Francisco Hélmer Herrera Buitrago also known as "Robapapas", "Pacho" and "H7", (August 24, 1951 in Palmira, Valle del Cauca – November 4, 1998 in Palmira, Valle del Cauca) was a Colombian drug trafficker, fourth in command in the Cali Cartel, and believed to be the son of Benjamin Herrera Zuleta.
August 24, 1951|
Palmira, Valle del Cauca, Colombia
|Died||November 4, 1998
Palmira, Valle del Cauca, Colombia
|Occupation||Co-leader of the Cali Cartel|
|Criminal charge||Drug trafficking and money laundering|
|Criminal penalty||6 years imprisonment|
Herrera grew up in the Colombian town of Palmira, in the Valle del Cauca Department. While in high school, Herrera studied technical maintenance, experience that got him a job later in the United States. While living in the United States, he also became a jeweler and precious metals broker until he began selling cocaine in New York City. In 1975 and 1978, Herrera was arrested on distribution charges in New York City for selling cocaine.
It is believed in 1983 Herrera went to Cali, Colombia to negotiate supply and distribution rights with the Cali Cartel for New York City. He would later open up trafficking routes for the Cali Cartel through Mexico, with connections he had previously established.
Herrera also ran one of the "... most sophisticated and profitable money laundering operations", according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Herrera was soon promoted to Cali cartel kingpin and given control over the southern Cali city of Jamundí, and northern Cali cities Palmira and Yumbo.
The Herrera operation, according to the DEA, involved importing cocaine base from Peru and Bolivia, which would be trafficked via his own transportation to conversion laboratories in Colombia. It is believed Herrera hired guerrilla forces such as Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (English: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) (FARC) and then guerrilla group 19th of April Movement (Spanish: Movimiento 19 de Abril, M-19), to guard remote lab sites.
Herrera always kept a very low profile and was never interviewed, and his name was almost never mentioned with that of the other leaders of the Cali cartel. Although it has been argued that he was the source of most of the money involved in the illicit financing of Ernesto Samper's presidential campaign, Herrera himself never spoke of the issue and was never formally involved in the investigation. His name only came to light after a terrorist attack on a soccer field in Candelaria, Valle del Cauca, on September 25, 1990; 20 gunmen dressed in army and police attire opened fire on the crowd where Herrera was sitting, killing 18, however not hitting Herrera. The attack was attributed to the Medellin cartel, and particularly to Pablo Escobar, who apparently blamed Herrera for a car bomb which exploded on January 13, 1988, in the Monaco apartment building owned by Escobar in one of the most affluent areas in the city of Medellin. The war between the cartels shed lots of blood from both sides, but Herrera took a back role and left the fighting to the Rodriguez brothers. Another attempt on Herrera's life was made on July 27, 1991, in a summer resort, where hooded gunmen wearing pink bracelets shot at the people in the place, killing 17 and hurting 13 others.
In November 1991, the DEA launched Operation Kingpin, which targeted two of Herreras' distribution cells in New York City. Through a largescale wiretap effort, the DEA utilized over 100 simultaneous, court-authorized wiretaps on cellular phones. At the close of Operation Kingpin nearly 100 traffickers were arrested, and more than $20 million in cash and assets, and over 2.5 tons of cocaine seized. In addition, records of transactions and personnel were seized from computers, which information later provided a greater look into the Cali Cartel cell structure.
On September 1, 1996, Herrera turned himself in to the Search Bloc (Spanish: Bloque de Busqueda), a unit of the Colombian National Police. Herrera was the last of the four leaders of the Cali Cartel to be captured. He was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison for drug trafficking charges, which sentence was later extended to 14 years of prison in 1998.
Once in jail, Herrera reportedly changed his lifestyle and devoted himself to soccer, becoming the sports organizer in the jail and sponsoring soccer tournaments. He also began a bachelor's degree in business administration. Although he was supposed to be in the maximum security wing of the jail, Herrera visited the other wings, where he would meet with his lawyers. On November 4, 1998, Rafael Angel Uribe Serna, 32, got inside the jail and went to the soccer pitch where Herrera was playing. Uribe was reportedly drunk, but apparently Herrera stopped the game upon seeing him and went to greet him. After hugging Herrera, Uribe took out a gun and shot him seven times in the head. Uribe was caught by other inmates and then taken away by the prison guards, while Herrera was moved to a hospital where he died.
There are a number of possible motives for Hererra's assassination. These include old vendettas from members of the Norte del Valle Cartel, in particular a man known by the alias of JJ, and Wilber Varela, who apparently had been the victim some days earlier of an assassination attempt by the Cali cartel leaders. Other hypotheses point to Herrera's long-time conflict against communist guerrillas. The assassin, Uribe, had been a personal adviser of Herrera's for 10 years and was a frequent visitor. Uribe declared that he had decided to kill Herrera because he had threatened Uribe's family when Uribe was unable to kill Víctor Carranza as Herrera had ordered. These declarations, however, were found unreliable, and probably a stratagem to take attention away from the real masterminds. The most accepted hypothesis is that Uribe was actually acting under the orders of the Norte del Valle cartel who were angry with Herrera for having released information about them, and who had been eager to take up the business left behind after the capture or death of the Cali cartel leaders. Uribe was also the uncle of brothers Luis Enrique and Javier Antonio Calle Serna, the "Comba" brothers, who took hold of the Norte del Valle cartel after Varela died. Uribe himself was assassinated in October, 2009.
In the book, "La patrona de Pablo Escobar" written by Colombian journalist, José Guarnizo, who described Herrera as, "an immigrant who went from being an anonymous Latin mechanic to one of the wealthiest members of the Cartel de Cali" and, "one of the few homosexuals who climbed high in the patibularia pyramid of the Mafia." At the time, Herreras' crimes overshadowed any speculation regarding his sexual orientation.
Herrera is portrayed by Pedro Mogollón, as the character Hugo de la Cruz in TV Series El cartel.
He is portrayed by Daniel Rocha as the character of Gerardo Carrera in the TV Series Escobar, el patrón del mal.