The Libertadores del Vichada dominate the Eastern Plains

The Libertadores del Vichada are a splinter group of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC) based in Colombia's Eastern Plains region. The criminal organization oversees coca cultivation, cocaine processing laboratories, and drug trafficking routes as well as a network of assassins. Aided by an alliance with powerful criminal syndicate the Urabeños, the group has amassed a substantial drug empire.

History  

The Libertadores del Vichada are one of two main splinter groups that formed following the dissolution of the ERPAC, which was itself born out of the wake of the demobilization of paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the mid-2000s. The ERPAC was led by Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias "Cuchillo," and until his death in 2010, it controlled a significant portion of the drug trade in the Eastern Plains region.  

A year after Cuchillo's death, his successor -- Jose Eberto Lopez Montero, alias "Caracho," -- turned himself in with some 260 ERPAC fighters. By February 2012, the remaining ERPAC members had formed into two main splinter groups -- the Libertadores del Vichada and the Meta Bloc -- numbering around 560 fighters in total (pdf).

Libertadores del Vichada Factbox

Founded
2012, in Colombia's Eastern Plains region

Membership
approximately 250 members

Leadership
Martin Farfan Diaz Gonzalez, alias "Pijarbey"

Criminal Activities
Drug trafficking, fuel theft, extortion

 

Colombia Factbox

Homicide Rate

Criminal Activities

Cocaine, marijuana and heroin production, drug trafficking, illegal mining, money laundering, contraband smuggling, extortion, human trafficking, kidnapping

Principal criminal groups

Urabeños, Rastrojos, FARC, ELN, Libertadores de Vichada, Oficina de Envigado

The Libertadores del Vichada were briefly led by Albert Narvaez Mejia, alias "Careto," but were then taken over by Martin Farfan Diaz Gonzalez, alias "Pijarbey" -- Cuchillo's former military leader and second-in-command -- following his release from prison.

Under Pijarbey's leadership, the group fought against the Meta Bloc for control of ERPAC's coca crops, cocaine laboratories, and trafficking routes to Venezuela. The Libertadores del Vichada allied themselves with the Urabeños, while the Meta Bloc had the support of powerful drug lord Daniel Barrera, alias "El Loco." Both Barrera and Meta Bloc leader Rubber Antonio Navarro Caicedo, alias "Flaco Fredy," were captured in September 2012, positioning the Libertadores del Vichada to take over ERPAC's former territories.

With the challenge from the Meta Bloc fading, the Libertadores del Vichada grew quickly, increasing from 143 fighters to an estimated 250 by March 2014. According to Colombia's investigative police unit (Dijin), the group is divided into three units under military commander alias "Movil 7," who reports to Pijarbey. One of the units operates in the border region between Meta and Vichada under the command of alias "Tigre;" another oversees drug crop cultivation in Vichada under alias "Combi;" and a third operates in the province of Guaviare under alias "Florecita." 

In addition to drug trafficking operations in the Eastern Plains region, the Libertadores del Vichada have sent emissaries to Colombia's Amazon region to establish a drug trafficking route. Nine members of the group were captured in the region in May 2014, however, and it remains unclear whether the Libertadores still have drug trafficking operations in the area.

The Libertadores del Vichada have also been linked to extortion and to a fuel theft network dismantled in July 2014. The network allegedly infiltrated transnational oil company Pacific Rubiales and stole up to 200 gallons a day for use in Pijarbey's cocaine laboratories.

Although the group appears to be expanding its reach, it also suffered a series of blows in 2013 and 2014, with the captures of numerous high ranking members, including Pijarbey's close advisors and family members. It also faces a continuing challenge not only from the remnants of the Meta Bloc, but also from a new ERPAC splinter group known as the Irregular Armed Forces of Colombia (FIAC) and several other smaller factions.

Leadership

The Libertadores del Vichada are led by former paramilitary Martin Farfan Diaz Gonzalez, alias "Pijarbey," who remains at large. Pijarbey's deputy, alias "Movil 7," oversees the group's military operations.

Geography

The main areas of operation for the Libertadores is the region known as the Eastern Plains, which incorporates the provinces of Meta, Vichada, and Guaviare. The group also appears to have expanded its reach into the Amazon region and the province of Casanare.   

Allies and Enemies

The Libertadores are allied with the Urabeños and may also have ties to the Oficina de Envigado, a Medellin-based drug network. Authorities began to investigate this relationship after key Oficina operative alias "Cesarin" sought refuge in the Libertadores' territory.

The Libertadores' main enemies are rival ERAPC splinter groups, the Meta Bloc, the FIAC, and several smaller structures.

Prospects

The Libertadores del Vichada control a lucrative drug empire, including profitable trafficking routes to Venezuela. Unless police capture Pijarbey, the group will likely continue to expand throughout the region, especially if they can cement their alliance with the Urabeños.