ColombiaOne.comCrimeThe Ochoa Brothers, Forgotten Founders of Medellin Cartel

The Ochoa Brothers, Forgotten Founders of Medellin Cartel


The Ochoa Brothers Medellin Cartel Founders
The Ochoa Brothers were major Colombian drug trafficking figures, Pablo Escobar’s associates, and co-founders of the Medellin Cartel. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED

Recently highlighted in the Netflix series ‘Griselda’, the Ochoa brothers are historic figures in Colombian organized crime. As co-founders of the Medellin Cartel alongside Pablo Escobar, the Ochoa brothers played a foundational role in cocaine trafficking between Colombia and the US during the 1980s. Often overshadowed by Pablo Escobar, the Ochoa brothers were as powerful drug lords as he was.

Three brothers

The Ochoa brothers were three siblings : Juan David Ochoa Vasquez, born in 1946, Jorge Ochoa Vasquez, born in 1950, and Fabio Ochoa Vasquez, born in 1957. Originating from Medellin, the Ochoa brothers grew up in a wealthy family of cattle breeder and ranch owners, locally known for owning a Medellin-based restaurant, ‘La Margarita’. It was through the youngest brother’s trip to Miami, Florida, during the 1970s that the brothers ventured into the world of drug trafficking.

Medellin Cartel founding fathers

As drug trafficking and cocaine exports were increasingly expanding in the 1970s, leading criminal figures in Medellin decided to unite, pooling their resources and networks to enhance the logistical chains and distribution of cocaine. This collaboration led to the creation of the Medellin Cartel, founded by the Ochoa brothers, Pablo Escobar, his cousin Gustavo Gaviria, José Rodriguez Gacha, and Carlos Lehder. Through their involvement in the Medellin Cartel, the Ochoa brothers became some of the most powerful and wealthiest drug lords in history, eventually being listed on Forbes Magazine’s Billionaires list from 1987 to 1992.

Ochoa Brothers and the birth of Colombian paramilitarism

As the Medellin Cartel made some serious enemies, the kidnapping of the Ochoa brothers’ sister, Martha Nieves Ochoa, by the far-left urban guerrilla movement M-19, prompted the Ochoa brothers to establish Colombia’s first paramilitary group,  ‘Death to Kidnappers’ (Muerte a Secuestradores). Formed on December 1st, 1981, the group brought together dozens of Colombian criminal leaders, members of the Colombian security establishment, politicians, and prominent businessmen, who pledged armed men and important financial support to combat the M-19 movement.

Under Jorge Ochoa’s command, the paramilitary group quickly obtained Martha Nieves Ochoa’s release. Nevertheless, Muerte a Secuestradores became more than just a vigilante group, as it intensified its operations against M-19 by torturing and killing dozens of the movement’s leaders. Moreover, the group expanded its activities to target other far-left groups, including the FARC, assassinating over 300 demobilized officers from the guerrillas.

The Ochoa brothers’ fall

As the Medellin Cartel became a target for US Law enforcement, the Ochoa brothers drew attention through the assassination of Barry Seal, a DEA informant, on February 19, 1986. Facing prosecution for drug trafficking by US courts, and fearing extradition, the Ochoa brothers surrendered to Colombian authorities in January 1991. Thanks to the terms offered by then-President Cesar Gaviria (1990-1994), they were released in July 1996.

However, while the criminal careers of the elder Ochoa brothers, Juan David and Jorge, concluded here, Fabio Ochoa decided to resume his activities. Consequently, he was arrested again in 1999 and extradited to the US in September 2001, where he was sentenced to a 30-year term at the Federal Correctional Institution Jesup in Georgia.

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