Megateo is the current leader of the "Libardo Mora Toro" Front, the only remaining unit of Maoist guerrilla group the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and part of a faction that failed to demobilize in 1991 following the signing of a peace agreement with the Colombian government. Megateo was 15 at the time of demobilization, was barely literate, and still lived in his hometown San Calixto in Colombia's Norte de Santander department. Like many young men in the region at the time, he participated in urban militias that trained members as guerrillas and provided logistical and intelligence support to the EPL.
|DOB: January 25, 1976
Group: Popular Liberation Army (EPL)
Criminal activities: Drug trafficking
Status: At large
Area of operation: Norte de Santander, Colombia
When the EPL first disbanded, the dissident faction was led by Francisco Caraballo until he was arrested, along with his second in command, in 1994. The Libardo Mora Toro Front was one of just four fronts that continued to register activity in the year after Caraballo's capture. The remaining EPL members continued to suffer setbacks during the 1990s and were forced to retreat to the area around Megateo's hometown.
Megateo reportedly became one of the principal leaders of the EPL remnants in the late 90s, early 2000s, around the same time paramilitary incursions and coca fumigations forced regional coca growers to relocate to the Ocaña area of Norte de Santander, near San Calixto. This led to the development of new cocaine trafficking routes, principally Ocaña-Aguachica-Caribbean Coast and Ocaña-Cucuta-Venezuela, and Megateo and his group were able to gain control over a portion of the trade.
The Norte de Santander drug kingpin became a prime target of Colombian authorities after April 2006, when EPL members ambushed and killed 10 members of the Department of Administrative Security (DAS) and seven soldiers sent to conduct an operation against the group in Hacari, Norte de Santander. The group has continued to engage with security forces -- near the end of 2010, they killed five police and injured a dozen others, and in June 2011, the group clashed with police in San Calixto. Colombian authorities offer a $1 million reward for his capture and, despite the small size of his army compared to both the FARC and the ELN, point to him as the main figure behind the conflict in the region.
Megateo's faction has an estimated 50 members and controls much of the cocaine moving through the Catatumbo region in Norte de Santander. He works with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), who also have a strong presence in the region, supplying coca base and cocaine to criminal groups including the Rastrojos. The EPL is also believed to have excellent intelligence capabilities. This collaborative relationship was evidenced by the discovery of 44 cocaine laboratories in Norte de Santander in April 2013, which police said were run by the FARC and the ELN, who then sold the processed cocaine to Megateo for distribution.
DAS officials believe that Megateo owns large tracts of land in Catatumbo that are the site of laboratories producing up to two tons of cocaine per month, with a support network in Cucuta that facilitates the transportation of cocaine to Venezuela. In a July 2013 interview with Semana, Megateo admitted to charging a "war tax" of around $200 per kilo on cocaine deals in the region. US authorities say that Megateo also supplies cocaine to Canada and the Dominican Republic.
The EPL remnants have suffered several blows in recent years, including the 2009 arrest of 21 EPL guerrillas, the arrest of Megateo's girlfriend in June 2012, and the arrest of 14 EPL members on international drug trafficking charges in September 2012. Megateo, however, has continued to elude capture, with the exception of one brief incident in July 2008, when two of his confidantes drugged him and turned him in to DAS agents. It is not clear what happened next, though in the Semana interview, Megateo alleged that he escaped due to "negligence" on the part of his captors.
Megateo enjoys a great deal of local popular support and influence. According to Semana, which has referred to him as a "Robin Hood with drug trafficking money," Megateo gives out school supplies and Christmas presents to locals. He has also been helped out by corrupt officials -- by Semana's account, Megateo was informed of the 2006 DAS operation against him by DAS agents themselves.
Criminal Activities: Megateo is principally involved in cocaine trafficking and cocaine brokering, as head of the sole remaining EPL faction.
Geography: Megateo operates in the Norte de Santander department, mainly in the Catatumbo region.
Allies and Enemies: The EPL reportedly works with the FARC and ELN, and supplies criminal groups such as the Rastrojos.
Prospects: The EPL is thought to control a great deal of the cocaine exiting Colombia through the Norte de Santander department, and its influence could continue to grow. Though the group is small in numbers, it appears to have a wide network of influence and connections, and Megateo enjoys a great deal of regional support.