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August 24, 1986|Donna Rosenthal

Newspapers in Colombia sell quickly and profitably when they serialize "The Underground Empire," James Mills' best-seller about international drug trafficking, what with the naming of a lot of cocaine king pins' names--all folks from around Cali, Colombia.

And to prevent circulation of translated excerpts from the book, 20 machine gun-wielding coqueros in Cali bought all copies of El Tiempo and El Spectador.

According to publisher Hernando Santos-Castillo, who spoke to us by phone from Bogota, it happened like this:

Four jeeps filled with bandits appeared at Cali Airport at 4 a.m. as the Aug. 1 editions of El Tiempo were being unloaded. "They said they had orders to purchase all 10,000 copies," said Santos-Castillo. "When our employees refused, the mafiosi waited until the news boys went to the streets, showed them their machine guns and then paid up to 200 pesos ($1 per paper) (normal price is 50 pesos)." Santos wonders who tipped off the gunmen and why they bothered to pay such enormous sums.

The same drama was unfolding at the Cali offices of El Spectador--as armed raiders purchased all 7,000 newspapers that contained a different chapter from "Underground Empire" and photos of leading local coke lords. "They bought every paper. That's one way to censor the news," said El Spectador reporter Maria Cano.

"My book is summer reading for the world drug dealers," said Mills, relating that during a raid of a major San Francisco coke trafficker's home, officers found the book on a coffee table.

ABC's into the act too. It plans a miniseries of the book.

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