The Puntilleros are a group that was understood to have been born through the union of the Libertadores del Vichada and the Bloque Meta, two organizations born after the demobilization and then fragmentation of the ERPAC (a Colombian neo paramilitary group) in 2011.
It is believed that under the command of Oscar Mauricio Pachón Rozo, alias “Puntilla,” the Puntilleros were able to monopolize control of the strategic points of the main drug trafficking route through the Eastern Plains, which starts in the department of Meta and runs all the way to the border with Venezuela.
Despite the fact that this group has been weakened after a number of operations by the security forces against its top leaders, it is still considered an important bridge, which contributed to making illegal economies based on drug trafficking with transnational organizations more dynamic.
The emergence of the Puntilleros in the Eastern Plains took place after a large reorganization of the criminal landscape in the region following the demobilization of the Centauros Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Bloque Centauros de las Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC) in 2006.
Pedro Oliverio Guerrero alias “Cuchillo,” commander of the Héroes del Guaviare Front of that bloc, decided to form the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (Ejército Revolucionario Popular Antisubversivo de Colombia – ERPAC), but after the demobilization of the AUC in the Eastern Plains.
For a long time, Cuchillo and his group managed to consolidate their group as one of the most important for drug trafficking in the area.
However, in 2010, Cuchillo was taken down in an operation by the security forces and Eberto López Montero, alias “Caracho,” took over the leadership of the ERPAC. It was then that this criminal organization began showing signs of weakness and deterioration as, some said, Caracho did not have the same warring spirit or contacts in the drug trafficking world. It is believed that this was the determining factor for the fragmentation of the ERPAC.
Although Caracho tried to maintain the organization’s cohesion, the Guaviare faction was the first to decide to abandon the group and instead work for the First Front of the FARC, a fact that significantly affected his leadership.
In 2011, 272 members of the ERPAC, including Caracho, decided to demobilize and surrender to the authorities. This group, however, represented only a fraction of the total number of combatants that made up this illegal organization. It is believed that the 560 combatants who did not surrender formed two groups: the Libertadores del Vichada and the Bloque Meta. These two groups divided the territory of the Eastern Plains amongst themselves. While the Bloque Meta, commanded by alias “Jhonatan” or “El Enano,” exercised his influence in the south of the Meta Department, the Libertadores del Vichada, under the command of Martín Farfán Díaz González, alias “Pijarbey,” focused its operations in the department of Vichada.
In 2015, both the Bloque Meta and the Libertadores del Vichada lost their respective leaders. Pijarbey was killed in an operation by the security forces in October that year and El Enano was captured a month later. Although there’s no agreement on their origins, it is believed that the Puntilleros were born from the unification of those two groups under the leadership of Mauricio Pachón Rozo, alias “Puntilla.” The Ministry of Defence says that initially, this new group was formed by 135 armed men and because of that, was included in the list of Organized Armed Groups (Grupos Armados Organizados – GAO), a category that allows for military operations to be conducted against them without violating International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
However, other sources say that the Puntilleros don’t have more than 70 combatants and that there is evidence that the Libertadores del Vichada and the Bloque Meta continued to act as independent structures, particularly after the capture of Puntilla in 2016. Although Puntilla was released by a judge a year later, it is not clear if he returned to the Eastern Plains to run criminal activities. Currently, it is believed that these structures are very weakened and fragmented, but they still hold an important role in regional drug trafficking.
The Puntilleros managed to control the most important drug trafficking routes of the Eastern Plains, which start at the border of the east mountains and goes all the way to the border with Venezuela. In the department of Meta, the FARC controlled the coca cultivation areas in Vistahermosa, La Macarena, Puerto Rico and Mesetas before demobilization. In some cases, they were also in charge of the conversion of the coca leaf into cocaine base.
The Puntilleros used to buy this raw material to crystallize it into cocaine. The finished product was then transported through the region’s roads and rivers to be then exported to Venezuela and Brazil or sold to drug dealers and transnational networks. Currently, the FARC dissidents that remained in the region are in charge of providing the Puntilleros with cocaine base.
After the capture of Puntilla in early 2016, the general structure of the Puntilleros changed significantly. After a number of blows by the security forces against the group’s leadership, the Puntilleros (Libertadores del Vichada and Bloque Meta) went from being a pyramidal and hierarchical organization, a structure they copied from their paramilitary origins, to a nearly horizontal structure. The Puntillero’s current structure consists of a main leader who controls the group, a chief of finance, and the armed component dedicated to the protection of strategic areas and the implementation of both extortion and microtrafficking.
The presence of the Puntilleros is limited to the historic drug trafficking corridors or routes in the Eastern Plains, particularly the area that runs from the north of the Meta department to the border with Venezuela. In total, it is believed that this organization has a presence in 15 municipalities in the Plains. The Bloque Meta could have a presence in places such as Villavicencio, San Martín and San José del Guaviare while the Libertadores del Vichada operate in Mapiripán, La Primavera and Puerto Carreño.
Allies and Enemies
Puntilla was a little known criminal in Colombia. It is believed that he had worked with the Cali and Medellin cartels before leading his drug trafficking structure in the Eastern Plains. One of Puntilla’s main partners, who then became his enemy, was Daniel “El Loco” Barrera, who dominated drug trafficking in the plains between 2003 until his capture in 2012. After Barrera’s extradition, Puntilla inherited his criminal emporium and turned his organization, the Puntilleros, in one of the most important in the region.
It is believed that Puntilla had also formed strong alliances with Pijarbey, leader of the Libertadores del Vichada and with Víctor Ramón Navarro, alias “Megateo,” commander of the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL). In 2013, Puntilla also made an alliance with Mario Elver Garzón Escobar alias “Mario Bross,” the leader of the Urabeños in the northeast of Antioquia (municipalities of Segovia and Remedios). As a result of this partnership, they were able to establish a new a drug trafficking route starting in the east of the country, Meta and Vichada and going all the way to Buenaventura and Chocó.
Although it is unclear if the Libertadores del Vichada and the Bloque Meta are still joined under the banner of the Puntilleros, it is unlikely that this group will disappear despite its visible weakness. Little is known about Puntilla since he left prison and it is likely that he will keep a low profile for a while. It is also believed that the Puntilleros still control the drug trafficking corridor that runs from Puerto López, Meta to Puerto Carreño, Vichada; a strategic route used to transport large drug shipments to Venezuela.
It is also believed that they control de corridor of Sumapaz, which is used to move drugs towards the Pacific and northwestern areas of the country. As for the Eastern Plains, they are a strategic area for the cultivation, processing and transport of cocaine to Brazil and Venezuela, and it is likely that the Puntilleros reorganize themselves and establish alliances with the FARC’s dissident fronts that have strong presence in the area to once again control drug trafficking in the region.