Roberto Escobar, the No. 2 leader of the Medellin cocaine cartel, surrendered Friday and joined his billionaire younger brother behind bars, a court official said.
He was the sixth ranking member to join Pablo Escobar in the luxurious prison the cartel leader entered Wednesday. Escobar told a television reporter Thursday that 10 other cartel members will soon surrender.The Colombian government has portrayed the surrenders as a victory in its 34-month-old war on drug traffickers. But international law enforcement officials believe other leaders will take over the Medellin organization's business or that the drug lords will run the group from prison.
The evidently sweet terms of surrender have angered many Colombians. On Friday, thousands of prison inmates in 11 cities staged hunger strikes to demand the same treatment.
"What kind of holocaust or calamity or atrocity must we commit to get the same dignified treatment given to Pablo Escobar?" asked one prisoner on the News At Seven television program. His face on the screen was electronically scrambled to prevent identification.
Escobar and his lieutenants began turning themselves in just hours after the panel writing a new Colombian constitution banned extraditions. Guaranteed to escape trial in the United States, the traffickers also became eligible for reduced jail terms by surrendering.
The striking common criminals said the Constitutional Assembly should have reduced their jail terms as well. The assembly on Friday voted down a measure to reduce by one-third the terms for all inmates in Colombia.
Roberto Escobar, 44, arrived in a caravan of seven vehicles at the new traffickers' jail in his hometown of Envigado, near Medellin, a Criminal Courtofficial said. Escobar surrendered with another cartel member, Gustavo Gonzalez, the official said.
The army lists Roberto as the No. 2 man in the cartel to Pablo, who has been held responsible for hundreds of murders in Colombia. No information was available on what role if any Roberto Escobar played in the Medellin gangs' terrorist attacks.
Other cartel members who have surrendered since Wednesday include Valentin de Jesus Taborda, the cartel's finance chief, and John Jairo Velasquez, who authorities say directed the cartel's hired killers.
The Medellin cartel was believed responsible for about half of the estimated 600-800 tons of cocaine shipped annually from Colombia. Forbes magazine estimated Pablo Escobar's wealth at $3 billion.
U.S. officials say another cocaine organization, the Cali cartel, has already become dominant in production and distribution to the United States and Europe.
Aside from assuring no extradition and a reduced jail term, the government allowed Pablo Escobar to choose his own jail and dictate security arrangements.
The jail, set in a lush pine forest on a mountain surrounding Envigado, has huge bedrooms with private baths, a soccer field, a game room, lawns and a panoramic view of the Medellin valley. Prisoners may move around freely throughout most of the jail and the grassy areas outside.
In an editorial Thursday, Bogota's El Espectador newspaper said that "what has happened in these days is the surrender not to the state, but of the state."