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Triadic Closure: The Reason for the Downfall of Colombian Drug Cartels

Lately, I have acquired an interest in the strategies disciplinary agencies employ to take down drug cartels, partially because of the Netflix series Narcos. On reading more about these operations, I have found that the primary reason for the downfall of full-fledged drug cartels such as the Cali cartel in the late 1990s and the Medellin cartel in the early 1990s is embedded in the concept of Triadic Closure.

The reason for their downfall was that these cartels often made more than one enemy since their ulterior goal was to monopolize the illicit business, which unsurprisingly was also the goal of the upcoming, smaller cartels. So these smaller cartels wished to overthrow the biggest cartel to make way for themselves in the market and their other enemies wished the same for reasons of revenge or security. The law enforcing agencies also wanted to destroy the biggest cartels in order to edge closer towards winning the war on drugs.

However, both these groups lacked something that was required for them to accomplish their goal – the smaller cartels and other enemies lacked the military strength, and the law enforcing agencies lacked the information required to take down the cartels. Being put in such a situation, both would seek each other’s help and take down the cartel.

This process relates to the concept of Triadic Closure which states that if a node A has edges to nodes B and C, then the B-C edge is especially likely to form if A’s edges to B and C are both strong ties.

Diagrammatically, this can be demonstrated as the graph below:

Now                                  In the future


Here, A, B and C are nodes such that A represents the biggest cartel, B represents the law enforcing body (the DEA, CIA and the like) and C represents the smaller cartels. There are strong negative ties between A and B, as well as between A and C. And the tie between B and C is a positive tie that can be weak or strong by the definition of Triadic Closure.

In other words, the law enforcing bodies were enemies of the biggest cartels, the smaller cartels were enemies of the biggest drug cartels. So, the law enforcing bodies formed ties with the smaller cartels, endorsing the common saying ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.

To explain my claim, I have studied the two cases below in which major drug Colombian drug cartels were demolished primarily because of the positive ties between their enemies.

Case 1: The Medellin cartel (Node A), led by Pablo Escobar, was all-powerful until the early 1990s when the CIA (Node B) used the help of Los Pepes (Node C) to hunt him down. Los Pepes was a short-lived vigilante group composed of enemies of Pablo Escobar. They waged a small-scale war against the Medellín Cartel in the early 1990s, which ended in 1993 with Escobar’s death. There are reports that Los Pepes had ties to some members of the Colombian National Police, especially the Search Bloc (Bloque de Búsqueda), with whom they exchanged information in order to execute their activities against Escobar. According to documents released to the public by the CIA in 2008, “Colombian National Police director general Miguel Antonio Gómez Padilla said “that he had directed a senior CNP intelligence officer to maintain contact with Fidel Castaño, paramilitary leader of Los Pepes, for the purposes of intelligence collection.'”

Case 2: Jorge Salcedo, the head of security of the Cali cartel, was instrumental in bringing down the cartel. In the series Narcos, he is portrayed to be a very clever man who cared more about his family’s safety than anything else. Though he was working for the cartel and was in the good books of the leaders of the Cali cartel, he did not like the dealings of the cartel and wanted his family to be safe from its dangerous leaders. So he can be termed a “frenemy” – he seemed like a friend on the outside but was fundamentally an enemy of the cartel. Since the Cali cartel (Node A) was an enemy of the DEA – Drug Enforcement Administration (Node B) as well as Salcedo (Node C), the DEA and Salcedo found it in their common interest to form a tie with each other. Using the information provided by Salcedo, the DEA was able to bring down the Cali cartel in the late 1990s.

Thus, the concept of Triadic Closure presents itself in the operations executed by law enforcing agencies in the war against major drug cartels.




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September 2017