More Norte del Valle Cartel News

‘Cocaine Rice’ Sparks Argentina Probe into Colombia Narcos

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Argentina’s authorities believe a criminal network from Colombia was behind a major drug export operation, indicative of the prominent role that Colombians continue to play in the region’s transnational drug trade. 

In a series of raids conducted between September 17-19, Argentine custom officials found over 1,000 bags of rice infused with some 20 kilograms of cocaine on a ship bound to the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau. They went on to arrest nine Colombians and three Argentines in what has come to be known as the “Narco Rice” case, reported La Nacion.

The cocaine-infused rice was reportedly a trial run for the drug trafficking group, who planned to use this technique to smuggle larger drug shipments to Europe. The group is reportedly headed by Colombian nationals Williams Triana Peña and his brother Erman, who allegedly established themselves in Argentina in 2012. They have been linked to various Colombian cartels, most recently the Urabeños

The Colombian drug ring relied on a wide-ranging network of collaborators in Argentina, including an oncologist who developed the technique for fusing cocaine onto rice. Other alleged members included an ex-Colombian police officer and the former deputy secretary at Argentina’s Interior Ministry, who was reportedly instrumental in settiung up several front companies used to launder dirty money. 

The criminal group’s activities first came to the attention of the authorities in 2011, following several drug seizures, reported InfobaeIn 2012, members of the criminal network made contact with an Eastern European criminal group, a separate La Nacion report said, citing the United Kingdom’s Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA). The Eastern European group was reportedly looking to open a new drug route from Argentina to Europe. 

The Triana Peña brothers and many other suspected leaders of the operation remain at large. 

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La Nacion’s profile on suspects in the Narco Rice case

InSight Crime Analysis

This case is illustrative of several wider dynamics in Argentina’s transnational drug trade. The first is the ongoing importance of Colombian-run criminal organizations based in Argentina. Top-level Colombian drug traffickers and their associates have previously used the country as a hide-out and as a place to do business. While there are also multiple examples of sophisticated drug trafficking organizations being run primarily by Argentines, the Narco Rice case is evidence that Colombian nationals continue to play a major role in running transnational drug trafficking operations in Argentina. 

SEE ALSO: Argentina News and Coverage

Additionally, the group’s reported use of an ex-Interior Ministry employee to lauder funds is indicative of how the drug trade is capable of corrupting officials at all levels in Argentina.  This recently prompted the former head of the Buenos Aires police force to compare Argentina’s current state of affairs to the Colombia of Pablo Escobar 

It is also unsurprising that this criminal network made contact with a mafia group based in Eastern Europe. The European market has become increasingly important for Latin America’s drug trafficking networks, and members of the Italian mafia in particular have been known to use Argentina as a refuge

Colombia Nabs Argentina-Based Money Launderer

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Authorities in Colombia have captured a man they said was the main Argentina-based connection for Colombian organized crime, who is accused of laundering huge amounts of money on behalf of several major crime bosses.

On January 15, Colombian prosecutors and international police agency Interpol coordinated the arrest of Alejandro Gracia Alvarez, alias “Gato Seco,” in capital city Bogota, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office. Gato Seco allegedly formed part of a criminal organization dedicated to drug trafficking and money laundering in the Southern Cone region.

Gato Seco got his start in 2003 when his brother-in-law, Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, alias “Chupeta,” a leader of the now-defunct Norte del Valle Cartel, sent him to Argentina to found several front companies and buy up properties, according to a US agent interviewed by El Tiempo. Over the years, Gato Seco allegedly handled the Argentinean financial operations of at least a dozen major Colombian crime bosses, including Ignacio Alvarez Meyendorff, Daniel “El Loco” Barrera, Henry de Jesus Lopez, alias “Mi Sangre,” and Luis Caicedo, alias “Don Lucho” (pictured below, left to right). 

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Using contacts in Colombia’s migration agency and a network of front companies, Gato Seco allegedly facilitated the entry of Colombian drug traffickers into Argentina, provided the crime bosses with fake identity documents, and laundered their money, reported El Tiempo. Gato Seco laundered over $900 million in drug trafficking proceeds just for Alvarez Meyendorff alone, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Gato Seco is wanted in Argentina on various charges, including drug trafficking and possession, money laundering, and carrying weapons.

