The last few leaders of the shattered Medellin drug cartel spend their days playing chess, watching videotapes and lounging around their concrete prison yard.
But they are still wealthy men, and U.S. officials believe their influence extends well beyond the watchtowers and barbed wire of the hillside jail in Itagui, a southern suburb of Medellin.Although the powerful and disciplined organization they used to run was destroyed, lower-level traffickers who used to work for it are "still moving dope" even if "they don't dominate the market like they used to," said Jim Shedd, special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Shedd estimated that Medellin-based gangs handle 25 percent of the cocaine coming into Miami.
The cartel, led by Pablo Escobar, accelerated its own destruction by waging a war of terrorism against the state, rival drug traffickers and perceived enemies within its ranks. Thousands of people were killed.
The backlash culminated in December with the death of Escobar, who was shot on a Medellin rooftop while trying to escape security forces.
Escobar's brother, Roberto, is among 20 prisoners, all of them linked to the Medellin cartel, in Itagui.
One recent afternoon, Escobar relaxed on a bench in the prison yard. A balding man with glasses, he smiled and put his arm around a woman handpicked by the cartel leaders to prepare their food.
Two other prisoners, sitting on stools, played chess nearby.
"You accused us of being terrorists! Lies!" some inmates jeered at visiting journalists, who looked down from an elevated walkway surrounding the main prison block.
Colombian authorities are still weighing charges against Roberto Escobar. The three Ochoa brothers - Fabio, Juan David and Jorge Luis - have been convicted of playing leading roles in the Medellin cartel and are serving at least eight years in prison.