The cartel associate was Jaime Cardona, according to former journalist Joseph Contreras who would become Newsweek´s Latin America editor after his 2002 biography on Colombia´s former president.
Cardona had been caught with 530 kilos of cocaine in 1977 and has since been mentioned as one of Pablo Escobar‘s initial money launderers.
In spite of Cardona’s ties to Pablo Escobar, Uribe had just granted the businessman the license to fly a route from Medellin to Turbo, a town on the Caribbean coast, Contreras reported in 2002.
The governor and father of Colombia’s leading presidential candidate wanted to warn the 29-year-old aviation chief.
What Duque didn’t know was that the Uribe family was also close to Escobar. Uribe’s father was close friends with Fabio Ochoa, the patriarch of the Ochoa clan that would help form the Medellin cartel in 1982.
Uribe and the Ochoa brothers knew each other since they were young, the former president has admitted.
Furthermore, the aviation chief’s older brother Jaime had his first child with cartel associate Dolly Cifuentes a year before the phone call
According to Contreras, Duque called Uribe and told him that “in case you didn’t know, this is a businessman who is linked to the mafia.”
Uribe told the governor stone cold that Cardona was “a good man.”
The license was revoked after Duque personally reported the incident to President Julio Cesar Turbay, but Uribe remained in his post. Neither Duque nor Turbay persisted.
These were the heydays of Escobar and civil aviation was dangerous territory for honest men; Uribe had been given the job because his predecessor, Fernando Uribe (not related), was assassinated.
According to newspaper reports from the period, the assassinated aviation chief did revoke licenses of prominent narcos and was about to file a report about the cartel’s widespread use of aircraft to traffic cocaine to the US.
Uribe survived the “plata o plomo” days without a scratch and never released the report prepared by his predecessor about Escobar’s extensive fleet of aircraft.
It wasn’t until a year after the young Liberal Party politician left the post that incoming Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara ordered the aviation agency to revoke all the Medellin Cartel’s licenses.
Less than a year later, also Lara was dead, assassinated by cartel “sicarios.”
Uribe became Duque’s political patron, less than two years after the former governor’s death.