InSight Crime Analysis

Gato Seco has allegedly worked with a large number of Colombia’s major crime bosses, crossing criminal lines to conduct financial operations for leaders from rival groups. His capture could put several different criminal organizations at risk, should Gato Seco decide to collaborate with authorities and share information about hidden criminal assets.

Argentina has long been a favorite hideout for Colombian criminals and a hub for laundering their dirty cash. Argentina’s role as a drug transit nation and its lucrative domestic cocaine market make the country an attractive base of operations for foreign drug traffickers, who can use the proceeds from local drug sales to fund transnational shipments.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Argentina

Several of Gato Seco’s high-level contacts fled to Argentina before they were captured. Alvarez Meyendorff, an alleged former Norte del Valle Cartel member and the financial operator of a criminal network that included El Loco Barrera and Don Lucho, was captured in Buenos Aires in 2011, a year after Don Lucho was arrested in the same city. Mi Sangre, who was once a major figure in both Medellin’s Oficina de Envigado and the Urabeños, was detained in Argentina in 2012. El Loco Barrera’s ex-wife was captured in Argentina the same year. 

Rastrojos Arrests in Colombia Show Group Still Active

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Authorities in Colombia have captured 46 members of a Rastrojos cell and a top leader, indicating that in spite of the blows to the organization in recent years, the group continues to maintain significant operations.

At a press conference on May 30, President Juan Manuel Santos identified the 46 captured as part of a group dedicated to extortion and micro-trafficking in the Atlantico department on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

This Rastrojos cell allegedly extorted local businesses including clinics, gas stations, casinos, and public transportation companies, reported El Heraldo. They also are accused of demanding weekly payments of between $30 and $40, sometimes recruiting children to collect the money, and of launching grenade attacks on businesses that refused to pay.

Authorities dealt another blow to the Rastrojos with the capture of Hector Fabio Garcia Gomez, alias “Chorizo,” in the department of Valle del Cauca on Colombia’s Pacific coast. Garcia was one of the 12 most-wanted criminal leaders in Colombia. He is reportedly responsible for collecting a significant portion of the coca base produced in the region and overseeing Rastrojos cocaine processing laboratories.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Rastrojos began as a faction of the Norte del Valle Cartel (NDVC) and rose to prominence by forming alliances with other criminal groups engaged in drug trafficking.

The group has been in decline since the captures of its leadership — Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo,” and the Comba brothers Javier, alias “Comba,” Luis Enrique and Juan Carlos Calle Serna. This loss of leadership, coupled with their rivals the Urabeños encroaching on their territory, considerably weakened the Rastrojos, and they are no longer thought to have a national reach.

SEE ALSO: The “Victory” of the Urabeños

Nonetheless, the capture of the Rastrojos members in Atlantico demonstrates the significant local structures the group continues to maintain. Those captured reportedly belonged to the Costeños, a faction of the Rastrojos operating in Atlantico, and took orders from jailed leaders who communicated via their wives and girlfriends.

Meanwhile, alias Chorizo’s capture could be yet another blow to the group. He had reportedly taken over from the Comba brothers as leader, and while it is unlikely that he exercised the hegemonic control of his predecessors, he ran operations in a key region contested by another rival group, the Machos. His capture could create a power vacuum that serves to strengthen the Machos, who have been battling the Rastrojos for control of Valle del Cauca territory since 2002.

Valle del Cauca: A War too Far for the Urabeños?

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The department of Valle del Cauca has become Colombia’s bloodiest drug war battleground as the country’s most powerful criminal organization, the Urabeños, push to secure trafficking routes in the heartland of their enemies. However, with the war burning money and manpower for three years and no end to the violence in sight, the drug trafficking prize of the south Pacific could prove the end of the line for the Urabeños’ advance.

In 2013, Valle del Cauca was the most violent department in Colombia for the fourth year running as illegal armed groups fought bitter and bloody territorial wars on several fronts. The fighting has cost thousands of lives, and seen an explosion in criminal activities such as extortion and microtrafficking.

The conflict has made the state capital Cali the most dangerous place in Colombia, and, with a homicide rate in excess of 85 per 100,000 residents, one of the most murderous cities in the world. It has also earned the country’s principal port, Buenaventura, a macabre reputation for sadistic brutality, death and displacement.

The violence is chaotic, perpetrated by a maelstrom of criminal groups, from narco-paramilitaries down to teenage street gangs. But behind it are tectonic shifts in the Colombian underworld as the once dominant Rastrojos have crumbled, while their main rivals, the criminalized paramilitary successor group known as the Urabeños, look to extend their reach across Colombia.

Valle del Cauca was the Rastrojos’ birthplace and stronghold. The organization emerged as the armed wing of a faction of the region’s Norte Del Valle Cartel (NDVC), and its leading figures all began their criminal careers working for the cartel’s networks.

After emerging from the shadow of the NDVC to become an organization in their own right, the Rastrojos seized territory across the country, becoming Colombia’s dominant criminal organization. However, they have been in disarray since the loss of their command structure in 2012, when their principal leader Javier Calle Serna, alias “Comba,” surrendered and founding member Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo,” was arrested.

Since the demise of Comba, Diego Rastrojo and other top-level Rastrojos leaders, several mid-level commanders appear to have unified some of the remaining networks and buillt alliances with other major players in the Valle drug trade. However, no one commander has been able to unite the factions under a single leadership. Instead they have turned on each other to fight over the remains of the Rastrojos’ empire.

SEE ALSO: Rastrojos Profile

Divided and vulnerable, the remnants of the Rastrojos have also faced off against an old enemy with a new name — the Machos, who are now part of the Urabeños network.

The Rastrojos and the Machos have a long and bitter history dating back to the fratricidal war that tore apart the NDVC. The war and the efforts of the security forces left the Machos decimated, so in 2011 they turned to the Urabeños, selling access to drug routes and criminal networks in exchange for arms, financial backing and soldiers to take the war to the Rastrojos.

The alliance that has directed the war for Valle del Cauca on behalf of the Urabeños has brought together a coalition of drug traffickers with family ties to the NDVC who hold a grudge against the Rastrojos stemming from the conflict with the Machos. This new generation of narcos has been backed by an elder statesman of the Colombian drug trade thirsty for revenge — former Cali Cartel and NDVC trafficker Victor Patiño Fomeque, alias “El Quimico” (the chemist).

The focal point of the violence has been Cali, where nearly 2,000 people were murdered in 2013. The city is living through what one police source told InSight Crime is “criminal chaos,” as an estimated 30 criminal networks battle for supremacy. According to the Cali Ombudsman’s Office, these mid-sized criminal organizations, known as “collection offices” or “oficinas de cobro” maintain links with 66 of the city’s 134 street gangs, which they contract out to murder rivals and control criminal activities from car theft to microtrafficking and extortion.

Many of these oficinas are the fragmented remains of the Rastrojos, which continue to provide services to Valle del Cauca narcos as well as profiting from the criminal opportunities available in the city. These now independent organizations and their street gang proxies are confronting other oficinas that take orders from the Machos-Urabeños alliance.

Also staking a claim to the Cali underworld is a mysterious figure known as “El Señor de la R.” According to police “El Señor del la R” is a former Cali Cartel trafficker and family member of cartel leader Helmer “Pacho” Herrera. He returned to Colombia after serving a lengthy prison sentence in the United States and established his own oficina with the intention of reclaiming a slice of the Cali Cartel’s lost domain.

In this new, turbulent underworld, loyalties are tenuous and the criminal landscape is in constant flux, as gangs switch sides according to who is winning and who can pay. In December, it was reported that the principal leaders of the Urabeños coalition had struck a deal with one of the most powerful remaing Rastrojos, but so far there has been little evidence of the pact on the streets.

Outside of Cali, the war has also torn through the smaller towns of Palmira and Tulua, where violence has been driven by Urabeños incursions and Rastrojos infighting; and in particular through the port of Buenaventura, which lies at the heart of regional trafficking routes.

As InSight Crime has reported, Buenaventura has become a hotbed of extreme violence and displacement as the Urabeños invasion has been resisted by a former Rastrojos oficina known as La Empresa. After invading in 2012, the port looked to be securely in the hands of the Urabeños, but La Empresa, having reportedly sourced outside funding to continue their fight, launched a counterattack, and violence has again been on the increase in 2014.

On all the Valle del Cauca fronts the war has not only cost the Rastrojos and the Urabeños blood and money, it has cost the freedom of many of the narco-generals directing the fighting on both sides. El Quimico, the great survivor of Colombian drug trafficking, remains free, but underworld sources have told InSight Crime they believe he has once again disappeared, content to have wrought his revenge on the Rastrojos and reclaimed his lost assets.

