Arrests Spotlight Trend of Colombian Criminal Migration Abroad

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The recent arrests of Colombian drug trafficking bosses abroad is indicative of how local criminal leaders have set up residence across Latin America, both to expand their illicit business networks and escape government pressure at home.

On April 30, one of the most wanted men in Colombia, Alejandro Quintero Otalvaro, alias “El Paisa,” a leader of drug trafficking organization the Urabeños, was captured on the outskirts of Panama City.

According to EFE, Otalvaro fled to neighboring Panama due to security force pressure in Colombia’s Urabá region, which has been at the heart of a state crackdown against the Urabeños codenamed “Operation Agamemnon.” He is wanted in Colombia on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering, homicide, kidnapping and extortion, TVN reported.

Otalvaro’s capture came a day after Eduard Fernando Giraldo, alias “Boliqueso,” a boss of the fading Rastrojos criminal organization, was arrested in São Paulo, Brazil, where he was reportedly seeking alliances with local criminal groups, EFE reported.

According to El Tiempo, Giraldo was looking to establish cocaine trafficking routes into Europe and Africa, and is wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges. To avoid detection by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, which had prioritized his capture, he reportedly traveled between Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.

InSight Crime Analysis

These latest international captures draw attention to a wider trend of Colombian criminal leaders migrating abroad to seek both safe refuge as well as new business opportunities. Indeed, in recent years a number of top Colombian traffickers with arrest warrants, presumably believing it safer to live abroad, have been caught by foreign authorities.

For instance, in January, Carlos Arturo Hernández Ossa, alias “Duncan,” a leading figure of Colombia’s Oficina de Envigado, was arrested in Peru — the same country where Urabeños capo Jacinto Nicolás Fuentes Germán, alias “Don Leo,” was captured in February 2013.

Venezuela, long used as a safe haven by Colombian criminals, is also where Rastrojos founder Diego Pérez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo,” was arrested, as well as legendary kingpin Daniel Barrera, alias “El Loco,” and Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias “Valenciano,” the powerful head of an Oficina de Envigado faction.

Further south, Henry de Jesús López, alias “Mi Sangre,” another Urabeños leader, was arrested in Argentina in 2012.

Colombian traffickers have also been known to settle in the Caribbean, with Hernando Gómez Bustamante, alias “Rasguño,” a top member of the now-dismantled Norte del Valle Cartel, arrested in Cuba in 2004.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration

Nonetheless, Colombian criminals have not just been moving abroad in recent years in hopes of evading law enforcement, but also to set up operations in strategic markets.

Brazil, for instance, is a key trafficking hub for transatlantic drug shipments, as well as a major drug market in its own right, explaining its attractiveness for groups such as the Rastrojos. Additionally, “Oficinas de cobro” — Colombian criminal cells involved in activities such as drug trafficking, microtrafficking, kidnapping and money laundering — have been identified in Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Even Spain had an estimated 12 to 20 active oficinas in 2014 that controlled the country’s cocaine trade.

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