Jorge Milton Cifuentes

Over the years, the Cifuentes Villa family has collaborated with one drug trafficking cartel after another, from the AUC to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, but its power in the Colombian underworld may finally be coming to an end.

Jorge Milton Cifuentes was arrested November 8 in the Venezuelan state of Anzoategui, in a joint operation between Colombia's judicial police (DIJIN), Venezuelan police, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). He has been indicted on drug trafficking and money laundering charges in the United States for his ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, and blacklisted by the US Treasury Department under the Kingpin Act

Jorge Milton was one of the last active members of the Cifuentes drug trafficking organization. The family has been involved in the international drug trade for over two decades, working with several generations of Colombian criminals, including the Medellin Cartel, its successor group the Oficina de Envigado, the Norte del Valle Cartel, and paramilitary army the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). 

The family came under extra scrutiny after Jorge Milton's sister, Dolly Cifuentes, was arrested in 2011 and then extradited to the United States this year. She was the mistress of former President Alvaro Uribe's brother, which has raised questions about the extent of the ties between the two families.

Milton's brother Hildebrando, and Dolly Cifuentes' daughter Ana Maria (Alvaro Uribe's niece) remain at large. Both have been named by the US Treasury Department as involved in the Cifuentes Villa drug trafficking operation. Many other members of the family have either been arrested or killed. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Over the years the Cifuentes family has proved skilled at adapting to the many shifts in power in the Colombia drug business. They are nothing if not resilient, able to carve out a role for themselves in each new criminal landscape. They are the social climbers of the Colombian underworld, but have seen their fortunes fall dramatically in more recent years.

The life that Jorge Milton was reportedly leading in Venezuela prior to his arrest illustrates the family's ability to adjust. He posed as a farmer, and, according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, was able to blend in with a local indigenous community, marrying the 19-year-old daughter of one family, and giving them livestock ("five cows and five pigs," the newspaper reports) as part of the traditional ceremony. However, Colombian police were able to trace his business calls to Mexico.

The history of the Cifuentes clan is emblematic of the many changes in Colombia's drug trade since the 1990s. One of Jorge Milton's brothers was a pilot for Pablo Escobar. Another brother played a key role in the Norte del Valle Cartel wars, and was eventually assassinated by the man who would one day become the leader of the Rastrojos.

Caught in the middle of the conflict, the family sought -- and received -- the protection of the AUC. Jorge Milton helped coordinate a shipment of 3,000 rifles from Nicaragua to Colombia on behalf of the paramilitaries. But a paramilitary leader had another Cifuentes brother killed in 2007 for refusing to give up a lucrative air strip used for drug flights.

Afterwards, the surviving family members began working with the Sinaloa Cartel, and are accused of moving some 30 tons of cocaine into the United States between 2009 and 2011. The family are also accused of using their many businesses -- a Colombian airline, a real estate company in Mexico, a consulting company in Ecuador -- to launder money on the cartel's behalf.

Cifuentes' arrest is representative of the end of an era in which a select few families controlled Colombia's drug trafficking industry. Their world was violent and hermetic (notably, Ana Maria Cifuentes is reportedly married to a member of the Fabio Ochoa family, which co-founded the Medellin Cartel). Now, Colombia's cocaine trade is controlled by criminal enterprises that act like violent corporations, rather than a tightly knit circle of families and their allies. Cifuentes' capture, along with that of drug kingpin Daniel "El Loco" Barrera earlier this year, signals the passing of the "old school" generation of Colombian traffickers, and raises the question of who, or what, will replace them.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...