SEE ALSO: Urabeños Profile

The Urabeños invasion of Valle has followed a battle plan successfully deployed elsewhere; seeking out alliances with local criminal groups who are familiar with the terrain, then boosting their operations with arms, cash and battle hardened troops. These groups are soon absorbed by the Urabeños, becoming another member of their criminal franchise.

However, while these tactics have helped the Urabeños establish a presence in strategic regions such as La Guajira in the northeast, the city of Medellin and the Venezuelan border, in Valle del Cauca they have been unable to overcome the stubborn resistance from the remaining Rastrojos.

As more and more Urabeños soldiers are captured and killed, the more they rely on the volatile youths they contract in Cali and Buenaventura. Not only does this weaken them tactically, it also means a less disciplined force that is harder to control. In Buenaventura, police told InSight Crime these youths were already running amok, using the Urabeños’ name and the arms they provide to terrorize the city for their own gain.

The financial cost of such a war will also be a massive drain on resources, and may prove unsustainable in the long run. Already in Buenaventura they are not paying many of their footsoldiers, causing them to go rogue or to defect to their rivals. If they lose the allegiance of the Cali oficinas and gangs — which are only as loyal as their last paycheck — then they will be fighting a losing battle.

In December, there were reports of the local Machos-Urabeños commander striking a deal with the Urabeños top command, paying $500,000 in return for 90 reinforcements from around the country. In Buenaventura too, the local command reportedly received outside reinforcements around the same time, with an estimated 38 troops boosting their ranks.

If these reports are true, then it may be the start of a renewed push to seize Valle del Cauca once and for all. However, to succeed the Urabeños alliance will have to overcome an opposition that has fought them to a stalemate for three years. They will also be severely limited by having to operate in increasingly militarized territory as the authorities have responded to the security crisis by sending in their own reinforcements.

Given these obstacles, it seems likely the Urabeños advances will fall short of victory once again. This will leave the national leadership facing a difficult choice — abandon one of Colombia’s most prized drug trafficking territories to their enemies in the Valle del Cauca criminal class, or risk getting sucked further into a quagmire of a conflict that has the potential to gravely weaken them financially and militarily and drain their strength on a national level.

Uribe Accusations Reminder of Narco Money in Colombia Politics

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The emergence of allegations made by an incarcerated drug baron that he funded the political activities of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe comes as a timely reminder of the country’s vulnerability to drug money influence in the run-up to national elections.

Colombia’s Supreme Court has requested that Congress and prosecutors evaluate testimony given by former Norte del Valle Cartel (NDVC) leader Diego Montoya, alias “Don Diego,” in which he claimed to have funded Uribe’s presidential campaign, reported Vanguardia.

Speaking to investigators from his Arizona prison last year, Don Diego provided a list of politicians he said had taken cartel money. Among them were several other prominent figures, including former President of the Senate Carlos Holguin Sardi and former Valle del Cauca Governor Juan Carlos Abadia.

Uribe, who is preparing to stand for a seat in the Senate in March elections, has responded by threatening legal action over the claims, reported Caracol.

InSight Crime Analysis

Don Diego’s testimony adds to a litany of accusations made against Uribe over the years, among them that he received funding from the paramilitary umbrella organization the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) during his 2002 presidential campaign. So far, none of these allegations have resulted in the successful prosecution of the ex-president, and this is unlikely to change as a result of the latest claims.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Don Diego was the leader of the Machos faction of the NVDC. Following the demobilization of the AUC, the Machos emerged as one of the prototype paramilitary-drug trafficking hybrid organizations labeled by the government BACRIM (from the Spanish abbreviation for “criminal bands.”)

In 2011, after being crippled by years of drug-fuelled wars and the loss of many of its leaders, the Machos sold off what remained of their territory and were absorbed by the most powerful criminal organization in Colombia — the Urabeños. However, other BACRIM continue to seriously threaten the legitimacy of Colombian political institutions and the electoral process.

Although the BACRIM’s reach is not as extensive as that of the now defunct AUC — whose tentacles spread to all levels of national and local politics — figures are still alarmingly high for electoral fraud or violent voter repression in areas where they operate (see Colombia Reports’ maps above and below).

