Tag Archives: Colombian Cartels


Organized crime in 2014: What can Latin America expect?

Organized crime is adaptable and profit-driven, and in 2014, that could mean moving beyond Mexico and Colombia to a more diverse set of nations.

We can already identify some of the trends that are likely to mark the evolution of organized crime in 2014. One is the issue of criminal migration, as organized crime in Mexico and Colombia, under increasing security force pressure, follows the path of least resistance, and sets itself up in other countries.

As we have seen with the collateral damage of nations that act as drug transshipment points, the trends of increasing violence, the growth of local organized crime groups, and surges in domestic consumption of drugs are likely to follow, as transnational crime, be it Colombian or Mexican, establishes a presence in these foreign nations. The Mexicans already have outposts throughout the Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and continue to push down into Central America. Colombian organized crime syndicates have been seen in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and as far afield as Spain.

One of the major changes in drug trafficking has been the growth in domestic markets within Latin America, most particularly Brazil and Argentina, but with Mexico, Colombia, and even Chile registering growth in criminal earnings from the local distribution of drugs. While Colombian cocaine production makes up 80 percent of the US market, production in both Peru and Bolivia is feeding the domestic markets of Brazil and Argentina, with a percentage of cocaine also heading towards the lucrative European market. These changing markets are giving birth to different types of organized crime. While Colombians still dominate the drug trade in South America, there is evidence of sophisticated organized crime syndicates developing in other countries.

The El Salvador gang truce stumbles on, but few believe it will survive, let alone turn into a more meaningful peace process. Negotiations with the FARC in Colombia continue, and will be the top issue in presidential and congressional elections. It is likely that the smaller rebel group of the National Liberation Army (ELN) will also be granted a seat at peace talks. The rhythm and success of these talks will be reflected in the violence of the Colombian civil conflict as both sides seek to gain victories on the battlefield that they can translate into bargaining chips at the negotiating table.

Honduras will see a new president take office amid increasing chaos and the strengthening of organized crime. Neighboring El Salvador has its own presidential elections that will doubtless impact the gang truce and violence in this tiny Central American nation. The regional superpower, Brazil, will be hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the eyes of the world will turn towards this massive nation. While the pacification programs in the notorious favelas of Rio continue, the prison-based organized crime syndicates like the First Capital Command (PCC) grow in strength. The notoriously violent Brazilian police force will do all it can to isolate the games from the criminals.

Venezuela lurches from crisis to crisis, with President Nicolás Maduro’s unsteady hand on the tiller. The corruption in the Chavista regime continues to grow, and elements of the military deepen their involvement in drug trafficking, even as express kidnappings in Caracas and the murder rate are at epidemic levels.

Paraguay, often overlooked, is South America’s premier producer of marijuana. It is also home to South America’s newest rebel group. Peru, now the world’s principal producer of cocaine, must also be closely monitored. It’s rebel group, the Shining Path, under pressure from the security forces, has deepened its involvement in the drug trade. Bolivia, another coca producer and important cocaine transshipment nation, has enviably low levels of crime. However, there are clear indications that transnational criminal syndicates have been establishing a presence in the city, and province, of Santa Cruz.

There is overwhelming evidence that with attention focused on Central America, the Caribbean is again becoming important as a drug smuggling route. The chaos in Haiti makes this nation a favorite stopover point for cocaine shipments, but few of the islands have the capacity to take on sophisticated transnational organized crime.

As always, organized crime remains the most adaptable of beasts, looking for any opportunity to turn a profit. It is likely that in 2014 it will look for opportunities in a more diverse range of locations.

Source: csmonitor.com

Colombia Drug Arrest

Has Colombia’s Biggest Mafia Boss Surrendered?

Reports that the head of Colombia’s most powerful drug cartel, the Rastrojos, has surrendered to US authorities are false, according to sources, and may be aimed at sowing chaos within the organization and Colombia’s underworld.

Spain’s El Mundo reported that Javier Calle Serna alias “Comba,” had turned himself into the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and that his brother Luis Enrique would soon do the same. The newspaper said it had confirmed the story with both DEA and Colombian intelligence services, and the news was reported on the front page of every major news organization in Colombia.

However, two high-level law enforcement sources, as well as a third source very close to the case, told InSight Crime that Calle Serna was not in US custody. And although there appear to be negotiations between the Calle Serna brothers and US authorities, there is no confirmation of any surrenders.

Whatever the truth, the news is sure to throw the Colombian underworld into a state of panic. The Comba brothers have a criminal career going back two decades and have had contact with many of the biggest players in the cocaine business, both Colombian and Mexican. The Rastrojos are believed to be the biggest suppliers of cocaine to the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo,” one of the world’s most wanted men.

