Arrest of Regional Leader a Further Blow to Colombia’s Rastrojos

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Police have arrested the alleged leader of criminal group the Rastrojos in Colombia’s coffee region, in another blow to the already weakened criminal organization.

Police arrested Alejandro Beltran Esquivel, alias “Alex” or “La Gorda,” as well as eight other alleged members of the Rastrojos in operations carried out in Medellin and various other cities in central Colombia on February 27, reported EFE. According to Colombian National Police Director Jose Roberto Leon Riaño, Esquivel was a trusted confidant of “Los Comba,” the two brothers who ran the Rastrojos until their respective capture and surrender last year, and Colombian drug kingpin and Rastrojos ally “El Loco Barrera“, also captured in 2012.

Esquivel was allegedly responsible for the monthly collection of two to three tons of cocaine base that was then distributed to various countries in Central America and the Caribbean, said Leon Riaño. Prior to working for the Rastrojos, Beltran once formed part of Colombia’s United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) and later the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia(ERPAC), according to El Tiempo. He is believed to have taken part in one of Colombia’s most notorious massacres, in Mapiripan, Meta department in 1997, in which up to 49 people were brutally murdered by paramilitaries.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the Rastrojos were once arguably the most powerful criminal organization in Colombia, signs have pointed to the group’s demise following the arrest of its top leadership during 2012. Jose Leonardo Hortua Blandon, alias “Mascota,” the last remaining Rastrojos leader thought to be a possible candidate for top commander, was arrested in November 2012. According to police sources, the group has lost some 20 percent of its membership over the last two years.

The Rastrojos came under additional pressure after the US Treasury Department placed sanctions on the gang, freezing any assets under US control and banning US citizens from conducting business with Rastrojos members.

The Rastrojos have suffered internal turmoil in their traditional strongholds such as Valle del Cauca since the arrests of its leadership, providing opportunities for rival criminal organization the Urabeños to move in. This latest wave of arrests could further hasten the total dismantlement of the organization.

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