As well as having a history of funding political campaigns with dirty money and influencing voters with bribes or threats, the BACRIM are known to control politicians on a local level to gain protection, access to intelligence, and collaboration in illegal activities such as extortion and illegal enrichment.

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Cali Criminal Pact Could Spark New Era for Crime in Colombia

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Former sworn enemies from criminal clans based in Colombia’s violence capital, Cali, have brokered an alliance from prison, according to security forces, which if successful could shape the underworld in one of Colombia’s key drug trafficking regions.

According to security forces sources cited by El Pais, one of the principal figures in what remains of the Rastrojos — once Colombia’s most powerful criminal organization — has come to an agreement with a group of drug traffickers whose war against the Rastrojos has been driving violence in Cali since 2011.

Jorge Eliecer Dominguez Falla, alias “Palustre,” reportedly paid $2 million and turned over several properties to seal an alliance with drug lords with whom he is incarcerated in La Picota prison. Among them are former Machos leader Hector Mario Urdinola, alias “Chicho,” the son of a former Norte Del Valle Cartel (NDVC) drug trafficker Greylin Varon, alias “Martin Bala,” and Orlando Gutierrez, alias “El Negro Orlando,” a key contact for Colombia’s dominant criminal organization, the Urabeños.

According to El Pais, the object of the agreement is to create one unified criminal organization to manage drug trafficking routes and street level drug sales in Valle del Cauca, a region in south west Colombia that for decades has been one of the epicenters of the Colombian drug trade.

InSight Crime Analysis

If confirmed, the agreement between Palustre and his former enemies represents a remarkable twist in a conflict that has roots reaching back into the bitter and bloody infighting that tore apart what had been Colombia’s most important drug cartel — the NDVC. The result of such an agreement, bringing in the remnants of the Rastrojos and the Machos and other regional criminal players into an alliance that also involves the Urabeños, would be a formidable criminal federation.

SEE ALSO: Norte Del Valle Cartel Profile

The Urabeños recently struck a similar deal in Medellin with their former rivals the Oficina de Envigado. This means both traditional capitals of the Colombian cocaine trade could now be on the verge of resurgence. With the Urabeños claiming a stake in both cities, they would have the ability to act as guarantors, raising the possibility that, unlike in the past, Medellin and Cali would complement each other rather than compete.

However, the situation in Valle is complicated by dissident factions of the Rastrojos that are not part of the pact and the recent return of a drug lord from the long dead Cali Cartel, who security forces believe is trying to reclaim lost territories. In addition, over the years drug trafficking in the region has been riven with betrayal and infighting, casting doubt on the sustainability of any agreement.

Old Generation Narcos Fuel Colombia’s New Mafia Wars

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Violence in Colombia’s Pacific region is being driven not only by new generation BACRIM groups but also by drug traffickers from the long gone Cali Cartel, say security forces, as Colombia’s past continues to cast a shadow over the modern drug trade.

The most recent outbreak of mafia wars in Valle del Cauca — Colombia’s most violent department — is linked to a former member of the Cali Cartel who returned to Colombia last year, security forces sources told El Tiempo.

Only identified as “Señor de la R,” the trafficker was deported from the United States after serving an 18-year prison sentence. On his return, he set up his own criminal organization and launched a war to reclaim control over drug trafficking routes and other criminal operations.

This brought him into conflict with the remnants of the Rastrojos, once the most powerful of Colombia’s BACRIM (from “bandas criminales” or criminal bands) but now reduced to local factions after the surrender and arrest of their national leadership. According to El Tiempo, the Valle faction of the Rastrojos is led by a trafficker going by the name “Giovanny,” who has built alliances with other criminal groups and drug traffickers in the region to try and rebuild.

To further complicate things, the Rastrojos’ bitter enemies, the Machos, struck a deal with the Urabeños, paying for mercenary reinforcements. In doing so they strengthened their power while allowing the Urabeños a foothold in the region.

InSight Crime Analysis

“Señor de la R” — who according to El Tiempo is a family member and close ally of Helmer “Pacho” Herrera who led the Cali Cartel — is just the latest old generation drug trafficker to return to Valle to stake his claim to the region’s underworld, following in the footsteps of Victor Patiño Fomeque, alias “El Quimico.” Patiño, who worked with the Cali Cartel, then their successors, the Norte Del Valle Cartel (NDVC), also returned after a stint in a US prison. He is believed to have been the driving force behind a coalition of sons and relatives of former NDVC traffickers who united with the Urabeños to take on their old enemies in the Rastrojos.

