At the same time, we alerted you to the report that said coca production in Colombia went up 27 per cent in 2008, according to the International Narcotics Control Board, a UN-aligned anti-narcotics agency. Notwithstanding these developments, Colombia repeatedly pops up in policy-making circles as the one success story in U.S. counter-drug policy, a smokescreen for what can more accurately be described as a counter-insurgency strategy. Supposedly, according to these rosy observations, security has finally arrived in Colombia because of the get-tough stance of the government of President Alvaro Uribe.
Well, the Center for International Policy is reminding us of an entirely different reality on the ground in Colombia: the continuation, and in some cases, the expansion of right wing paramilitaries linked to the drug trade wreaking havoc in the countryside and maintaining a strong presence of intimidation in many important locations in Colombia, with almost complete impunity.
As President Barack Obama rolls out the new U.S. drug czar, it is essential that we put these alarming developments on the front burner of human rights and drug policy reform activism here in the U.S.
Here is the report CIP posted on its website on February 20th:
The last year and a half has seen the extradition of fifteen of Colombia’s top paramilitary leaders to the United States. It has also witnessed the arrest, killing or extradition of nearly every major head of the North Valle cartel, which for most of the 2000s was Colombia’s principal drug-trafficking organization.
Yet the amount of cocaine being produced in Colombia has barely changed. Violence in key production areas and trafficking corridors is as severe as ever.
Clearly, FARC and increasingly ELN fronts are involved in this trafficking and violence. But given the intensity of the Colombian military’s offensive against them, there is little reason to believe that the guerrillas’ market share is increasing.
This means that despite recent attacks, Colombia’s drug mafia is alive and well. And as before, it seems to overlap strongly with paramilitarism - or what are now known as “emerging criminal groups.”
According to Colombia’s “New Rainbow” think-tank, which has performed extensive research on Colombia’s new paramilitary generation, there are more than 100 new militias, many of whose members and leaders have past relations with old paramilitary groups. They use about 21 different names, are active in 246 of Colombia’s 1,100 municipalities (counties), and have a combined membership estimated at about 10,000. They are cultivating ties with regional economic and political leaders. They often work with the guerrillas on the drug business. They also threaten and kill human-rights defenders, labor leaders, indigenous and afro-Colombian leaders, and independent journalists.
Today’s narco-paramilitaries, or “emerging criminal groups,” or new drug mafia - whatever one wishes to call them - have no visible heads, nobody playing the role that Carlos Castaño filled for the AUC paramilitary coalition a decade ago. However, when one asks who is “in charge” and paying these new militias, some names do come up frequently. Here, thanks to research help from CIP Intern Stacy Ulmer, are four of them.
Daniel Rendón, alias “Don Mario”
- The brother of Freddy Rendón, alias “El Alemán,” the former head of the Elmer Cárdenas Bloc of the AUC active in the northwestern region of Urabá, who is now imprisoned in Colombia.
- Participated in the “Justice and Peace” process, but escaped and is officially a fugitive.
- His organization is present in Antioquia (including Medellín) northward into Córdoba and the Urabá region and Chocó, as well as Meta department to the south.
- After the May 2008 extradition of paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo (”Don Berna”), who dominated organized crime in Medellín, “Don Mario” has violently sought to fill the vacuum. His violent efforts to assert control have contributed to a one-third rise in murders in Medellín from 2007 to 2008.
- In October, circulated pamphlets across northern Colombia announcing the formation of a new group called the “Colombian Gaitanist Auto-defense Forces.”
- Guillermo Valencia Cossio, Medellín’s chief prosecutor and the brother of Interior Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio, was arrested in September 2008 on charges of colluding with “Don Mario.”
- In mid-2008, Colombia’s police said that one-eighth of smuggled weapons they had interdicted were destined for his organization.
- “Don Mario” has offered a reward of 2 million pesos (almost US$1,000) to anyone who kills a police officer in Antioquia and Córdoba.
Daniel “El Loco” Barrera
- A narcotrafficker who first got into the business in Guaviare department, 200 miles southeast of Bogotá, in the early 1980s.
- He did narco business with the FARC throughout the 1990s. In the early 2000s, he served as a link for narcotrafficking cooperation between the FARC and the paramilitaries.
- His area of influence is principally Colombia’s eastern plains: Meta, Casanare, eastern Cundinamarca, Guaviare, and Vichada. He is heavily involved in the transshipment of cocaine through Venezuela. He has some influence in Putumayo as well.
- Semana magazine reported in 2007: “Barrera’s main security force is made up of an army of hitmen with very good contacts with the authorities, who are in charge of making sure that nothing happens to him, warning him about operations being planned against him by national and foreign authorities, and in some cases, even carrying out revenge killings. When Barrera has to go to Bogotá or Villavicencia, he does so in official vehicles. Just for these kinds of ’services,’ Barrera sends 300 million pesos per month (roughly US$150,000) to the capital.”
- In November, President Álvaro Uribe questioned the army’s lack of progress against Barrera in Meta department. “I ask is the army capable of capturing [him] or if it is protecting him.”
Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, “Cuchillo”
- A member of narco and paramilitary organizations since the 1980s, he was a top lieutenant of Miguel Arroyave, head of the AUC’s Centauros Bloc, which dominated the eastern plains and even had a presence in Bogotá. “Cuchillo” (the name means “knife,” apparently the way he prefers to kill victims) participated in the plot that killed Arroyave in September 2004.
- His “Heroes of Guaviare” front participated in a demobilization ceremony in April 2006, but he soon abandoned the process and became a fugitive.
- His area of operations overlaps much of “Loco” Barrera’s. It includes Meta, Guaviare and Vichada.
- The current governor of Guaviare department, Óscar de Jesús López, is under investigation for including Cuchillo as a business partner in a mining company in 2006.
“Oficina de Envigado”
- Since the era of Pablo Escobar and the Medellín cartel, this name refers to the organized-crime structure that has controlled most of the narco business in Medellín and its environs. Envigado is a suburb to the south of Medellín.
- It was controlled by paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo (”Don Berna”) until his May 2008 extradition. Since then, the “Oficina” has been in some disarray, with greatly increased infighting, but it remains powerful.
- Infighting for control of the “Oficina,” which has also involved the “Don Mario” organization, has increased violence rates in Medellín, leading Colombian National Police Chief Gen. Oscar Naranjo to spend a week there at the end of January.
- Aliases of current leaders include “Nito,” “Yiyo,” “Beto,” “Douglas,” “Valenciano,” and “Gancho.” Other demobilized members of Don Berna’s former paramilitary organization, particularly two nicknamed “Rogelio” and “Danielito,” are also believed to be part of the leadership.
- The “Oficina” maintains a militia called the “Paisas.” It operates in Antioquia department and along major drug-trafficking corridors in the Pacific and Atlantic coastal regions.