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DRUG TRADE ALIVE, WELL IN COLOMBIA

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Colombian police shot and killed Medellin cocaine king Pablo Escobar one year ago Friday, but they are in no mood to celebrate the anniversary.

The drug business Escobar once dominated remains alive and well and police say the Medellin cartel boss's demise may even have helped traffickers by ending wars between rival gangs and allowing corruption to penetrate deeper into the government."Pablo Escobar is one thing, but drug trafficking is another," Detective Police Chief Col. Hugo Martinez Poveda said. "Drug trafficking flourishes not because someone is in charge but because it's good business."

Asked whether trafficking had fallen off since Escobar's death, Martinez said: "What we are seeing, the big (drug processing) laboratories, the big seizures which go on, the price of drugs in the U.S. tell us that the same amount or more is being produced."

Colombian police figures back him up. Agents seized 37 tons of cocaine in 1992 and 31 tons in 1993, but in the first 11 months of this year they have already confiscated 42 tons.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates put the Colombian traffickers' profits at up to $7 billion a year - nearly three times the $2.58 billion earned by General Motors worldwide last year.

Anti-drug agents say although Escobar dominated Colombia's cocaine trade in the mid-1980s, his war with the rival Cali drug cartel weakened him, until by his death, he was doing little more than collecting protection money from other traffickers.

"When he was killed Escobar wasn't running cocaine and hadn't been for some time," a senior DEA agent told Reuters earlier this year. "Killing him wasn't going to make any difference to trafficking."

With Escobar out of the way, the Cali cartel could consolidate the remaining bands of traffickers into a single powerful syndicate.

"Trafficking is much stronger, it has no more internal conflicts and there is harmony within the drug trafficking in the country," commented Congressman Carlos Alonso Lucio earlier this week. "Exports of drugs to the United States have risen."

Defense Ministry intelligence speaks of some 23 distinct groups of traffickers, sometimes known as "minicartels" operating in virtually all areas of the country. Most come under the sway of the Cali mob, whose leaders decide strategy and collect dues from the rest.

What has changed are the tactics of Colombia's traffickers.

Escobar represented the last gasp of the old-style cocaine mafia, but today's drug lords prefer subtler methods.