However, it is not just in Valle where traffickers from Colombia’s cocaine heyday of the 80s continue to make their mark. On the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) most wanted list appear two Colombians with no legal history within the country. Although they have left little trace of their past, they are also believed to be linked to the old generation of cartels, with one an alleged Medellin Cartel money launderer.

Mexico’s ‘Queen of the Pacific’ Receives Light Sentence for Drug Crimes

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Infamous Mexican drug trafficker the “Queen of the Pacific” could soon find herself walking free, after receiving a 70-month prison sentence which will be reduced further thanks to time already served; an outcome that raises questions over the use of extradition and plea bargains for drug lords.

Sandra Avila Beltran received the sentence after pleading guilty to being “an accessory after the fact” by aiding her drug trafficking lover. She had previously denied all charges but later cut a deal with prosecutors, admitting the lesser charge in exchange for a sentence reduction.

Avila was arrested in 2007, and as her time already spent in prison is to be deducted, she has essentially already served her sentence and will now be processed and deported to Mexico, where she faces no outstanding charges and will remain free.

The sentencing ends a long-running legal saga, which has seen Avila acquitted of organized crime charges in Mexico and fight, and eventually lose, a convoluted legal struggle against extradition to the US.

Avila was accused of being a key link in the drug trafficking chain that connected Colombia’s Norte del Valle Cartel and Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. She was initially accused of conspiring with her boyfriend, Colombian trafficker Juan Diego Espinosa Ramirez, alias “El Tigre,” to transport nine tons of cocaine.

InSight Crime Analysis

The tortured legal process in Avila’s case highlights weaknesses in both the Mexican and the US legal systems. Within the country, Avila was able to defeat numerous attempts to convict her of serious charges, and came close to avoiding extradition. However, once in the United States, her cooperation with the authorities led to a minimal sentence for a person long linked to the upper echelons of Latin American organized crime.

The case also raises issues around extradition, which increased exponentially under Mexico’s previous president, Felipe Calderon. As Avila’s case demonstrates, the opportunity to cut a deal and receive short sentences in the United States means extradition often does not hold the same fear for drug traffickers as it did in the past. This has especially been the case in Colombia, where extradition has a long and polemical history but now appears to be viewed as a softer option by many drug traffickers, and has even been publically questioned by the government.

Urabeños Capture May Shake Up Turf War in Southwest Colombia

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Colombian police have captured alias “Martin Bala,” a leader of drug trafficking orgaization the Urabeños, whose war with rival organization the Rastrojos in Colombia’s third biggest city has led to thousands of deaths. 

Greylin Fernando Varon Cadena is accused of leading the Urabeños in Colombia’s southwestern Valle del Cauca department, as Semana magazine reports. He is also believed to have been the main contact and coordinator for Orlando Gutierrez Rendon, alias “Negro Orlando,” a key leader of the Urabeños in the region who was captured three weeks ago in Cali.

Varon lived in Spain for a number of years, where two of his sisters ran a drug trafficking ring that brought in cocaine from Colombia. He returned to Valle de Cauca in 2008 in order help wage a war against the Rastrojos. More than 2,000 people are estimated to have died in the department as a result of the fighting.

InSight Crime Analysis

Varon’s bloody dispute with the Rastrojos dates back to the mid 2000s, when he worked for a splinter faction of the Norte del Valle cartel. The cartel’s military wing, led by brothers Javier Antonio and Luis Calle Serna, would later form the basis of the organization now known as the Rastrojos. After the Calle Serna brothers attempted to have Varon killed in 2005, Varon moved to Spain, and it is believed that he only returned to Colombia to seek revenge, allying himself with the Urabeños in the process.

With Varon and Negro Orlando both captured, the question is whether the southwestern cell of the Urabeños will remain strong enough to continue the conflict in Valle de Cauca. In a previous serious blow to the organization, police captured another key ally, Hector Mario Urdinola, alias “Chicho,” in January. While the Rastrojos has suffered some serious setbacks of their own, including the arrest of Javier Antonio Serna last year, Valle del Cauca is their home turf, and the Urabeños have had a difficult time cementing control here — as demonstrated, in part, by the ongoing violence.