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Once again the possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is being dangled before Colombia. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the peace process are high.


Roberto Vargas Gutierrez, alias “Gavilan,” has transformed himself from Maoist guerrilla to

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paramilitary fighter to top leader of the Urabeños.  He has turned himself in to authorities twice, only to return to criminal life, each time a little higher up in the underworld.

Gavilan began his criminal career with the leftist rebel group the Popular Liberation Army (EPL). He demobilized in 1991, but took up arms again in the mid-1990s joining up with newly formed paramilitaries in the Uraba region. His name first came to the attention of police in 1995 when he was identified as leading a group of 100 fighters under the command of paramilitary warlord Salvatore Mancuso in San Pedro de Uraba.

Gavilan went on to join the Mineros Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a force of some 2,800 fighters led by Ramiro “Cuco” Vanoy that operated principally in the Bajo Cauca area bordering Cordoba province in the north.

In January 2005, Gavilan demobilized during the Santa Fe de Ralito negotiations in Cordoba. However, some six months later the Usuga brothers, Juan de Dios, alias “Giovanni,” and Dario, alias “Otoniel,” former EPL and AUC colleagues, invited him to join them in the Urabeños

Since 2005, Gavilan has risen to become one of the top commanders of the Urabeños, controlling their operations in the key province of Cordoba. He is thought to have been instrumental in recruiting leading members of the rival Paisas gang to join the Urabeños, including Rafael Alvarez Piñeda, alias "Chepe," and German Bustos Alarcon, alias "El Puma.” Both were also former members of the AUC's Mineros Bloc.

The US Treasury Department added Gavilan to their list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers in March 2010. The Colombian government is currently offering a reward of 1 billion Colombian pesos (over $500,000) for information leading to his arrest.


“Treasury Designates Key Associates of Colombian Drug Lord Daniel Rendon Herrera as Narcotics Traffickers,” US Treasury Department, March 18, 2012

“Quien es alias Gavilan?” Caracol Radio, January 14, 2011

“Mancuso Sigue Guardandose Secretos,” Verdad Abierta, June 26, 2012

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