Last Rastrojos Leader Surrenders to US

SHARETweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+

The last known leader of the Rastrojos drug gang, Luis Enrique Calle Serna, has handed himself in to the US, raising the likelihood this once mighty trafficking organization could be seeing its final days.

Calle Serna delivered himself to US authorities in Panama on October 2, and was immediately transferred to a New York jail, reported Semana. He had been negotiating with US authorities for some time — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed in February that Calle Serna and his brother Javier, alias “Comba,” were seeking to surrender.

According to Colombian National Police, the arrest of kingpin Daniel “El Loco” Barrera on September 18 triggered Luis Enrique’s surrender, as El Loco had been responsible for providing the Rastrojos leader with security in Venezuela, where he was living. The police added that following El Loco’s arrest, Luis Enrique contacted his family in Spain to let them know he would surrender, and informed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the decision through his lawyer.

Comba delivered himself to the US authorities in May. This was followed a month later by the arrest of another top Rastrojos commander, Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo,” in Venezuela.

Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said that Luis Enrique’s surrender was evidence that the pressure applied by security forces leaves drug traffickers with no other option than to turn themselves in.

InSight Crime Analysis

Luis Enrique was the last remaining leader of the Rastrojos – the former armed wing of the Norte del Valle Cartel — and his detention throws the survival of the group into doubt. Even before Diego Rastrojo and Comba fell, there were reports of infighting between the faction commanded by the Calle Sernas, Los Comba, and Diego Rastrojo’s faction, due to disagreement over whether to negotiate a surrender. The loss of Comba and Diego Rastrojo caused more turmoil, as rival gangs, particularly the Urabeños, made incursions into the Rastrojos stronghold of Valle del Cauca province.

Yet another leader was picked off this week, when Jose Leonardo Rodriguez Guevara, alias “Pinky,” was captured in Bogota. He was second-in-command to Jose Leonardo Hortua Blandon, alias “Mascota,” who reportedly took over Diego Rastrojo’s faction after his arrest. If Mascota only controls one faction, he is unlikely to be able to replace the Calle Sernas and Diego Rastrojo.

According to police, the Rastrojos have been losing manpower, with membership down some 20 percent over the last two years to 1,656 fighters, reported El Tiempo. Luis Enrique’s surrender could cause this to dwindle further, as previously loyal fighters defect to other, stronger groups. There have been reports of this already in the fiercely contested Bajo Cauca region in Colombia, where Rastrojos members have gone over to the rival Urabeños.

Luis Enrique’s decision to surrender, along with the fact he was living in Venezuela, points to the difficulty traffickers face in running their operations once their profile gets too high, especially if they are wanted by the United States.

It is also possible that the surrender of the Combas was motivated by threats to their families. Victor Patiño Fomeque, a former member of the Cali Cartel who served a reduced sentence of just over seven years in the United States after collaborating with the DEA, returned to Colombia in 2010 and began waging a war against the Rastrojos. Part of his motive is reportedly the murder of at least 35 members of his family by the Rastrojos, and the Calle Sernas’ relatives would be a likely target for revenge attacks. The brothers’ surrender deal may have involved protection for their families from the United States.

Regardless of what triggered Luis Enrique’s surrender, one thing is certain: his removal from the picture has served to weaken the Rastrojos further, and likely means that this once powerful drug trafficking gang has seen out its last days as a unified force in Colombia’s underworld.

SHARETweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+