ERPAC Hierarchy Points to No Clear Successor

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A chart (pdf) released by Colombian Police identifies the remaining levels of the drug-smuggling group the Popular Revolutionary Antiterrorist Army of Colombia (RPAC). 

The group’s top commander, Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias “Cuchillo,” who died after a police operation on Christmas Eve.

The chart breaks ERPAC down into three levels: Guerrero’s confidants, the armed wing and the financial wing, each with their own military-like hierarchy. The chart shows that there are multiple players who could stand to take Guerrero’s place. The main question is whether the appointed heir can replicate Guerrero’s discipline, or whether sub-commanders will break off and attempt to form their own independent drug-trafficking groups. ERPAC was a military organization with a clear command hierarchy, but without Guerrero, this hierarchy may not be respected. We could see a fragmentation of ERPAC in the Eastern Plains, as has occurred with the Paisas in the upper Antioquia region.

Police identify two main “trusted men” in the ERPAC, including alias “Caribe,” said to be Guerrero’s cousin, and alias “Gusano,” allegedly his nephew. Guerrero has previously relied on family members to handle facets of his operations, as indicated by the 2008 arrest of his brother, Dumar de Jesus Guerrero, alias “Carecuchillo.”

But family relations are not necessarily the best indicator of who will likely take Guerrero’s place. ERPAC is not a mafia-style organization that prioritizes personal loyalty and blood ties. Rather, power goes to those with the military experience and the contacts needed to move product along smuggling routes. This explains why many of the top dogs in the ERPAC were former paramilitaries from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC), who’d already established their contacts in the drug trade and had links to, and knowledge of, the ground.

This includes the organization’s number two commander, Harold Humberto Rojas, alias “El Loco Harold,” who was arrested during the Christmas operation the killed “Cuchillo.” The police chart identifies Rojas, alongside German Ramirez, alias “Vaca Flaca,” as one of the top commanders of ERPAC’s armed wing, while the head of Guerrero’s security is identified as Jhon Ardilla, alias “Virgo.”

While the chart is a useful illustration of the many ERPAC players still at large, it doesn’t necessarily show which of these players already has the profile needed to control the drug routes and maintain contact with the buyers. Given “Loco Harold’s” arrest, it is possible that he could try and continue running ERPAC’s operations from prison. Alternatively, he could collaborate with authorities and give them the intelligence needed to capture the other successors of ERPAC. This could accelerate the fragmentation of the group even further.

Of the thirteen security sub-commanders identified in the police chart, nine are based in Meta and Vichada, the traditional ERPAC stronghold. This appears to indicate that despite some evidence of EPRAC expansion outside the Eastern Plains – into the departments of Arauca, Cundinamarca, and Huila – police intelligence has remained concentrated on dismantling ERPAC from within its powerbase.

The chart also outlines the structure of ERPAC’s financial wing, headed by Eberto Lopez Montero, alias “Caracho,” and identifies another thirteen sub-commanders, the majority based in Meta and Vichada.

In a press conference Wednesday, President Juan Manuel Santos and police director General Oscar Naranjo described the operation that led to Guerrero’s death. Informants told police about a Christmas party at one of Guerrero’s ranches in Mapiripan, Meta. Security forces ruled against an air strike after learning that children and women would be present. Instead, police launched a ground operation with 300 members of police special forces, who were dropped from Black Hawk helicopters and then surrounded the area. Two sub-lieutenants died after being met with gunfire from M-60 machine guns. Seven ERPAC members were arrested, including “El Loco Harold.”

Guerrero’s body was found two days later in a creek running through a canyon. The National Forensic Office said there were no signs of injury on Guerrero’s body. According to police, the most probable cause of death was either drowning or a heart attack as Guerrero tried to escape.

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