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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.


Mi Sangre

Medellin native Henry de Jesus Lopez, alias "Mi Sangre,” began his criminal career with the Oficina de Envigado, where he was primarily charged with trafficking drugs and women for his bosses, before joining the paramilitary umbrella organization AUC, and then the Urabeños. Mi Sangre was captured in Argentina in October 2012.

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Most prominent among these links was Mi Sangre's relationship with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) warlord, and leader of the notorious Centauros Bloc, Miguel Arroyave. According to statements by former paramilitaries submitted under the Justice and Peace process, Mi Sangre moved from the Oficina to become one of the principal drug runners for the Centauros Bloc under Arroyave’s direct command, and was instrumental in the creation of the AUC's Capital Bloc, an urban group operating in Bogota.

Mi Sangre's involvement in the Capital Bloc was such that by 2001 he had not only set up an "oficina de cobro" in Bogota -- a localized, semi-autonomous criminal structure that controls debt collection, extortion rackets and offers assassination services -- but had come to control much of the drug trade in the capital under Arroyave's supervision. The position is said to have been handed to him directly by one of the AUC founders, Vicente Castaño.

This enabled Mi Sangre to wield considerable influence in the criminal underworld and also to maintain high profile political alliances, as the AUC did in much of Colombia. The most notable of these was with Ciro Ramirez, a former senator who was sentenced in March 2011 as part of the "parapolitics" scandal.

When the demobilization of the AUC began in 2003, with more than 30,000 paramilitaries surrendering, Mi Sangre took a role at the negotiating table in Santa Fe de Ralito as spokesperson for the Centauros Bloc. He demobilized in September 2005, claiming to be a mid-level fighter.

Perhaps emboldened by the subsequent arrest of his superiors in the AUC, Mi Sangre continued to manage his operations in Bogota and attempted a push into Medellin in 2007, ordering the assassination of a member of the Oficina de Envigado. The move backfired, and Mi Sangre was forced to retreat and hide at the farm of now-extradited drug lord Juan Carlos Sierra, alias "El Tuso," for fear of retaliation. He fled to Argentina, only returning in 2008 once the leader of the Oficina, Diego Fernando Murillo, alias "Don Berna," had been extradited to the US.

Like many demobilized paramilitaries, and fighters who never entered the process, Mi Sangre aligned himself with the Urabeños upon his return, moving to Uraba in 2009 to control some of the group’s smuggling routes in the region. His choice of alliance is unsurprising in light of the identity of the group’s leaders. Urabeños founder Daniel Rendon Herrera, alias “Don Mario,” controlled the finances of the Centauros Bloc during Mi Sangre's time. Dario Usuga, who took over the Urabeños leadership together with his brother Juan de Dios when Rendon was captured in April 2009, had also been a fighter with the bloc during Mi Sangre's time.

Mi Sangre’s influence and notoriety grew considerably during his time with the Urabeños. In July 2011, officials from the Colombian judicial police (DIJIN), Interpol and the DEA, in a joint move named "Operation Borders," captured 26 members of a transnational drug smuggling ring said to be under the control of Mi Sangre. The group, including five officials from Colombia's Civil Aviation Authority, were charged with moving up to 2,000 kg of cocaine a month via commercial flights from Bogota, Barranquilla, and the island of San Andres.

Mi Sangre's importance in the group increased following the death of Urabeños leader Juan de Dios Usuga, alias "Giovanni," in January 2012. He began to make significant inroads into Medellin, due to his role in facilitating ties between the Urabeños and Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias “Valenciano,” the now-captured leader of the Oficina de Envigado. The relationship between the two is said to have developed in either late 2010 or early 2011 with the aim of securing drug trafficking routes out of the city towards Uraba. Despite the alliance, however, Mi Sangre refrained from directly interfering in the internecine conflict that existed between Bonilla and his bitter rival and fellow Oficina member Eric Vargas Cardenas, alias “Sebastian,” (also now captured) for control of the city.

Mi Sangre was able to reenter Medellin via the western neighbourhood of Belen where he worked with a local gang by the name of the “Chivos” -- the goats -- and two criminals known by the aliases of “Rey” and “Gelatina,” the latter of whom Mi Sangre met in the Centauros Bloc. The authorities raised questions about Mi Sangre’s sudden move into the city and alliance with Bonilla, stating that Mi Sangre’s real aim was to usurp Bonilla and take over his routes for the Urabeños.

In spite of Mi Sangre’s criminal history, reputation -- Alvaro Uribe publicly called for his arrest in 2009 -- and growing presence in Medellin, Colombia’s authorities had trouble gathering enough evidence against him for either prosecution or the issuance of an arrest warrant. Mi Sangre was apprehended in June 2010 in Antioquia’s northern Bajo Cauca region but released due to lack of evidence. There was no arrest warrant issued against him until March 2012, despite his links to international drug trafficking operations and death threats against an El Espectador journalist, forcing her to leave Colombia.

Following the removal of Bonilla, Mi Sangre’s role as one of the premier drug lords in Medellin grew even further with reports that he took control of areas that were previously in the hands of Bonilla, including parts of Comuna 13, Belen, Aguas Frias and Altavista.

Mi Sangre was arrested in Buenos Aires in October 2012.

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