Ecuador has arrested, and swiftly deported, one of the brothers that head Colombia’s powerful Rastrojos gang, again showing how many of Colombia’s capos prefer to reside outside of the country.
Juan Carlos Calle Serna, alias “Armando,” is the brother of Javier Antonio (alias “Comba“) and Luis Enrique Calle Serna, who together form “Los Comba,” the leadership of the Rastrojos, one of Colombia’s most powerful drug smuggling groups.
Juan Carlos had an Interpol “Red Notice” or international arrest warrant, which allowed Ecuadorean police, acting alongside agents sent from Colombia’s Police Intelligence Directorate (Dipol), to detain and swiftly deport him to Colombia. Here, he is wanted for criminal conspiracy, and to serve an eight-year sentence already delivered for arms trafficking and falsification of documents. Ecuador’s Unit for the Fight against Organized Crime (ULCO) had been following Calle Serna for months, after receiving information from the Colombians who were three years into an operation directed against the leadership of the Rastrojos.
When arrested, Calle Serna presented false identity papers and insisted that his arrest was a case of mistaken identity. He had been living in a luxury neighborhood in Quito for the last three years, along with his wife.
He first got an Ecuadorean investor’s visa in 2007, and had been in and out of the country since that date. He was arrested while driving a car with armor protection, and in possession of two pistols. The Ecuadorean police had to shoot out the vehicle’s tires to ensure Calle Serna did not escape.
According to Colombian police chief General Oscar Naranjo, Juan Carlos Calle Serna’s role within the Rastrojos was to manage the cartel’s Brazilian, Ecuadorean and Peruvian contacts, and develop strategic alliances with South American criminal syndicates.
On searching Calle Serna’s house in Quito, police agents found a memory stick with information on accounting believed to be linked to drug shipments, the costs of the maintenance of a house in Miami, and receipts for the purchase of a large number of Sim cards for cell phones. While this may yield important intelligence, Juan Carlos is nowhere near the same importance in the Rastrojos structure as his brother, Javier, who leads the organization, or Luis Enrique, believed to be a top level commander, along with Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo.”
Along the Ecuadorean border, there are indications that the Rastrojos have an agreement, if not an alliance, with rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC are known to have presence not only along the border, but in Ecuador itself.
The Ecuadorean adoption of the US dollar as its national currency in 2000, allowed the guerrillas to use the dollars earned from drug trafficking to buy supplies, weapons, explosives and medical support in Ecuador, without the complication of laundering or changing money. The same is also true of the Rastrojos. The two groups have delineated territory to avoid conflict, while intercepted FARC messages have suggested that the Rastrojos pay the rebels a “tax” to move drug shipments through guerrilla territory.
The Rastrojos, with a presence in over 200 of Colombia’s 1103 municipalities, have some 1000 armed fighters and at least another 1000 members. They are one of the principal suppliers of cocaine to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel.
There have been sustained rumors of the Calle Serna brothers negotiating with the United States. Whether true or not, the capture of Juan Carlos will put yet more pressure on the Rastrojos boss Javier Antonio and the youngest of the brothers, Luis Enrique.
Of the arrests of major Colombian drug traffickers in recent years, most have been taken outside Colombia, highlighting their preference to seek refuge in neighboring countries. The last top level capture was that of Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco alias “Valenciano,” who was detained in Venezuela in November 2011.