Los Caparrapos, also known as the Virgilio Peralta Arenas Front and Los Caparros, is a criminal group linked to drug trafficking, with a strong presence in Colombia’s Antioquia and Córdoba departments.
Previously allied to Los Urabeños, the criminal group started a dispute with its former partners for the control of criminal profits from drug trafficking and gold mining in these areas.
After the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) 18th and 36th Fronts, Los Caparrapos carved out a presence in Bajo Cauca in Antioquia, especially in the municipalities of Tarazá, Cáceres, Caucasia and El Bagre, as well as in southern Córdoba in the municipalities of San José de Uré, Montelíbano and Pueblo Nuevo. They have created strategic, though fragile, localized alliances with elements of the ex-FARC Mafia and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) guerrillas.
There are two versions about the creation of Los Caparrapos. The first states that, in 1996, Carlos Mario Jiménez Naranjo, alias “Macaco,” brought together a group of people linked to paramilitary groups in Caparrapí, Cundinamarca, and created Los Caparrapos. But a second version comes from an interview carried out by El Colombiano with a Caparrapos commander known as alias “40”, in which he states that the group are the successors of the Mineros Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC).
As part of the expansion of paramilitary groups seen in the 2000s, the AUC were fighting for control over territories in Antioquia and Bolívar. Among the ranks of the AUC’s Mineros Bloc, Virgilio Peralta Arenas, alias “Víctor Caparrapo,” who hailed from Caparrapí, rapidly gained in power. After the AUC demobilized in 2006, Los Caparrapos were founded from dissident elements that refused to disarm, mostly made up of members of the former Mineros Bloc.
SEE ALSO: AUC News and Profile
But Los Caparrapos believed strength lay in unity. They joined the recently created Los Urabeños in 2009, which had also managed an alliance with Los Paisas. Likewise, they reached a tacit agreement with the FARC, based on a geographical delimitation that would allow all criminal actors to access a trafficking corridor of arms, chemical inputs, coca paste, cocaine and precious metals.
Los Caparrapos were renamed the Virgilio Peralta Arena Front as part of Los Urabeños, although they maintained territorial and criminal autonomy, including control of extortion, illegal mining and cocaine production, according to risk reports from the Colombia Ombudsman’s Office.
However, the criminal scenario of Bajo Cauca and southern Córdoba was changed once again with the beginning of the FARC demobilization in 2017 and the constant blows to Los Urabeños from Operations Agamemnon I and II.
Los Caparrapos were able to expand to territories left by the 18th and 36th Fronts of the former FARC guerrilla. This was a process that saw the group gradually withdraw from Los Urabeños and begin a dispute for territorial control, beginning in early 2017.
Since late 2016, Los Urabeños had tried to expand from west to eastern Antioquia, especially to Ituango and later to Valdivia and Yarumal. They recruited young people from Medellín, set up access restrictions and distributed pamphlets in the region.
SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profile
Simultaneously, in Cáceres, Antioquia and Tarazá, Córdoba, the group entered armed conflict with the Julio Cesar Vargas Front of Los Urabeños as the latter sought to gain full control of coca processing areas and trafficking routes, formerly assigned to Los Caparrapos and Los Paisas. For their part, Los Caparrapos sought to sell the rights to the territory assigned to them by Los Urabeños to a chieftain of the Oficina de Envigado.
Los Caparrapos sought to prosper through alliances, such as with Los Paisas and with elements of the ex-FARC mafia’s 18th Front, in municipalities such as Puerto Libertador in Córdoba, from early 2018. Similarly, they established a partnership with Ricardo Abel Ayala, alias “Cabuyo”, chief of the 36th Front dissidents, through which they established regulations for the price and purchase of coca paste in Briceño and Valdivia.
In order to continue gathering strength in Bajo Cauca, Los Caparrapos also managed a temporary alliance with the ELN guerrilla group, as reported by local communities who witnessed the two groups carrying out joint military operations.
On these grounds, Los Caparrapos became one of the major criminal groups in the region. They grew through their alliances, engaging drug trafficking, extortion and even forced recruitment of minors, allowing them to currently count with at least 450 members.
Los Caparrapos are involved in all stages of drug trafficking in the Antioquia and Córdoba departments. In the Urabá subregion, they control coca plantations, its transformation into cocaine and its shipping to international markets.
The group is also involved in illegal mining, and they have muscled into this trade in the municipalities of Caucasia and Bagre, known for their long mining tradition. The criminal group is reported to have been drawing a monthly minimum profit of $725,000, from just one rural area of El Bagre.
Leadership and Structure
José Horacio Abello, alias “Seis-Siete,” was the highest commander of Los Caparrapos until his capture in March 2017. He was replaced by Emiliano Alcides Osorio Maceas, alias “Pilatos” or “Caín.” The chain of command also includes Nicolás Gabriel Pantoja López alias “Care Malo,” who ascended after the arrest in Tarazá of second in command, Jairo Olivares González alias “Ratón” in January 2019.
Other members of Los Caparrapos are: alias “Antonio”, commander of the military wing, alias “La Paisa,” in charge of logistics and micro-trafficking, alias “Flechas,” who runs the group’s hitmen and alias “Chatarra,” in charge of extortions.
Since their beginnings, Los Caparrapos have exerted influence in the area of Bajo Cauca in Antioquia. They currently have a presence in the municipalities of Cáceres, Tarazá and Caucasia also in Antioquia. The withdrawal of the FARC, along with Los Caparrapos’ criminal alliances, allowed them to extend to Yarumales, Valdivia, Briceño, El Bagre, and Nechí in northern Antioquia; and Puerto Libertador and San José de Uré, in southern Córdoba.
Allies and Enemies
Presently, Los Caparrapos are associated with Los Paisas. The main objective of the alliance is to control the trafficking corridor connecting the center of the country with the coast of Córdoba, Sucre and the Gulf of Urabá. They also have alliances with the ex-FARC Mafia’s 18th and 36th Fronts, as well as with the ELN, although these seem to be temporary in nature, based on accomplishing specific mutually beneficial goals.
SEE ALSO: FARC News and Profile
On the other hand, the primary enemies of Los Caparrapos are Los Urabeños: the Julio César Vargas Front, which they fight in the rural area of Cáceres; the Francisco Morelos Peñate Front, with whom they dispute the municipality of Caucasia; and the Rubén Darío Ávila Front in the north of Tarazá around the borders of San José de Uré in Córdoba and Ituango in Antioquía.
Los Caparrapos have proven to be highly adaptable, willing to make alliances with new groups and blend within larger structures. Thanks to this, they managed to survive after the demobilization of the AUC and seem to have used the same strategy when Los Urabeños weakened somewhat.
Their knowledge of specific terrain and drug trafficking routes has allowed Los Caparrapos to maintain control of strategic areas of Antioquia. However, this will not come at a low cost: the armed conflict with Los Urabeños shows no sign of abating.