, David O. Markus, who filed the petition this week, citing a recent case of a judge in Ohio who released hundreds of inmates for fear of contagion with covid-19.

Markus cited information from The New York Times indicating that U.S. prisons can be more dangerous for coronavirus infection than cruise ships because many inmates share bathrooms and eat in common areas. In addition, many prisons do not have access to hand sanitizer because of the degree of alcohol it contains.

"He is in an extremely fragile state of health and the pandemic could sentence him to death if he remains in prison," the petition states.

Rodríguez Orejuela was extradited from Colombia in 2004 and currently suffers from colon and prostate cancer, for which he had to undergo an operation in which 25 centimeters of his intestine were cut out. He has also undergone more than 40 sessions of chemotherapy and radiation. According to his lawyer, the ex-leader suffers from anxiety, hypertension, depression and terminal cancer.

But in response to such a request, prosecutors Lisa Hirsch and Lynn Kirkpatrick argued that until the morning of Monday, March 16, 2020, no prisoner at Butner prison, where Rodriguez Orejuela is being held, had been infected with the virus and that staff members are being evaluated upon entering the prison, which also has isolation rooms to prevent infection.

The brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela led the powerful Cali cartel in Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s, and authorities estimate they sent about 200 tons of cocaine, worth more than US$2 billion, to the United States.

During the last two decades of the past century, the Cali cartel was the sworn enemy of the Medellin cartel led by Pablo Escobar Gaviria, leading one of the most violent terrorist waves in Colombia's history.