Why Colombia’s Top Drug Boss May Surrender to the US

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The leader of the Rastrojos, one of Colombia’s most powerful drug gangs, is reportedly negotiating his surrender to the U.S. With nine of his co-conspirators set to be extradited, the drug boss may be facing a crisis of confidence.

According to Cali-based newspaper El Pais, Javier Antonio Calle Serna, alias “El Doctor,” is set to turn himself in to U.S. authorities. Along with nine other members of the Rastrojos (all of whom have already been arrested in Colombia) Calle Serna was indicted by the Eastern District of New York in June 2011 on drug trafficking charges.

El Pais reports that agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are involved in the negotiations, said to be taking place outside Colombia. The article says that Calle Serna first approached the authorities in April about brokering a deal with U.S. justice, in return for his family receiving protection in the U.S. Calle Serna would have good reason to worry about his family becoming targets: the Rastrojos are locked into a fierce conflict with their rivals, the Urabeños, who have made serious inroads in Medellin and are threatening the Rastrojos in their home turf, Cali, and along the Pacific Coast.

The newspaper also stated that Javier Antonio’s brother, Luis Enrique, alias “Comba,” may already be in the U.S., but this information could not be confirmed.

This is not the first rumor that the Calle Serna brothers are on the verge of turning themselves them. A leading figure in the Church, Bishop Julio Cesar Vidal, made similar claims in June. InSight Crime has also previously heard reports that other powerful traffickers, like Daniel Barrera, alias “El Loco,” and Maximiliano Bonilla, alias “Valenciano,” had began — then broken off — negotiations with U.S. justice.

Once Colombian drug traffickers gain a certain level of international profile, usually accompanied by a U.S. extradition order, the pressure on them grows to such a point that, in some cases, it is difficult for them to continue operating in their traditional home turf. Barrera, for example, is reportedly hiding in Venezuela; Bonilla is based along the Caribbean coast, even though the heart of his criminal group, the Oficina de Envigado, is in Medellin. And with a heightened criminal profile comes paranoia: Barrera recently tried to have one of his trusted associates killed off, suspecting him of betrayal. Bonilla is known to have done the same to former partners in the Oficina de Envigado.

Could this be the case for Javier Calle Serna? So far this year, a chunk of the Rastrojos’ mid-level command have been arrested and are awaiting extradition to the U.S. If the Calle Sernas did not begin negotiating their own deal with U.S. justice this year, it’s likely that authorities would gain plenty of intelligence about them from the nine other defendants named alongside Javier Antonio in the indictment unsealed last June.

Taken together, these associates paint a complete picture of the Rastrojos’ inner workings, both the drug trafficking and the enforcement wing. They include:

1) The group’s alleged link to the Sinaloa Cartel, Hector Efren Meneses Yela.

2) Two gang leaders who headed “oficinas de cobro,” or assassins’ networks, that worked with the Rastrojos: Francisco Javier Garcia and Heder Augusto Sarria. Another top hitman, Carlos Hugo Garcia, who is not a defendent named in the indictment, was arrested last June and was considered so important for Rastrojo operations that the cartel planned to help him escape from prison.

3) The group’s alleged contact with the Southern Bloc of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), Jose Manuel Alvarez Tonguino. The Rastrojos was one of the first criminal bands in Colombia to begin negotiating business deals with their former rivals, the leftist guerrilla groups, and Tonguino could provide U.S. authorities with plenty of intelligence on how the relationship works.

4) A man who reportedly helped the Rastrojos develop the “narco-sub,” Hermel Arnubio Alarcon Diaz.

5) Adolfo Erazo Rosero, another associate who has been working with the Calle Serna brothers since they got their start as operatives for the Norte del Valle Cartel, the Rastrojos’ predecessors.

Together, these associates may yet provide a wealth of intelligence on the Rastrojos, and they will likely be offered reduced prison sentences in exchange for naming names or revealing places where the Calle Sernas hide out.

There are still a number of reasons why Calle Serna may not turn himself in. The Rastrojos have gained a solid foothold in areas like the Pacific southwest, thanks to their alliance with the guerrillas. They are still holding out fairly well against the Urabeños. If one of the Calle Serna brothers, or both, end up surrendering before the end of the year, it will still be testimony to their ability to survive so long as one of the biggest names in the Colombian drug trade.

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