The Rastrojos are also known to have networks in Ecuador, Venezuela and Spain, as well as a fleet of drug submarines to move product, with air and land routes that shuttle shipments through Central America. Another of the Calle Serna brothers was arrested in Ecuador in March, an added factor that could be feeding the rumors of surrender. If Javier Calle Serna were to deliver information to US authorities, it could have huge implications for the cocaine business throughout Latin America.

The surrender of Calle Serna brothers would not mean the end of the Rastrojos. It has always had two wings: the Combas, run by the Calle Serna brothers, and the military wing led by Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo,” after whom the group is named. The latter is the most important in terms of cocaine production. It dominates certain parts of Colombia (see map), collects coca base to process into cocaine and controls internal smuggling routes and departure points. This part of the Rastrojos is also believed to have an agreement with the rebels of the National Liberation Army (ELN), which protects drug crops, laboratories and escorts shipments within Colombia.

The Combas have concentrated more on handling international smuggling routes, laundering money and running a network of assassins. Indeed, it is believed that Javier Calle Serna started out in the drug business by providing an efficient assassination and enforcement service in Cali, attracting the attention of members of the Norte del Valle Cartel, before taking over much of the organization after killing his boss, Wilber Varela, in Venezuela in January 2008.

However, Calle Serna could certainly deliver vast amounts of intelligence on the workings of the Rastrojos and help the DEA prepare a new raft of extradition orders for key members of the group, further weakening an organization that has seen a series of arrests of key members over the last 18 months.

The Rastrojos is not a vertically integrated and hierarchical organization. It is an association of drug traffickers, most with roots in the now defunct Norte del Valle Cartel (and its predecessor the Cali Cartel). Due to the group’s expansion since 2008, it also includes former members of the demobilized United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). There will no doubt be a panic in the ranks of Rastrojos associates and moves to change habits and residence just in case the rumors are true of a surrender of the top leadership.

There are other players who could take advantage of chaos in the Rastrojos’ ranks. First and foremost are Victor Patiño-Fomeque and Martin Fernando Varon, alias “Martin Bala.” These men have been fighting the Comba brothers on their home turf along the Pacific coast, based out of Cali and the province of Valle del Cauca.

Patiño-Fomeque was a member of the Cali Cartel who surrendered in 1995 after the heads of that organization, Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, were captured. He was later released, then recaptured and extradited in 2002. He is believed to have cooperated with US authorities, and members of the Cali mafia tried to silence him by killing of many of his relatives. He was released from prison in the US in 2010 and returned to Colombia, where he is believed to have sought revenge on the Rastrojos for the killing of his family, and to have restarted his cocaine smuggling business. He is also alleged to be working with Martin Fernando Varon, another former member of the Cali Cartel.

The Rastrojos’ principal rivals for national domination are the Urabeños. A truce was apparently negotiated between the Rastrojos and Urabeños at the end of 2011, whereby the Rastrojos promised to withdraw from the region of Bajo Cauca (in the provinces of Cordoba and Antioquia), while the Urabeños pledged to pull support from Patiño-Fomeque and Varon. This arrangement would be unlikely to survive if the head of the Rastrojos surrendered to the US.

Rumors of Calle Serna’s imminent surrender have been circulating for months. In February, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stated that both Javier and Luis Enrique Calle Serna were finalizing their surrender to US authorities. The prospect of Calle Serna’s surrender means there is likely to be another round of bloodshed in the Colombian underworld, particularly in the Rastrojos’ strongholds of Cali and the Valle del Cauca department, as well as along several key drug trafficking routes, particularly on the Pacific coast and the Eastern Plains that lead into Venezuela.


Source: insightcrime.org


Alleged Drug Lord’s Walid Makled Trial Starts in Venezuela

The trial has begun behind closed doors of alleged Venezuelan drugs kingpin Walid Makled on charges of money-laundering, trafficking and murder.

Mr Makled, who is also wanted by the US, was arrested in Colombia in 2010 and extradited to Venezuela last year.

His case took on political overtones in Venezuela when he alleged in interviews from prison that he paid millions of dollars to senior officials. The government said his claims were an attempt to avoid prosecution.


Improving ties

Mr Makled was a successful businessman in Venezuela whose family owned an airline, a transport company and several warehouses.

He went into hiding in 2008 when his brothers were arrested after large quantities of cocaine were found at a family ranch. He was arrested in Colombia in 2010.

Colombia sent him back to Venezuela a year later, in a move seen as a sign of improving ties between the two countries.

The US authorities say he was one of the biggest drug traffickers in the world.

Mr Makled, who is also accused of two murders, has always denied the charges, saying the authorities framed him in order to seize his businesses.

Journalists were not allowed into the court in Caracas to cover proceedings, with officials saying there was not enough room, the Spanish news agency Efe reported.

“The trial has begun and the prosecution is speaking. It is very long because the accusations run to 900 pages,” one of the defence lawyers, Rafael Ojeda, told reporters.

“The trial has got off to a bad start,” opposition politician Miguel Angel Rodriguez said, arguing that the importance of the case meant it should be open to the public.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk