Henry de Jesus Lopez, alias "Mi Sangre"

The head of Colombian gang the Urabeños was arrested in Buenos Aires, drawing attention to Argentina's status as a refuge for big-name Colombian traffickers, and raising the question of whether the capture will handicap the Urabeños' expansion.

Henry de Jesus Lopez, alias "Mi Sangre," was arrested in a Buenos Aires supermarket on October 30 in the company of his wife and 10 bodyguards, reports El Tiempo. He was a top leader of the Urabeños, a drug trafficking organization whose powerbase is along Colombia's Caribbean coast. Mi Sangre was reportedly in charge of overseeing the Urabeños' assault on Medellin, Colombia's second-largest city, where the criminal group already controls many peripheral neighborhoods. 

According to El Tiempo, Mi Sangre arrived in Argentina in 2010 and traveled frequently between Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Uruguay. He was in Buenos Aires posing as a Venezuelan businessman, and was reportedly applying for a visa to live in Ecuador. 

El Tiempo reports that the gang leader was finally arrested thanks to intelligence from an informant, who will likely receive a $1.2 million reward. The newspaper also describes the sophisticated intelligence operations that tracked Mi Sangre's movements in Buenos Aires, including a satellite device hidden in one of his cars. 

Mi Sangre had a long criminal career. He started out in Medellin mafia organization the Oficina de Envigado, before joining paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), formally demobilized from the AUC in 2005. But like many other demobilized fighters he re-entered the criminal world, and joined the Urabeños' operations in the Uraba region of northern Antioquia. His importance within the Urabeños hierarchy increased after the head of the group's military wing, Juan de Dios Usuga, alias "Giovanni," was killed in January 2012. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The 41-year-old Mi Sangre was known in Colombia for his ability to evade capture and to survive in the criminal underworld even as many of his peers were arrested and killed. The fact that he was finally arrested abroad (there was no arrest warrant issued against him in Colombia until March 2012) is testimony to the kind of inter-agency, transnational cooperation needed to capture elusive drug capos. According to El Tiempo, Colombian judicial police the DIJIN, Argentine intelligence, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Interpol all participated in the intelligence operations that eventually resulted in Mi Sangre's arrest.

The capture also calls attention to the number of high-profile Colombian criminals who have found refuge in the Argentine capital. A hitman who worked for Daniel "El Loco" Barrera was gunned down in Buenos Aires in April, and Barrera's wife was also arrested in the city that month. According to El Tiempo, Mi Sangre was specifically ordered by Urabeños leader Dario Antonio Usuga, alias "Otoniel," to leave Colombia for safety reasons, and use Argentina as his new hide-out. All this points to Argentina's status as an area of rest and recuperation for Colombia drug traffickers looking to lie low. 

The question now is whether Mi Sangre's arrest will slow the expansion of the Urabeños. Virtually all of Colombia's major drug trafficking groups have lost their heads of operations in the past two years: Barrera was arrested in September, the Rastrojos lost their military head and their top leader this year, and the Oficina de Envigado saw its commander (and his rival) fall. Mi Sangre's capture is proof that the Urabeños are not immune.

All this is testament to the ability of Colombian authorities to track down and arrest the heads of criminal organizations. But while it is clear that Colombian law enforcement has mastered the "decapitation" approach, the challenge of dismantling criminal networks remains. 

Investigations

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

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...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

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...

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...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself treading water amidst a flurry of accusations about corruption and his connections to drug traffickers. López Bonilla is not the most well-known suspect in the cases against...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

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...

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.