U.S. Lifts Ban on Colombia Soccer Team Once Tied to Cartel

The U.S. Treasury Department lifted sanctions on Colombian professional soccer team America de Cali, saying it has severed links to leaders of the Cali drug cartel.

The team was placed on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List, often referred to as the Clinton List, in 1999, because it was owned or controlled by cocaine traffickers Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela. The brothers were extradited to the U.S. in 2004 and 2005 by the government of President Alvaro Uribe.

“Today’s lifting of the designation of America de Cali is a testament to the enormous efforts made in recent years by both the team and the Colombian government to completely break with the criminal influences that have overshadowed the team in the past,” Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said today in a statement.

Cocaine now accounts for less than 1 percent of gross domestic product, from a peak of more than 6 percent in 1987, after the downfall of Colombia’s biggest cartels allowed Mexican traffickers to take control of the most profitable smuggling routes to the U.S., according to Ricardo Rocha, an economist who wrote the book “The New Dimensions of Drug Trafficking in Colombia”.

“This is the reason that Mexico is on fire, particularly in the border region,” Rocha said in an April 3 phone interview.

Colombia’s production of coca, the raw material for making cocaine, increased in 2011 for the first time since 2007, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The country has a potential cocaine production of about 350 tons per year, according to the UN.

The team’s owners were banned from entering financial transactions with the U.S. citizens and had their U.S. assets blocked since 1999, according to the Treasury statement. Today’s decision lifts those restrictions, it said.

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